This is a Rookerville guest post from James Dolan. As Rookerville looks to expand its content we’ll be taking on a few guest posts to hopefully, and eventually expand our team. Enjoy.
All About Bourbon:
Profoundly, uniquely and beautifully American, Bourbon is made everywhere in the United States and never tastes better than in the heart of winter. Bourbon is also a county in Kentucky where no bourbon is currently made. It used to be a much bigger place – 34 of Kentucky’s present counties – and part of Virginia. With very good limestone-filtered water, and almost no iron in that same water, Old Bourbon, as the giant mega-county was called, is the birthplace of this most American of distilled beverages. And today’s most important celebration of the toast of Kentucky is held every year in Bardstown, in Nelson County, at the official Kentucky Bourbon Festival, for six days every September. But now, in the depths of winter, we’ve still got reason to celebrate.
Bourbon is warming, usually slightly sweeter than other whiskeys. Distilled from sugary corn, it offers that nice mix right down the middle between a tough guy’s drink and one that is elegant, sophisticated and absolutely speaks to your good taste. So let’s throw a little bourbon tasting party… say a Friday evening. Invite your parents and some close friends. And dinner is optional because drinking bourbon can be the start to something even more dramatic, but you’ll want to serve up equally powerful food combinations, too.
General Rules for Pairing Bourbon:
As a general rule, younger, blonder bourbons are going to be a little sweeter, so they’ll call for slightly sweeter foods. We’ll get to that, though. First, let’s look at the centerpiece of your tasting party.
Bourbon is, by definition, distilled from some minimum 51% corn mash. Just water and corn. Distillers will then add some wheat, rye and barley malt to round that mix out depending on their own recipes. By pouring the newly distilled moonshine into oak barrels that are slight burned inside, you get a drink that’s sucked some flavor out of that wood. Sugars drawn from the surface of the wood inside that barrel mix and ferment with the sugars in the corn. Then, all the fun things like air-flow inside of the shed, temperature, and a few good years add to the flavor and nature of the bourbon, and distillers and consumers like to mull over where and when you can taste exactly what. All kinds of things like vanilla and caramel and far more exotic flavors will show up in there and that’s what your tasting party is all about.
No more than 160 proof by law, Bourbon is no less than 80 proof. So, it’s pretty much always a strong spirit. But that’s almost where the regulations end. Pour a little into your glass.
How To Classify Bourbon:
- Color: Bourbon should fill your snifter with a vibrant amber color and a deep orange highlight. Older bourbons will be slightly darker, leaning towards a brown (really a browner amber) and that can mean higher proof or just a longer time in the barrel.
- Nose: With your nose just above it, check out what you can smell. All kind of aromas are going to come up with it and enjoying them gets your palette ready. Now check the noses of your guests and make sure they’re enjoying this too. It’s no time to be pouring in mixers. The oak should give you something in the neighborhood of vanilla or caramel. Better bourbons are going to give a good smell without a lot of alcohol. But keep in mind, lots of very good bourbons are available for under $30.
- Aerate: The point is to get a little more air across the surface. Just twirl the glass a little. Instruct your guests to do it too. That should open up the bourbon a little bit, and highlight the smell, taste and the experience. Smell it again. Describe.
- Taste: Just cover your tongue. A sip. No gulping. No quaffing. Keep the taste in your mouth and draw a breath over it. Full-bodied, you want soft, but there’s a lot of variation and this is where the fun comes in. You don’t need to be an expert or a pretentious aficionado to appreciate it.
- Drink: Now cover the whole inside of your mouth. With your mouth coated, you can better judge how much you want to drink, and you don’t need to belt down a lot. Finish can be a surprise, with long stretches of flavor that last almost half a minute. Don’t let it throw you. You don’t, and arguably, shouldn’t plan on drinking more than a snifter every hour.
- Water: Water will make it last longer but will shorten your finish too. That’s usually a relief for beginners. Whether it’s a thimbleful or a couple of ice cubes, a little water will open up flavors and let you experience a wider range of flavors and sensations.
Then there’s food:
This can be as much fun as anything else, so your personal favorites matter. As mentioned, the age and quality of the bourbon your pouring can make a big difference and having a couple of good bourbons on hand can make all the difference. Younger bourbons will be sweeter, and so, sweeter cheeses and apples go very well. Older, bolder, browner bourbons will handle nuttier flavors; say nuts with blue cheese. Experiment and remember, the bigger the flavor, the better. Steaks, sausages and heartier winter flavors are the order of the day.
All of this bourbon makes for a warming, inviting opening to a hearty winter meal, or a night out walking the village center. Bourbon enthusiasts are often happy to chime in, so let’s ask them. How are you serving bourbon this winter?