Three Mint Julep Recipes to Celebrate the Kentucky Derby   

Derby Day isn’t complete without the “official” drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep. It has been served to the winning rider and relished by fans for more than a century.

The first time I tasted a mint julep was in the infield at the Kentucky Derby in 1993. I was hooked. The tradition. The ceremony. The sweet bourbon and fresh mint melting away my cares. I made a point of going back to Churchill Downs several years in a row to collect the commemorative glasses that the juleps are served in.

While I won’t be in Louisville for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby this Saturday, you can bet I’ll be sipping on a mint julep. I have my favorite recipe, but I decided to ask a couple experts to share their favorite recipes.

Mark Shilling, co-founder of Revolution Spirits, makers of Austin Reserve Gin, and Clay Inscoe, chef, mixologist, and distilling scientist at Treaty Oak Distilling both provided variations on the classic recipe. I kept their recipes in-tact, but swapped out their preferred bourbon or whiskey for an expression of Four Roses Bourbon.

Here are three great mint julep recipes for you to enjoy during the Kentucky Derby.

Classic Mint Julep Recipe
Classic Mint Julep Recipe

What Are You Drinking? Classic Mint Julep

  • 3 ounces Four Roses Bourbon Yellow
  • .5 ounce mint simple syrup
  • Fresh mint sprigs
  • Crushed ice

Mint simple syrup: prepare simple syrup by boiling 2 cup of granulated sugar in 2 cup of distilled water for 5 minutes. Stir it constantly to make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside in a covered container to cool with a handful of fresh mint tossed in (6 to 8 sprigs). You can prepare it ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight.

Mint julep: Make each julep by filling a silver julep cup (or an old-fashioned glass if you don’t have the silver cup) with crushed ice, add the mint simple syrup and three ounces of Four Roses Bourbon. Stir like a demon until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice and stir again before serving. Pop in a sprig of mint and serve. Drink, repeat.

A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Bourbon Yellow is a straight bourbon whiskey made by blending   10 of the distillery’s recipes. It’s smooth and easy going and a good choice for cocktails. 80 proof, $19.99.

Bold Mint Julep recipe
Bold Mint Julep recipe

Shilling’s Bold Mint Julep

Mark likes a really straight-forward julep just a hint of sweetness. He wants to taste the whiskey.

  • 3 ounces Four Roses Single Barrel (Mark’s preference is Jack Daniels)
  • .25 ounce mint simple syrup
  • Fresh mint sprigs
  • Crushed ice

Prepare the mint simple syrup the same as above. Start each julep by muddling 5 or 6 mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup or an old-fashioned glass, fill it with crushed ice, add the dash of mint simple syrup and a healthy pour of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (3 ounces is a reference point). Stir with potency until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice, stir again, garnish with a sprig of mint and serve.

A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Single Barrel has more swagger weighing in at 100 proof. It’s a good sipping whiskey that doesn’t need to be muddied up with cocktail fixins. $39.99.

Red-Handed Bourbon Mint Julep. Photo courtesy of Proof and Cooper
Red-Handed Bourbon Mint Julep. Photo courtesy of Proof and Cooper

Ko Julep

Clay’s recipe is a little more involved, which is to be expected because this guy is a serious chef and a mad scientist in the distillery. His Ko Julep recipe is inspired by the islands of Thailand. (Ko means island in Thai.)

Blend well, pour over full cup of crushed or shaved ice, garnish with lime wheel and fresh mint sprig

Ko syrup:

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups white sugar

Bring mix to a light simmer and make sure all sugar is fully dissolved. Then add the following ingredients to the hot simple syrup:

  • 12 sprigs of fresh mint (roughly chopped, stem and all)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (roughly chopped)
  • zest of 2 limes
  • 50 grams fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 12 sprigs of Thai basil (roughly chopped, stem and all)

Cover pot and let aromatics steep for 1 hour, strain syrup, chill and mix with spirit

A little about the whiskey: Four Roses Small Batch is made with a blend of four of the distillery’s bourbon recipes. It’s a mellow whiskey with spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. It’s tasty on its own and a decent stand in for the excellent Red-Handed Bourbon. 90 proof, $29.99.

