Bourbon. The very word conjures something classic—say, a chance encounter at a dive bar in a ’40s film noir. The girl’s got moxie, so she takes it on the rocks, the same as the mysterious stranger with his brim pulled low. She matches him drink for drink as the clock ticks on toward midnight. At the witching hour, she gets up to leave and sidles past Mr. Tall/Dark/Handsome, and her satin heels are nearly out the door when he reaches out and pulls her into a long, smoky kiss. I’m not promising bourbon can do this for you. But try ordering it the next time you saddle up at your favorite watering hole. Chances are, the bartender will have a decent selection. Because bourbon’s back, baby, and with a bang.
An American classic if there ever was one, bourbon got its start in the limestone waters of Kentucky, where most bourbon is distilled to this day. The corn-based liquor gets its smooth, sweet smokiness from the charred interiors of new white oak barrels. To learn more about bourbon’s colorful history and that of its kissing cousin, Tennessee Whiskey (e.g. Jack Daniel’s), check out Fred Thompson’s new book, Bourbon. Thompson also breaks down the whole small-batch and single-barrel thing. But the real reason to pick this up? Fifty fine recipes, from the evergreen mint julep to the author’s bourbon balls.
A true southern comfort, the mint julep is due for a comeback. We’re hoping to taste-test the perfect bourbon to mix in this drink at next month’s Beer, Bourbon & BBQ festival in NYC. In the meantime, we’re ringing in a minty-fresh New Year with the book’s silver-cup classic from the famed Greenbrier; along with a festive spin, the Sparkler. Bubbles up!
The Greenbrier’s Mint Julep 12 fresh mint sprigs, plus 2 sprigs for garnish 2 oz simple syrup Crushed ice 4 oz bourbon (Thompson’s preference: Maker’s Mark)
Place two old-fashioned glasses or julep cups in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Place 6 mint sprigs and 1 oz simple syrup in the bottom of each glass. Muddle until the mint is crushed. Fill the glasses with crushed ice and divide the bourbon between the glasses. Stir until the glasses are frosted and the drink is extremely cold. Garnish with the remaining mint, and serve. Serves two.
Mint Julep Sparkler ¾ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves 1 tbs superfine sugar 4 oz bourbon One 750-ml bottle very cold Champagne
1) In a small bowl, combine the mint leaves, sugar, and bourbon. Crush this mixture slightly to extract flavor from the mint. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least six hours; overnight is much better. The flavor continues to improve the longer the mixture is left to marry. 2) Remove the bourbon mixture from the refrigerator and strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing hard on the mint leaves to extract every bit of juice you possibly can. Discard the leaves. 3) Spoon 2 tsp of the bourbon-mint syrup into each of the six Champagne flutes. (You’ll have enough syrup left over to make another batch.) Equally divide the Champagne among the flutes, and serve immediately. Serves six.
Note: the presentation and flavor of this drink are much more impressive when the Champagne flutes have been placed in the freezer for several