Bourbon selection at Drink.well. Sometimes our government gets it right. On August 2, 2007 the U.S. Senate declared September as National Bourbon Heritage Month in a unanimous decision. This came years after Congress pronounced bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964. It makes sipping bourbon feel downright patriotic.

The Scots and Irish argue over who invented whiskey (or whisky as the Scots, Canadians and Japanese spell it), but bourbon is a completely American spirit. If the whiskey bottle says bourbon, it must be made in the U.S. By regulation, bourbon is made from fermented grains including at least 51 percent corn, it must be aged in new oak barrels and cannot contain any additives, colors or flavors.

There may be a lot of rules for how it’s made, but there aren’t many rules on how to enjoy it.  Jessica Sanders, co-owner of the American cocktail bar, Drink.well., recently returned from her second visit to a week-long whiskey camp in Kentucky full of insight on bourbon.

She shared a few tips for selecting a good bourbon, “Look for whiskies that have been aged for six to eight years. That’s the sweet spot. Love takes time. The younger the whiskey, the rougher the flavor and the more aggressive it will taste. Try whiskey from the old iconic distilleries like Weller 12, Makers Mark, and Old Granddad to get an appreciation for the quality that comes with the heritage of distilling year after year after year.”

Austin bars are pulling out all the stops to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month. Here are some of the best bourbon drink specials you’ll find around town.

The Blackheart
The Gentleman Caller

Old Grand Dad 114, Antica Sweet Vermouth, Brothers Black Walnut Bitters  

“Big bourbon, high proof meets black walnut in this a unique twist on a classic Manhattan,” said Jeremy Murray, general manager of the Blackheart. “We serve this in an old fashioned glass with a single large cube.”

The back bar of The Blackheart is studded with more than 100 types of whiskey. Amber sunshine brightens the smile of customers with a stellar selection of bourbons including Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year old and a solid selection of Texas whiskey including Garrison BrothersRed River Texas Bourbon Treaty Oak Red Handed Bourbon and Balcones Whisky.

Bourbon selection at The Blackheart

Drink.well
Reverend’s Reprieve

Elijah Craig 12 Year Bourbon, cinnamon syrup, fresh lemon, PAMA pomegranate liqueur, baked apple Bitters, Fever Tree Sparkling Lemon Soda, apple slice

“This is an ‘Indian summer’-inspired Highball cocktail,” said Jessica Sanders. “Elijah Craig 12 Year is a small batch Bourbon with a nose and flavor profile that begs for fall — baked apples, toffee, nuttiness—but the anise and mint finish are just bright enough to let the feel of summer linger. The cocktail is long, refreshing and fizzy, but with the warmth and spice of a cooler-weather drink.”

Drink.well. is taking Bourbon Heritage month seriously with a different whiskey offered for half price every day. It’s an impressive list with whiskeys like Four Roses Single Barrel, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Old, Eagle Rare 17 year old and Stag Jr. from Buffalo Trace.

If you want to sample several bourbons paired with food, Drink.well. will be hosting a five course dinner prepared by chef Travis Bennet on Monday, September 15 featuring cocktails and a rare bourbon from the Heaven Hill distillery.

Due Forni
The Drunken Gaucho

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, house made Limoncello, Aperol, Amaro Montenegro, egg whites

This bourbon cocktail with an Italian twist is the perfect way to whet your appetite for a traditional Neapolitan pizza. A perfect balance of booze, bitter and citrus bite with a frothy bit of fun will transport you from the Kentucky hills to the Tyrrhenian coast.

Half Step
Kentucky Colonel

Bonded bourbon, angostura bitters, Benedictine  

Barman, Florian Minier, mixes a variation of an Old Fashioned using 100 proof bourbon and served with a huge, hand-cut old fashioned ice cube. The bonded whiskey gives the drink little more heat to cut through the sweetness of the Benedictine in the cocktail. That huge hunk of ice melts slowly letting the drink mellow as you go.

Half Step has a well selected line up of whiskeys including Michter’s 20 Year Single Barrel Bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 year.

Kentucky Colonel at Half Step

Péché
High West Double Rye Old Fashioned

High West rye, lemon peel, JT bitters 

An Old Fashioned is a whiskey lover’s go-to cocktail. This recipe packs a bit of spice to keep you smiling.

Péché may be known for its absinthe, but it has an impressive selection of whiskey including Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, Jefferson Presidential 21 Year Bourbon and Willett 12 Year.

Searsucker
New Fashioned 

Angel Envy bourbon, orange curacao, orange rind, a mixture of Angostura and Peychudes bitters

“We make a ‘New Fashioned’ with our very own Searsucker blend of Angel’s Envy Bourbon that we call the Suckers Blend,” said bar manager Robin Ozaki. “Angel’s Envy blended a specific batch based on three different styles that they let me experiment with. When I dialed in the recipe that I felt best as a base for a cocktail, they bottled 120 specially branded ‘Searsucker’ Angel Envy Bottles, and sent them to Texas!”