Disclosure: I was provided samples of all three bottles of Four Roses Bourbon at no cost.

What are you drinking? 

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? 

Whiskey: Everything you ever needed to know about the drink for every man

This story originally ran in the Winter issue of Austin Man Magazine. It looks way better in print than it does here, so go pick up a copy at your closest newsstand. Story and photos by Matt McGinnis, hand-lettering by Chelsea Patitillo. 

Whiskey’s caramel-colored glory is just as at home in the coarsely calloused mitt of the rancher as it is in the well-manicured grip of a technology tycoon. Its appeal spans not only socio-economic status, but also nationality and age. It is the drink of the everyman for every man. Whiskey is an elixir that stirs the soul. Under its spell, we speak more eloquently, love more ferociously and fight more passionately. Its allure is as deeply rooted in its traditions as it is in its magical character-enhancing powers. Whiskey’s broad appeal, its adherence to tradition and its ability to transform moods and moments make it the perfect gift for the holiday season and the perfect drink at your holiday parties.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHISKEY, WHISKY AND BOURBON?

Not all whiskey is bourbon, but all bourbon is whiskey. Bourbon is not whisky. Got it? Whether its spelled “whiskey” or “whisky,” we are talking about many types of alcoholic spirits with the commonality that they are made from fermented mash of grain, distilled at less than 190 proof, aged in oak barrels. The spelling boils down to geographic preference. The Scots, Canadians and Japanese are adamant about spelling it “whisky,” while the Americans and Irish refer to it as “whiskey.”

Whisk(e)y from Ireland and Scotland is made with grains that have been dried with smoke, giving it that characteristic peatiness and smokiness. Canadian and American whiskeys can be categorized as bourbon, Tennessee, rye, corn, wheat and blended varieties. Unlike Scottish or Irish whisk(e)y, American whiskey is made using grain, so it typically has a rounder taste. So what is bourbon? Bourbon is a variety of whiskey made to meet exact regulations stipulating that it is made from fermented mash of grain including at least 51 percent corn. The rest of the bill of grains can include wheat for a more mellow flavor, rye for

Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof. It is unthinkable and illegal to add any colors, flavors or anything other than water to bourbon before it is bottled. Bourbon must be aged in brand new, charred oak barrels. The selection of the oak barrel, how it is toasted or charred and where it is stored has a huge impact on flavor. Storage of whiskey barrels in a rick house (a warehouse where whiskey barrels are stored) exposes it to temperature swings, which draws whiskey in and out of the wood, gives the whiskey its caramel color and adds oak, vanilla and spice flavors.spice and bite, and malted barley for chocolate and fermented sugars.

Another big regulation for bourbon is that it must be distilled in the U.S. In fact, in 1964, the U.S. Congress recognized bourbon as a distinct American product and passed an Act of Congress that declared bourbon “America’s native spirit.” While the majority of bourbon is made by 13 big distillers in Kentucky, it can be made anywhere in the U.S. Some say there are more bourbon barrels than people in Kentucky. Whether its whisky or whiskey, rye or bourbon, it has been a beloved elixir for hundreds of years because of its enchanting ability to paint a moment of clarity across our minds like a streak of sunset blazing across a glass skyscraper before the fog rolls in and blurs it all in to obscurity.

 

INSIDER’S TIPS

There are two terms to look for to find high-quality whiskey.

Bottled-in-Bond: The Bottled in Bond act of 1897 may well have been the first food regulation in the U.S., and was established by Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. to create a set of regulations that dictate the highest standards for whiskey. Bonded whiskey must be produced by one distiller during one distillation “season.” These whiskeys are federally regulated to be 100 proof and aged four years. There are fewer than 20 labels, like EH Taylor and Evan Williams BIB, carrying this designation.

