What happens when you combine corn, limestone, white oak, fire and time? You get one of the most beloved alcoholic spirits in American history: bourbon.
As June 14 is National Bourbon Day, a little history is needed. In the mid-1700s, Scottish-Irish settlers in the area that is now Virginia and Kentucky began distilling corn, the only grain native to the area, but which was an excellent whiskey due to its sweetness. Another geographic factor was also beneficial for the birth of bourbon. The limestone shelf region, where all the major American whiskeys are still made, soaks local water with calcium while straining iron.
It turns out that high calcium and low iron water is great when it comes to making moonshine. We have a cleric-distiller named Elijah Craig to thank for the third main piece of the bourbon puzzle. In the late 1780s, Craig was using old fish barrels to store his spirit. Not surprisingly, the fish-flavored wood did not enhance the taste of the whiskey, so Craig began to purify the white oak barrels by charring the interior. He then sealed the barrels with his home county (Bourbon County, in his case) and shipped them on a 90-day trip to New Orleans. Charred oak and three-month travel time combined to soften the whiskey for a smooth, smoky, oak flavor. When the new Orleans asked for more “that Bourbon whiskey”, the name and the spirit were born.
NATIONAL BOURBON DAY ACTIVITIES
Mix a bourbon-based cocktail
Sure, there are times when a cocktail made from Hibiscus Bitter and Basil-Strawberry Bush and Ancho Chili Powder and Peychaud is exactly what you crave after a hard day at the office. For any other occasion, a classic, for example an Old Fashioned, will do the trick. Perhaps the oldest and best-known mixed drink of all, Old Fashioneds, is very easy to make. Place a cube of sugar (or a teaspoon of extra fine sugar) in your tall glass and add several drops of Angostura bitters and a few drops of water. Add two ounces of your favorite bourbon and several ice cubes; stir quickly to cool the drink. Do you feel super stylish? Garnish with a maraschino cherry or orange slice.
Host a bourbon tasting party
If you’re a purist, you might turn down even these little additions, in which case a bourbon tasting is more your style. Invite a few friends over and ask them to bring a different bottle (or ask everyone to eat beforehand, so you can control the selection). Our tip: add a drop or two of distilled water to each pour; This will help open the aromas. Then activate your sense of smell and taste to detect flavors and characteristics in the bourbon. Is it woody or smoky, or more fruity and floral? Are there sweet or buttery notes? Walnut, earthy, and herbal are also common descriptors of Bourbons. Remember, the goal here is to compare and contrast, just like in high school rehearsals, with the intention of discovering what you like best about this spirit.
Watch teachers at work from the comfort of your easy chair
Did you know that there is a complete documentary dedicated exclusively to bourbon? It’s called Neat: The Bourbon Film, and while there’s no release date yet, it seems like it’s worth the wait, judging by the advancement and advancements of social media. In the meantime, check out the hour-long public television station KET’s “Kentucky Bourbon Tales” and feature interviews with master distillers.
WHY WE LOVE NATIONAL BOURBON DAY
It goes with everything
Bourbon is a fairly versatile liqueur, so whether you’ve picked up a bottle or are on the brass bar, you have options. Drink it alone or on the rocks; Go discreet with a hint of lemon; replace it with most whiskey-based drinks; think of manattans and sazeracs; mix it with ginger ale. And while we associate Juleps with the Kentucky Derby, there’s nothing wrong with a little confused mint any day of the year.
It is authentically American
The United States produces award-winning wines, exceptional craft beer, an increasingly high-quality variety of ciders, some excellent vodkas, and a host of overly sweet, flamboyant, and ridiculously well-known. But all of those (yes, even the bargain brand root beer brandy) can trace their origins back to other cultures or countries. Only bourbon is indigenous not only to America but, specifically, to the southern United States, with 95% coming from Kentucky.
Bourbon is a decidedly adult drink
We laugh at the memes that celebrate the difficulties of adulthood, but there is something to be said for drinking like a real man or woman. Most drinkers start with cheap beer, wine coolers, or vodka mixed with whatever’s in the fridge, and there’s nothing wrong with drinking what’s available when you’re younger. However, it is time to put away the red Solo cups and develop a taste for the most sophisticated spirits. Enter bourbon, which is often more affordable than, for example, single malt Scotch whiskey or high-end tequilas.