The Tigress Pub
Beggar’s Banquet

Treaty Oak Red Handed Bourbon, maple syrup, lemon juice, Old Speckled Hen ale

“The Tigress loves bourbon,” said owner Pamela Pritchard. “We have just change the menu for September to feature some Bourbon cocktails. The three Bourbon cocktails on the menu are The Scofflaw, The Black Demure and Beggar’s banquet which is our on Tap cocktail. In addition I have some bourbons I don’t normally have on hand like Prichards Double Barreled bourbon, Angels Envy, Elijah Craig 12 year, Willet Pot Still Reserve and Wild Turkey 81.”

You might not get lost in this cozy bar, but it’s highly possible to get lost in thought sipping on one of Pritchard’s elegantly crafted drinks. Stay for a second.

W Austin
The Brother’s Quarrel

St Germain and Canton Ginger, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Laphroaig scotch

The folks at the W Austin share story about the creation of this cocktail. Legend has it that the maker of Chambord liquor challenged his two sons make a liqueur better than his, and better than each other’s. The result of the completion was one made St. Germaine and the other Canton. This drink is an homage to their quarrel with Bourbon and Scotch vying for affection in one glass.

Dustin Courtright, libationist at the W, recommends drinking the layered cocktail with a straw to let ingredients’ flavors evolve as you sip. “The scotch will come down into drink and fuse into it, then you’re left with a bourbon-Scotch marriage.”

While you are there, try the single barrel Eagle Rare that chosen and bottled specifically for the W Austin.

The Brother's Quarrel at the W Austin

Whisler’s
Lion’s Tail  

Bourbon, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, lime juice, demerara syrup, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, lime wheel  

“This is not your typical citrus-driven cocktail,” said general manager Cesar Aguilar. “By adding dram and angostura bitters, it makes a bright bourbon cocktail, where the bourbon’s sweetness is highlighted and accented with notes of all spice and clove, and it pairs well with the oaky character of the bourbon.”

Kick back with one of three featured bourbon cocktails at this easy going east side hot spot. The nights are cooling off just enough to enjoy whiskey on the patio.

A version of this story was originally published on CultureMap

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Dripping Springs Tasting Room

The area west of Oak Hill out to Dripping Springs, Texas is quickly becoming a booze barrio. The neighborhood is home to Revolution Spirits, the soon-to-open Deep Eddy Vodka distillery, and a new Treaty Oak Distilling facility that is under construction. San Luis Spirits, the maker of the Dripping Springs Vodka, has just added a new tasting bar and is offering distillery tours.

The distillery, located 25 miles west of Austin, has opened its doors to show off a micro-distilling process using gleaming 50 gallon copper stills. It’s quite a sight to see how they turn corn grown in the Midwest into vodka. As an added bonus, after the guided visit, guests are able to taste the finished goods at the newly installed bar. And hey, you get to keep a branded shot glass, too.

Tours are available each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 1 pm and 3 pm for $10 with a reservation. The tasting bar also sells full-size bottles of Dripping Springs spirits and other swag.

That’s not the only trick up the distillery’s sleeve. San Luis Spirits is expanding its lineup of spirits to add Dripping Springs Gin, officially released September 2. It joins other notable local gins Austin Reserve Gin, Genius Gin and Waterloo Gin in the fight for Austin’s love.

This isn’t the first go at making gin for San Luis Spirits. In the summer of 2011 they partnered with Don Short, former Coca-Cola executive, and Robert Del Grande, James Beard award winning chef, to create Roxor Gin. Unfortunately that product was shelved because of a TABC law that precluded contract distilling. That law has since changed, but it’s too late for Roxor. The good news is the venture helped them learn a lot about making gin.

“The recipe for Dripping Springs Gin is quite different from Roxor,” said Kevin Kelleher, co-owner of San Luis Spirits. “When Roxor ended, we agreed not to do another gin like it. It had 12 different botanicals and Dripping Springs has nine botanicals. We decided to go after four primary notes and do the best job that we can. Our gin has a focus on juniper, but we backed off on traditional juniper forward London Dry style. We use hibiscus for a floral scent, cardamom for spice, and Texas oranges and limes from Mexico to get a bright citrus flavor. We finish it with the artesian spring water with a lot of minerality that cuts the hard edges and makes the gin.”

Dripping Springs Gin is made by steeping the botanicals in Dripping Springs Vodka for 24 hours at 120 proof and then distilling it again. Four of the distillery’s 15 stills are used to make 40-gallon batches for very limited production. Each botanical has different “gravities,” which causes them to distil at different rates. Dripping Springs has worked to ensure it captures the ideal flow from the heart distillation to get the essence of each botanical without over cooking them. The gin then gets a light filtration to remove some of the oil that might make it cloudy.

The finished product is soft, smooth and flavorful. Try it in The Dripping Springs Vesper:

  • 2 ounces Dripping Springs Vodka
  •  2 ounces Dripping Springs Gin
  • .5 ounce Lillet Blanc

Shake ingredients together with ice, strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and serve it garnished with a lemon twist.

A version of this  story was originally published on CultureMap.

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