Barrel Proof: Whiskey that is bottled at the same level of alcohol-by-volume (abv) as it is during aging in the barrel is called “barrel proof” or “cask strength.” Many whiskeys are diluted with water before bottling to bring the alcohol level down to about 40 percent abv to take the edge off. Barrelproof whiskeys typically weigh in at about 60 percent abv. These straight-strength whiskeys often come from barrels stored in the center of the rick house, where they aren’t subject to quite as great fluctuations in temperatures. The result is the barrels in the sweet spot of the rick house don’t lose as much water from evaporation. Less “angel’s share” is a good thing.

THE RIGHT WHISKEY FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS

A distinctive bottle of whiskey makes an excellent holiday gift no matter how deep your pockets.

  • For your Boss — Black Maple Hill Small Batch, this bourbon is lesser known, but has huge street cred with whiskey lovers. It says you recognize he is cooler than most people at your company without kissing too much ass. $40
  • For your Best Man Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2013, the 12th limited edition, small batch and highly sought after whiskey is a perfect gift for your best friend. It says you recognize his discerning taste in whiskey and in friends. $55
  • For your DadElijah Craig 21-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon, named for the father of bourbon, this well aged and refined collectors bottle is worthy of the man who gave you life. It says you value the finer qualities that come with time. $140
  • For your DIY Bookworm FriendGuide to Urban Moonshining; How to Make and Drink Whiskey, an informative book on the history of whiskey, and an insightful guide to making and enjoying it. $25

THE RIGHT WHISKEY GLASSWARE

The Standard-bearer. The Glencairn whisky glass bills itself as “The Official Whisky Glass,” and many an aficionado agrees that its size and shape make it the only glass for properly smelling and tasting whisky.

The Contemporary Style-hound. The hand-blown, lead-free crystal Sempli Cupa rocks glass created by designer Daniele “Danne” Semeraro spins when you set it down, aerating your whiskey while looking stylish as hell.

The Practical. Use an ordinary white wine glass for a handy way to get the most out of tasting whiskey straight.

The Traditionalist. The rocks glass, aka the Old Fashioned glass, aka the lowball glass, is as at home in a whiskey bar as it is in your hand cuddled with a cigar.

 

BALCONES DISTILLERY INTRODUCES THE WORLD TO TEXAS SINGLE MALT

Chip Tate is a mad scientist. His feverish work in the distillery and his amazing beard helps to enhance that persona.

The founder and head distiller of Balcones Distillery, based in Waco, constantly checks the quality of the white dog straight from the still. He also tastes dozens of barrel samples in his lab every day to ensure his whisky is just right. (He spells it without the “e” because he makes a Scottish style). Tate doesn’t just fixate on the whisky itself, but he also obsesses about every aspect of how it is made. He demands the absolute best quality in his barrels because of their essential role in building the flavor.

Barrels matter so much that Tate is even drying his own Live Oak staves to have custom barrels made with Texas wood. That

kind of attention to detail has produced award-winning whiskys. In late 2012, the Balcones Texas Single Malt won the prestigious Best in Glass competition held at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London. It is the first American whisky to win the prize and beat out storied whiskys like Balvenie, Glenmorangie and Macallan to take home first prize.“Barrels add wood profile during aging as the whisky evaporates and adds oxidative effects as the barrel breathes in and out,” Tate says. “We use barrels made with slow growth, yard-aged wood, with extra-fine grain and a custom toast profile charred to my specifications.”

Adding to its awards collection, the fifth anniversary Texas Straight Bourbon won the Sweepstakes Best in Show at the 2013 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. Balcones was the first Texas-made whisky on the market in 2009, and it now makes seven styles of whisky: Rumble, Rumble Cask Reserve, Baby Blue Corn Whisky, True Blue, True Blue 100 Proof, Texas Single Malt and Bimstone, a smoked whisky. It has also produced special edition bottling like the fifth anniversary Texas Straight Bourbon.

We make an original style Texas whisky made with Hopi blue corn,” Tate says. “Our whiskys have a lot of similarities to Scottish malt, but a taste all their own.”

