Where to Drink Right Now: 9 Austin Bars Celebrating Bourbon Heritage Month

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

What Are You Drinking? 

Where are you drinking in Chicago? Bull & Bear

Chicago definitely has a healthy drinking culture, which is a good thing for your humble author. There are liquor stores and bars on just about every block in the city and the bars stay open late. You’re not going to go thirsty there.

I recently had the good fortune of being back in Sweet Home Chicago and my good friend, @kerrierieo, invited me to join her and her friends at the Bull & Bear in River North. The name is a dual play on the two prominent Chicago professional sports teams and the stock market. It’s a sports bar located a short distance from the Chicago Board Options Exchange. On any given night it’s full of financial types downing a few while glued to a game on one of a few dozen TVs. It’s also a hang-out for sports types too. Party boy Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks star that scored the goal to win last season’s Stanley Cup, has been known to frequent it.

Kerri and her friends like B&B for the people watching (i.e. lots of hot guys), solid menu with pub grub like burgers, truffle fries and nachos, but also for slightly nicer entrees like a seared tuna salad. They also like the pajama brunches, which unfortunately doesn’t mean sipping champagne with ladies in lingerie.

Lovely Stephanie pouring a draft at our table

But the real attraction here is the table taps. That’s right, table taps. They have beer taps right in table so you don’t have to wait to be served. Genius! Talk about a great drinking culture. This is the public equivalent of those enormous sectional couches that have the mini cooler and remote control holder built into the armrest. The only thing that could make it better is if they also had urinals under the table so you don’t have to get up to pee. Bull & Bear’s claim to fame is that they are the only bar in Chicago to have this brilliant table tap system.

There were two beers on tap at our table, Bud Light and Goose Island Beer Company’s Matilda, a locally-brewed Belgian style ale. Here is a look at the Matilda.

Look Hazy amber like a butterscotch candy with a mild cream colored head.
Smell Sweet dried grass recently cut and left to molder in the pallid November sun.
Taste Like a chilled glass of run-off from a compost heap. Herbaceous, sour fruit and cedar spice with a hint of caramel on the finish. I’ve never been a fan of Belgian style ales, so my description is decidedly biased. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine beer, but not my thing. I ended up drinking more Bud Light, not just because I could reach the tap without standing up, but because I actually liked it better.
Price $0.75 an ounce or $9 for a 12oz self-poured glass. The taps are metered, so you and the wait staff know exactly how much you’ve consumed. No honor system here.

All-in-all this is a pretty decent place to drink. Why just decent for a place that has serve-your-self-beer-taps built right into the table? Isn’t that enough to give this a Nirvana rating? It should be, but there is an unnecessary air of pretense to the place. Here’s just one example: they have bathroom attendants turning on the faucet and dolling out paper towels, mints and cologne. I gotta tip the guy every time I have to take a leak? That becomes a regulator on the self-administered beer. Need I say more about why this is just decent? At least the company was good.

What are you drinking?

Seriously, what are you *not* drinking at Lollapalooza?

Guest post from the lovely JenCad of “Oh, and one more thing…” fame. Thanks Jen!

Last weekend I was sent on a mission to ask the question “What are you drinking?” of the festival goers at Lollapalooza. After three days of investigating the behaviors of the broad spectrum of personalities that take part in boozapalooza each year, I believe it is most appropriate to change that question to “What are you not drinking at Lollapalooza?”

To the untrained booze mixing brain, the choices may have seemed limited. Particularly in the VIP lounges, where we spent the bulk of our time (yep, spoiled VIP snobs, and proud of it), we were essentially bound by beer, wine or vodka drinks. Mixers included all the Sweet Leaf Tea flavors, Red Bull (regular and the awesomeness that is chemical laden sugar-free) and soda or tonic. Well, mix we did. When it’s all just there and so readily available, your are often tempted to try something different every time. It was really interesting to watch what everyone else was swirling/sloshing around in their plastic cups.

There were the done up ladies that pretty much stuck to wine whilst sitting in the shade and fanning themselves.

Macho men that bragged about how many tall boys they could suck down in an hour.

Dancing Queens that just wanted to take down as much vodka as they could, as fast as they could, so they could get on out in front of a stage for some booty shaking.

And, the well-rounded folks (such as me and my team), who were just trying to take it all in. And by take it all in, I mean come up with every concoction possible with the ingredients provided.

It is when we left the VIP haven, though, that things really got interesting. Depending on who was on stage, or which stage you were hanging by, people’s beverages differed as much as their outfits. The Perry Stage (affectionately referred to by me as the barfing stage), was the most entertaining. Not because of who was on stage (all DJs) but because the crowd consisted of all the teenagers who had just swallowed four bags of magic mushrooms and consumed whatever liquor they could sneak in from their parents’ stash. Makes for one crazy dance party.

Don’t even get me started on Wolfmother. Let’s just say that mullets and beer really do go hand in hand.

At the end of the day, just like the music, the outfits and the company, Lollapalooza drinking preferences, are just that…preferences. Here, anything goes. We even created a new drink, that we are now calling Arkansas Sangria, during a pre-party lunch. Red Wine mixed with lime flavored La Croix soda water. Yum.

What I do know, is by the time the end of day three rolls around, many people followed this little man’s lead. Three days of Lollapalooza is a long haul and, if you are smart, at the end of the road hydration becomes the leading motivator!

Ahhh. Water.