To label a whiskey as bourbon, the combination of grains used to distil it must be made up of at least 51% corn. During the distillation process, it must be done at a proof of 160 or lower, and the whiskey must be stored in newly charred oak barrels at a proof of 125 or less without any additional additives.
The origins of the name bourbon are extremely uncertain. However, the most prominent contenders are Bourbon County in Kentucky and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Both took their names from the House of Bourbon, a European royal house of French origin. Now, if you thought bourbon was whiskey, you would not be wrong. All whiskey is spirit made from fermented grain and then aged in barrels. But the kind of grain and the kind of barrels determine the variety of whiskey. To label a whiskey as bourbon, the combination of grains used to distil it must be made up of at least 51% corn. During the distillation process, it must be done at a proof of 160 or lower, and the whiskey must be stored in newly charred oak barrels at a proof of 125 or less without any additional additives. Bourbon also must be aged in new, charred oak barrels and cannot include any additives or colorants.
It is a common misconception that all bourbon whiskey has to come from Kentucky. However, while bourbon can indeed be produced outside of the state, to be considered a "Kentucky bourbon," it must both be distilled and aged in Kentucky. Although most bourbon is made in Kentucky, there are still other regions that produce bourbon, much like the Champagne region of France is synonymous with champagne, even though sparkling wine is made in other places. Therefore, the next time you order a bourbon, you can be sure that you are getting not just any whiskey but a unique kind of delicious whiskey.
What makes bourbon even more special is just how beautifully it lends itself to mixed drinks. Bourbon cocktails are a great winter favorite, and these are our favorites, not often found on the regular bar menus. Go ahead and give them a sip!
1. BUFALA NEGRA
This one has some gangster history. At The Oakroom, where Al Capone regularly played poker in the 1920s, the bartenders use bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery in nearby Frankfort, Kentucky.
• 4 basil leaves
• 1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
• 1/2 ounce simple syrup
• 1.5 ounces of bourbon
• 1.5 ounces chilled ginger ale
Using a cocktail shaker, press down three of the basil leaves with the vinegar and Simple Syrup. Put in some ice cubes, then add the bourbon and shake it thoroughly. Strain the drink into a glass with ice and mix in the ginger ale. Place the last basil leaf on top to decorate the drink.
2. BOURBON-TEA JULEP
This belongs to the julep family—think The Great Gatsby and all those fancy parties Fitzgerald thought up. The addition of tannins from black tea gives a subtle touch of bitterness to this modernized version of a mint julep. Oleo saccharum, which is an essential oil extracted from lemon peels by soaking them in sugar, offers a vivid flavor that adds the final touch to this delightful drink.
• 1.5 cups bourbon or corn whiskey
• 2 black tea bags or 2 teaspoons loose black tea
• 0.5 cup Oleo Saccharum (citrus oil)
• 0.5 cup fresh mint leaves, plus mint sprigs, for garnish
• Crushed ice
Place a quart of bourbon in a mason jar together with the tea bags. Allow the mixture to infuse for 15 minutes before getting rid of the tea bags (or sieving the mixture if using loose tea). Put the bourbon back into the jar, add oleo saccharum, mint leaves, and a cup of ice. Secure the lid tightly and shake the jar until it's chilled. Take 6 mint julep cups and fill them with crushed ice. Strain the mixture into each prepared cup and garnish with mint sprigs.
3. NEW YORK SOUR
This delightful balance of fruity red wine and smoky-sweet bourbon is a classic that you must have in your arsenal.
• 2 ounces bourbon
• 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
• 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup (sugar syrup)
• 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) fruity red wine, such as Zinfandel or Cabernet Shiraz
• 1 strip lemon zest
Place some ice cubes inside a cocktail shaker. Pour in the bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup; secure the shaker's lid and shake vigorously until it is well chilled and frost appears on the outside, about 15 seconds. Empty the mixture into a rocks glass containing larger ice cubes.
Using the back of a spoon, slowly pour the wine over it so that it floats on the surface of the cocktail. Squeeze a lemon peel over the drink and around the rim of the glass before placing it as the garnish. Enjoy your beverage right away!
4. WHISKEY CHAI
What could be better than combining two of the best flavors for Indians—masala chai and whiskey? Makes for the perfect nightcap and an even better New Year’s opener cocktail, giving the welcome chai a whole new twist.
• 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
• 16 whole cloves
• Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
• 20 black peppercorns
• 8 cardamom pods, seeds removed from the pod
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1 quart whole milk
• 1/4 cup light brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon loose black tea
• 3 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
First, take a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder), pound all of the spices into a powder. Next, bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Remove from the heat. Add the spices, sugar, and tea, and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain the chai into a bowl. Wipe out the saucepan. Return the chai to the saucepan and rewarm over moderate heat. Stir in the whiskey and serve hot.
5. PAPER PLANE
Named for the great MIA track "Paper Planes" by drinksmaster Sam Ross, this one has the flavor of the season, Aperol, although it began life with Campari.
Ingredients as per Sam Ross:
• 3/4 ounce bourbon
• 3/4 ounceNoninoQuintessentia amaro (bittersweet Italian liqueur)
• 3/4 ounce Aperol (a bitter orange Italian aperitif)
• 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients and shake well. Strain into a chilled coupe. Don’t overshake; you don’t want a dilute Paper Plane. You want it wound and ready to take you flying.