The Baby Blue and True Blue are readily available in stores, restaurants and bars. Tate calls Baby Blue the “Reposado of whisky” because it is a youthful whisky that is lighter in color. It’s slightly lower in alcohol at 46 percent and is made to be drunk straight. True Blue is hearty, spicy, vigorous and assertive at 61 percent alcohol with caramel and pear flavors.

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is hard to find, but worth the hunt and worth the $80. It is made with 100 percent malt, fermented for seven days and is double distilled. After aging in various sized oak barrels, it has rich flavors of caramel, brown sugar, nutmeg and vanilla with ripe pear, a hint of citrus and roasted chestnuts. This is a fantastic whisky to enjoy while burrowed in to a cozy lounge chair. After a couple glasses of this, I imagine myself sounding like Tom Waits speaking intently to a burro that nonchalantly acknowledges my presence.

Balcones was set up to make about 6,000 cases a year, but is retrofitting the distillery, which is housed in a cramped 1880s welding shop, to keep up with demand. Installing new stills in the

existing distillery will triple the capacity. Balcones has also purchased an enormous former manufacturing facility that will house a new distillery, which Tate hopes to have online by the beginning of 2015.

Did I mention that Tate obsesses about every aspect of his whisky production? The mad scientist handmade his copper stills right on site at the distillery. In fact, everything in the distillery is custom built to fit exactly in the tight space. Balcones whiskys are sold in 20 states, the U.K., Australia, Sweden, Norway and Japan. Balcones whiskys are available in Austin at liquor stores and bars like The Four Seasons, The Tigress Pub and Fino.

TREATY OAK DISTILLING CO. RED HANDED WHISKEY

Texans are awfully proud people. We like to buy products made in our state. Flying in the face of that, one Austin distiller, Treaty Oak Distilling, is brazenly buying bourbon distilled in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee and selling it under its own label with a picture of Texas right on it. The gall! Red Handed Bourbon was released in November and is the first whiskey from Treaty Oak.

The name is a wink and a nod to acknowledge that they’ve “stolen” their whiskey. The distillery buys the bourbon and then blends it and re-barrels it to age for 12 to 15 months onsite in Austin. It’s actually a common practice and producers who do so, like Jefferson’s, Bulleit and Willet, are known as NDPs (nondistiller producers) in the industry. Think about it: There are dozens of brands of Kentucky bourbon on the shelf, but only a handful of distilleries.

“This is bourbon worth stealing,” says Daniel R. Barnes, owner and distiller of Treaty Oak Distilling. “We got lucky with buying really good bourbon to use for Red Handed. It was a rare opportunity for a distillery of our size to acquire the quantity and variety that we did. The oldest batches are from 2006 and the newest bourbon in our blend is from 2010. It’s fun to play with other people’s whiskeys. It tastes so different after we’ve blended and aged it.”

Treaty Oak started the distillery making rum, then gin to showcase craft spirits, before moving in to whiskey. Barnes, an avid whiskey collector with more than 300 bottles of bourbon and several antique bourbons, has been interested in making whiskey since the start of the distillery. He has been making whiskey behind the scenes for seven years, trying out different flavor profiles, but hasn’t released any yet. In preparation for making his whiskey, Barnes worked at a few distilleries in Kentucky to learn bourbon distilling. The relationships with distillers and his experience in Kentucky led to the decision to go the NPD route.

“We wanted to know how to blend whiskey before we put ours on the market,” Barnes says. “It’s an education to work with other distillers’ whiskey to make it our own. We are grateful to the guys in Kentucky who welcomed us with open arms to learn, distill and sell to us. There is great camaraderie among those distillers.”

So if it’s just purchased liquid, what makes this a Treaty Oak product? Barnes says it’s the selection of the blend and re-barreling and aging in Texas heat that makes it pop. Treaty Oak specified the bill of grains for each batch of whiskey and then assembled the exact blend desired. In addition, Barnes hand-selected the new American oak barrels with a three-level char. Treaty Oak ages the whiskey in a warehouse where the temperature doesn’t exceed 95 degrees.

