With so many bourbons to choose from, what to do? Buy the one with the prettiest label, then get on with it.
Like a lot of folks, I’ve been hooked on the whole DIY, small batch, artisanal thing that’s been happening lately. Because, you know, it’s fun to learn about different things and be part of small movements, and know where the shit you’re buying is coming from. Even know who made it, perhaps by name. From the still-small clothing brands to the well-thought out food, it’s easy to love all the rad things creative people are coming up with.
Even with the booze I’ve been drinking, lately it’s been mostly all about the small guys. From distillers making small batch gins and artisanal whiskeys to brewers making really interesting beers, there’s loads of great stuff out there. That’s why I was shocked (shocked!) when a buddy told me a lot of the micro-produced, hand-numbered, small-batch bourbons on the shelf come from one big factory in the middle of the country. That’s right, he said they’re all from the same place—they simply buy big barrels of the stuff, then bottle it, brand it, and market it hip cocktail lovers everywhere. They’ll even come up with stories about the history of their bourbon, and hand number the bottles to further the charade. Blasphemous!
I’m not here to write some big expose’ on big business distilling (that’s been done), or even give a proper history of bourbon (that’s been done too). And I’m definitely not telling you what to buy or drink—if you’ve got a go-to fav that you dig, drink up and share some with me. But I did get to thinking that I was spending too much time caught up in exploring brands in an effort to find the bestest bourbon (then bragging to friends about that “amazing” bourbon that they must try—a pretentious attitude). I wasn’t focusing enough time on the craft of making great cocktails, then drinking them with friends.
With that in mind, out of the hundreds of ways to mess with bourbon, here are a few nice things I like to do with it. They range from somewhat hard to totally easy. And I haven’t specified bourbon brand, because that’ not the point. Right? —Paul Brewer
Hardest: The Libertine
Bringing together citrus, bourbon, and herbs. Don’t be too intimidated by the all the steps or even the raw egg white, the result will make you psyched. Adapted from a bar at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
- 2 oz simple syrup
- Rosemary sprigs
- 4 oz bourbon
- 2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp orange marmalade
- 1 tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tbsp. orange juice
- 1 egg white
First, bring the simple syrup and rosemary to a boil to infuse the herb flavor. Let it cool. (I make simple syrup in larger batches, then keep it in the fridge for quick use and emergency cocktails. You should too.)
Second, in a cocktail shaker, combine syrup, bourbon, lemon, and marmalade—shake it with ice. Strain into a glass filled with ice.
Third, in a cocktail shaker, combine the egg white, maple syrup, and orange juice—shake until frothy and white. Spoon froth onto cocktail and add a sprig of rosemary for flair.
Not As Hard: The Horsecar
It’s pretty much a Manhattan, but with a vermouth mod to add dryness and another layer. Plus, The Horsecar is a very good name.
- 1 oz bourbon (or sometimes rye whiskey)
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- 1 oz. dry vermouth
- 2 dashes bitters (orange, or Angostura)
Shake (or stir) all ingredients with ice until super cold, strain into a martini glass. Add a cherry garnish for optional extra points.
Way Easier: Bourbon
There’s probably not a better way to understand bourbon’s complexity that to drink it neat. Maybe with an ice cube.
Choose your adventure. Are you cold? Drink it straight, in a glass preferably. Otherwise, add a big ice cube. As the cube melts, the dilution will open up the bourbon add show you all new flavors and complexity.