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? 

Celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month with Texas Whiskey, Austin Cocktails

Kentucky Bourbon for National Bourbon Heritage MonthWe have a wealth of opportunities to celebrate bourbon in this country, and for that we can thank Congress. Not only did that esteemed body pronounce the homegrown whiskey “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964, but a 2007 Senate bill declared every September hence to be National Bourbon Heritage Month. This is one time when we can get behind the decisions of our government.

Some boozy history
Of course, whiskey in general isn’t an American product, but the specific type known as bourbon is. There are old-world whiskies, such as Scotch or Irish, and new-world whiskies — bourbon, Canadian, Tennessee, rye, corn, wheat and blended.

We owe a debt of gratitude to a Baptist minister from Kentucky, Elijah Craig, who first made bourbon in 1798. The processes Craig set in motion have evolved into standards that make bourbon a unique distilled spirit.

Ever since, we’ve had the happy luxury of dreaming dreams that fatten on the vapors of bourbon. Ah bourbon.

Whiskey must comply with stiff regulations to qualify as bourbon. It is made from fermented mash of grain — which includes not less than 51 percent corn — that is distilled to no more than 160 proof; entered into and aged in charred, brand-new oak barrels at no more than 125 proof; and bottled at no less than 80 proof. There can be no colors or flavors added — ever.

Within the strict rules, distillers can coax an array of flavors by creating their own mash bill, or grain recipe. Increasing the corn percentage can give it sweet flavors; adding rye gives it pepper, spice and bite; wheat brings out mellowness; and malted barley adds chocolate with fermented sugars.

The use of sour mash — that thin, watery part of a previously distilled batch of whiskey mash that is added into the next batch, a step Dr. James C. Crow developed in 1823 — also affects the flavor.

The biggest impact on flavor, though, is the barrel. It’s all about the oak. The wood seasoning (“toast” or “char”), along with conditions in the warehouse where the barrel is stored (the “rick house”) — including its size, the location of the barrel, and temperature swings and extremes — contributes to the flavor as much as the age, proof, blending and batch.

Many people think that bourbon can be made only in Kentucky; others think it requires water from a pure limestone aquifer in Kentucky. Both conceptions are myths. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States — including Texas.

Accidental birth of a fine Texas spirit
One night in Waco, Chip Tate set out to make a Mediterranean knock-off of bananas Foster. He concocted a treat of figs, honey and sugar, letting them giggle in the delight of a splash of whiskey that would inflame them. The result was so good that Tate wondered what they would taste like fermented and distilled. That night, with ideas fatten on the vapors of caramelized figs, Tate decided to distill those figs, honey and sugar and the first Texas-made whiskey was born; Balcones Rumble.

Tate’s Balcones Distillery started selling its whiskey in 2009 and has been making original Texas whiskey with Hopi blue corn ever since. Its lineup is, for the most part, distinctly different from bourbon, having a lot of similarities to Scottish malt. But the ever-tinkering Tate made a small batch of bourbon to satisfy his thirsty fans.

“We made a bourbon that is cask-strength at 64.2 percent alcohol,” Tate says. “We only made a few barrels of bourbon, which equates to 42 bottles for sale in Texas, and only 18 were sent to off-premise [not at a restaurant or bar] for sale. Our bourbon aged a little more than two years in the barrel.”

It tastes of honey, baking spice, toast and pepper, with a tannic tightness on the palate. The spice of the bourbon might make one assume that the mash contains rye, but it’s 100 percent blue corn — an indication of how much impact the barrel and aging conditions can have on the flavor.

Balcones whiskies are available in Austin at select retail stores and bars, including TenOak, the Tigress and Fino.

Serious Texas distillery
A little farther south, Dan Garrison started his in Hye, Texas, distillery in 2006 and bottled his first batch in 2010. Garrison Brothers makes the first vintage dated bourbon ever produced.

They consider the limestone substrate of the Texas Hill Country to be similar in many ways to the bedrock in Kentucky, producing a similar style of water for bourbon-making. Garrison Brothers follows regulations to the letter and hand-bottles every bit of bourbon that it ages in the Texas heat.

That dedication to craftsmanship means that it is available only in limited supply in Austin stores and sold by the bottle at The W Austin.

Many people contend that the only proper way to drink bourbon is straight up, on ice, or with a splash of water. Purists, please avert your gazes at this time. Bourbon is fantastic in a variety of cocktails. Several fine Austin establishments have generously shared their fantastic recipes for National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Drink.Well., The Cat’s Pajamas

  • 2 oz. Four Roses Single Barrel
  • .75 oz. Savory & James Cream Sherry
  • .5 oz. Cynar
  • 2 dashes Barkeep Chinese Five Spice Bitters
  • Apple slices

Add all ingredients together and stir. Pour into a chilled Leopold’s coupe and garnish with fanned apple slices.

Contigo cocktail Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw

  • 1.5 oz. Bulliet bourbon
  • 5 oz. Domain de Canton Ginger liqueur
  • .75 oz. lemon verbena syrup
  • .75 ounce lemon juice
  • 3 dashes of Bad Dog Fire and Damnation bitters

Shaken, strained over cracked ice, then garnished with a lemon zest and a lemon verbena leaf.

Put lemon verbena syrup in a saucepan. Add 1 quart water, 1.5 quarts brown sugar, stir and bring to a boil. Then add 3 bunches (handfuls) of lemon verbena leaves. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, bottle and store up to two weeks.

Lucy's Fried Chicken Cocktail Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Texas Whiskey Revival

  • .75 oz. Balcones True Blue Whiskey
  • .75 oz. St. Germain
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 bar spoon simple syrup (1:1 ratio hot water and sugar)

In a rocks glass, add all the ingredients plus ice. Shake and pour back into glass. Garnish with your favorite cherry and citrus combination. Our favorite is garnished with candied orange peel and bourbon cherries when they are in season.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy

  • 1.5 oz. TX Blended Whiskey (Fort Worth)
  • 2 muddled lemon wedges
  • 1 oz. Round Rock honey-fig syrup
  • 3 oz. of Original Sin Hard Cider

Muddle lemon slices and honey-fig syrup in Collins glass. To avoid bitterness, be sure not to overmuddle. Add scoop of ice and whiskey. Top with hard cider (or fill to top). Roll in and out of shaker tin back into glass until fruit is not on bottom.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Eagle Rare Manhattan

  • 2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon (JAK’s hand-selected barrel)
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
  • Luxardo maraschino cherry

Place maraschino cherry in bottom of chilled 10 oz. martini glass. In a shaker with ice, stir whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters 10 times with bar spoon. Strain into glass over cherry.

 

This story originally ran on CultureMap. Photo credits:

DRINK.WELL. The Cat’s Pajamas – Haley Dawson
Contigo, The Dancing Outlaw – Haley Dawson
Lucy’s Fried Chicken’s, Texas Whiskey Revival – Kelly Rucker
Jack Allen’s Kitchen, TX Whiskey Shandy – Kenny Braun
Jack Allen’s Kitchen Eagle Rare Manhattan – Kenny Braun

All other photos are mine.

What are you drinking?