Red Handed is a bold, spicy bourbon made with 60 percent corn and a heavy hand on the rye, with more than 30 percent. Barnes likes it both as a sipping whiskey and also thinks it’s well suited for cocktails like the Old Fashioned. The oaky whiskey has plenty of sweetness with vanilla, caramel and toasted pecan flavors, accentuated by black pepper and ginger. This whiskey should be enjoyed while listening to old Dinosaur Jr. albums on vinyl in a dimly lit room. Its early introduction has been well received. Red Handed has already won a gold medal at the 2013 Great American Distillers Festival. It sells for $34 a bottle at local shops like Spec’s and Twin Liquors, and it’s featured in a cocktail at the W Hotel.

Treaty Oak has enough stock of Red Handed for three years of allocated small seasonal releases of about 300 to 500 cases. That will be enough to get them through until they release their own in-house-created whiskey. Barnes intends to introduce a four-grain whiskey with an equal mixture of wheat, rye, corn and barley in about one year. It will be aged four years to get the desired complexity. Treaty Oak is opening a tasting room where visitors can sample Red Handed and its other spirits in its North Austin distillery. Barnes is in the process of building a new distillery in Southwest Austin off Highway 290 near Argus Cidery and Jester King Brewery.

GARRISON BROTHERS DISTILLERY

Tucked in to the rolling hills about 10 miles west of Johnson City, the Garrison Brothers Distillery is making bourbon in Texas wine country. Former ad man Dan Garrison fired up his whiskey distillery in Hye, Texas, to make its first batch in 2008. It’s one of the first whiskeys legally made in the state after prohibition.

The flagship Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon is made with 64 percent Texas-grown corn, giving it a sweet profile. The remainder of the all-organic grains in the mash bill is winter wheat grown on the ranch in Hye and barley from the Pacific Northwest. The distillery’s location makes a difference. The water used is filtered through the limestone beneath its ranch, much like the water used in Kentucky bourbon is filtered through limestone. The Texas heat speeds up the aging process by accelerating oxidation and evaporation for the whiskey in the barrel. It’s made in Texas for Texans.

“We have no plans to sell outside Texas,” Garrison says. “As long as the Texans keep drinking, we’re in good shape.”

The Texas corn, heat and water give Garrison Brothers bourbon sweet flavors of caramel, molasses and maple syrup, along with spices like black tea, vanilla and nutmeg. It has a little kick at 94 proof, but is silky smooth on the way down. This is a sipping whiskey best enjoyed with a lump or two of ice while sitting on the back porch with your favorite dog. Garrison Brothers bottles its bourbon twice a year in fall and spring, and vintage dates each batch. Each bottle is hand numbered and hand sealed in black wax. The distillery filled about 1,300 barrels this year. The fall 2013 vintage will be available after it has been aged about three years.

In addition to its flagship bourbon, the company released the special edition Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon Whiskey in May this year. This barrel-proof bourbon was uncut, unfiltered and bottled straight from the barrel, weighing in at 136 proof. You can still find it in some bars, but the small batch of 600 small 375-millileter-sized bottles of Cowboy sold out quickly, even at the steep price of $169. That’s a lot of cash for a small bottle. Why so expensive?

“In Kentucky, they lose three to four percent of the whiskey to evaporation,” Garrison explains. “We lose 12 to 13 percent annually. That’s a lot of ‘angel’s share.’ Our Cowboy Bourbon is expensive because after five years of aging, the barrel is only half full. A lot of the water is gone, leaving the whiskey more concentrated.”

If you didn’t get your share, never fear. Garrison has already selected the barrels he will use in the 2015 bottling. He plans to produce 5,000 of the larger 750-millileter bottles, and make it a little less expensive. The distillery is a great day-trip destination. Garrison Brothers provides informative tours of the facilities, which conclude in the tasting room. Garrison Brothers has done a good job of getting bars and restaurants to carry its whiskey, so it’s readily available throughout the state. It retails for about $75 a bottle and you can find it at major steakhouses like Vince Young Steak House, bars like TenOak, and the W Austin sells it by the bottle.

BARTENDER’S WISDOM

It is a good sign that a bar might be a good whiskey bar when you walk in and see a wide selection of whiskey labels that are out of the mainstream. The second important element is a bar staff that knows their stuff. That’s what you get at Drink.Well. on North Loop. Not only does the bar have more than 75 kinds of American whiskey, but Co-owner Jessica Sanders knows her corn from her rye. Sanders not only has studied all things wine, beer and spirits as a board member of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild and as a sommelier, but she also recently attended a week-long camp about bourbon in Kentucky. She uses that knowledge for good, teaching whiskey classes and by droppin’ science behind the bar at Drink.Well.

“Drink.Well. specializes in American craft spirits,” Sanders says. “Bourbon and American whiskey are the ultimate American craft sprits. Bourbon is a national treasure. Having a big whiskey selection is critical to our concept. It has become a life-long mission to learn about all of them.”

Tasting a whiskey properly can also improve the enjoyment. Smell it twice by inhaling with your mouth and nose simultaneously with the glass away from your face. Smell as slowly as you possibly can. That way, the alcohol level is turned down and you can smell the fruit and the balance of the spirit. Don’t bury your nose in the glass like wine or it will burn your nose hairs off. Next, sip twice. The first sip acclimates your palate to get past the first burn of alcohol. The second sip is what counts.

Now, think about the various flavors and separate the notion of heat from spice. Whiskey can have great spice flavors of black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg that are completely different from the burn of alcohol. Mind you, that alcohol heat can be there, particularly in the higher alcohol and barrel-strength styles, which can be up to 110 proof. A big swig of that without warming up your mouth will be like getting kissed by a fist.

Whiskey can be intimidating to some with its rough-and-tumble fire-water reputation. Sanders recommends beginners start with bourbon like Maker’s Mark, which has an approachable flavor. Its creaminess, vanilla and sweetness make it a suitable gateway whiskey. As people progress and want to discover the types of whiskey that they enjoy most, Sanders recommends people branch out from whiskeys they already like. Ask the bartender about whiskeys that are in the same family as your favorite.

“Don’t jump from Maker’s Mark to Bulleit,” Sanders advises. “It’s a high-rye bourbon that is spicier. Make the process a gradual one. Drink different spirits until you find the ones you don’t like and the ones you like best.”

A great way to explore different whiskeys is to order a flight, which allows you to compare both complementary and contradictory styles to see which you like better. It might be difficult to know if you prefer the Eagle Rare versus the Elijah Craig 12 if you drink them a week apart. Tasting in flights also helps find preferences among different styles of whiskey. Do you prefer the sweetness of bourbon that corn brings? Do you gravitate to spice rye or softer wheat whiskey? Or are you a big fan of the bold peatiness of Scotch? Sipping whiskey on its own is definitely an enjoyable pastime.

Purists may thumb their noses at mixing whiskey with anything but a cube of ice or a dash of water, but there are many delicious classic and signature cocktails worth exploring.

Battle of New Orleans at Drink.Well

A classic cocktail recipe that’s perfect for Sazerac drinkers who like a little variety.

  • 1.5 ounce bourbon
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1/4 teaspoon Herbsaint
  • 1/4 teaspoon Meletti Anisette

Stir all ingredients and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with an expressed lemon peel.

The Atlantic Avenue at Drink.Well

This variation on the classic Manhattan is homage to the Brooklyn cocktail, using Swedish Punsch, which is a popular Scandinavian liqueur that’s based with Batavia Arrack. Combine all ingredients with ice and stir until properly diluted and chilled. Strain into a cold cocktail coupe and express a lemon peel over the drink.

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce Swedish Punsch
  • 1/2 ounce Bonal
  • 2 bar spoons Amontillado Sherry
  • 1 dash baked apple bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters

WHERE TO DRINK WHISKEY IN AUSTIN

Bar Congress

This intimate lounge carries 60 to 70 American, Canadian, Irish, Scottish, Japanese and other regional whiskeys available, including an allocated Black Maple Hill 16 year and a rare bottle of A.H. Hirsch 16 Year Reserve. Bar Congress is known both for making solid classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Vieux Carre and Black Manhattan, and for signature drinks like The Roundabout.

Bar manager Jason Stevens: “I’m a huge fan of the Suntory Hibiki 12 year with an extended preparation. I will start a guest with the Hibiki neat, having them take a few sips to get used to the flavor then add ice, a few sips more and then finally and slowly elongate with Topo Chico soda. It’s incredible how the flavors change and how different elements fade and become pronounced throughout.”

Drink.Well

This North Loop neighborhood bar has more than 75 types of American whiskey like E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bottled in Bond and St. George Single Malt Whiskey. Drink.Well. offers flights of four whiskeys to let you taste the difference between a Whistle Pig Straight Rye 11 year and a Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.

Péché

The absinthe selection might draw you in and then the whiskey will catch your eye with a selection of about 100 bottles. Péché carries special whiskeys like a hand-selected single barrel Buffalo Trace bottled just for it and a Talisker 40-year-old Scotch.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Known for periodically hosting whiskey dinners, Jack Allen’s Kitchen carries 25 different whiskeys, including Texas whiskeys, Kentucky bourbon, Irish, Canadian and Rye. The Texas lineup includes Firestone & Robertson Distillery, Rebecca Creek Spirit Whiskey, Garrison Brothers and True Blue from Balcones. They have a hand-selected barrel of Eagle Rare 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon bottle especially for them.

tenOakTen Oak

This whiskey bar has 220 to 250 whiskeys from throughout the world, including 127 bourbons and as many as 30 American whiskeys. They love to pour Texas whiskey like the Ranger Creek Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey and Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon. They have rare and special whiskeys like the Buffalo Trace Experimental made with rice and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year.

Vince Young Steakhouse

While it may not have the largest list of whiskeys with more than 65 on hand, it has some of the most exclusive labels in town. Vince Young Steakhouse carries full sets of whiskeys, like all five Macallans, from 12 year to 30 year, and four bottlings of Pappy Van Winkle.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for tastings by Balcones, Treaty Oak and Garrison Brothers. 

What are you drinking? 

Austin’s Best Bourbon Cocktails at 4th Annual Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ

This Tuesday, September 24 from 6:30 to 9:30PM at Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal Ln., some of Austin’s best bartenders will whip-up amazing cocktails made with more than 30 American whiskies at Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ. This is an excellent way to taste through a bunch of bourbon during Bourbon Heritage Month.

In it’s 4th Year, the Austin Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) ‘Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ’ brings 16 of Austin’s baddest bartenders together in friendly competition. USBG member-bartenders participating represent the chapter’s best cocktail venues including: drink.well., Midnight Cowboy, Contigo Austin, The W Hotel, Whisler’s, NoVa, Esquire Tavern (San Antonio), East Side Showroom, The League and The Turtle (Brownwood, TX).

Using a randomly selected Bourbon, contestants will craft an original cocktail to be judged during a live competition held at the event. The winner earns the spot as the official USBG Austin ambassador at Portland Cocktail Week in October 2013. I’m thrilled to be a judge this year and am looking forward to tasting some of the bourbon brilliance.

Its obvious from the name, Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ, has more than just cocktails. It also will have all you can eat BBQ and live music from the Sour Bridges and The Possum Posse.

Celebrated in tandem with Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) Benefit day, the event proceeds will benefit the Alliance, which is USBG Austin’s 2012-2013 philanthropic beneficiary. The whole sheebang is put together by the Austin Chapter of the USBG and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (H.A.A.M.) and spearheaded by event chair, Jessica Sanders, who is the secretary of the Austin Chapter of the USBG and co-owner/bar maven of drink.well.

Tickets are a steal at $35. Buy ’em online before you go.

This story also appeared 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? 

When You‘re in That Bourbon Mood: tenOak

“You, please bite this apple.”

“You! Bite my ear.”

I gazed into the painting an imagined the woman on the left gently feeding the robotic horse with compassion, while commanding her cyborg lover to bite her harder. Balancing dissimilar dispositions is what makes us human. It’s what makes life interesting.  

Like the provocative paintings that titivate the walls in tenOak, the bar coyly invites you to try on a mood or two and maybe another one later. tenOak is a bourbon house, and nothing stirs the passion to distinct veins than a good whiskey buzz. You know what I’m talkin’ about. The way you dance with whiskey is the way it dances with you.

Sip a fine small batch, single barrel bourbon with reverence and soon enough you’re awash in a reflective, thoughtful, poetic, erudite or maybe even a melancholy mood. Now go and take that same spirit, but in a slightly dressed down, less pretentious form and shoot it with a pickle back. What’s going to happen? You might start off gregarious or flirtatious, then you do a few more shots and you move into rowdy, feisty and yeah even furious.

It’s like listening to a song by Boston, it’s “More than a Feeling.” That’s whiskey. When you’re ready for whiskey to fan the flames of emotion, tenOak is there for you.

It starts before even taking a sip, tenOak envelopes guests in bourbon. The bar is warm and comfortable with rich charred wood paneled walls reminiscent of the inside of whiskey barrels and copper accents on the bar are indicative of copper stills, mightily turning corn into dreams. Cold steel is juxtaposed with soft leather chairs and booths belying its intoxicating wish to have us hover between different temperaments. The design of the bar was influenced by its owner, Michael Girard’s travels and personal taste. I think he has spent some time with a bottle of bourbon.

Mr. Girard, who also owns Austin hot spots Cuba Libre, Imperia and Speakeasy, was kind enough to tell me about his latest business venture. He opened tenOak in March during SXSW and it really got going in April. The bar is situated in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th and Colorado in downtown Austin and has the feel of a causal, neighborhood bar. It draws an after work happy hour crowd looking to dissolve the day with one of the more than 150 North American whiskeys and bourbons and signature cocktails while noshing on creative nibbles like a tempura fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Later the bar attracts a younger crowd ready for a party. To accommodate a livelier mood, tenOak just opened the Elixir Lounge, an extension of bar in the back with darker lighting, louder music and a DJ spinning until 2:00 am. The night club attracts people walking over from Dirty 6th and 4th street clubs.

Whether you go early or late, you won’t be disappointed by the huge selection of bourbon and whiskey. General Manager, Orion Ondriska, has assembled an impressive menu of booze and several signature cocktails based on bourbon, including Martini style drinks and a twist on the Moscow Mule. They are also in the process of making a barrel-aged cocktail, which will be available in about six weeks. It’s made with Gin and orange bitters and other secret, shelf-stable ingredients. It should be worth the wait.

I asked Girard what his favorite drink is, and he chose Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon on ice. tenOak serves its whiskey with a single, solid hand-made 2” x 2” cube of ice so the ice doesn’t water down the whiskey. Ondriska explained that this is a precious commodity. They are pouring bottles from the second batch of Garrison Brothers. They have an annual allocation of 12 bottles, but they’ve been through 19 so far with a long time to go before the third batch is ready.

I was fortunate enough to get a glass of the oldest whiskey distilled in Texas (Dan, I’m angling for a visit to your distillery very soon. This is fair warning.). It was a perfect mood setter to start the weekend.  

Look Deep amber and copper like the evening sun rays streaming into the front of the bar. The iceberg jutting out was a pronounced landmark to guide me in drink after drink.
Smell A gentle sniff produced a nose full of spicy, peaty caramel with enough heat to wake up the senses.
Taste This true Texas lovely has pucker and a touch of sweet with a balance of tannins, spice, caramel, fig and toasted corn flavors. Its glycerin smooth with plenty of alcohol kick to keep the finish going long.  
Price $16 a glass

 

The Garrison Brothers had me settling into my seat ready to swim through a few moods. To keep it going I tasted a Balcones Brimstone Smoked Texas Whiskey made with 100% blue corn. Holy cow, it’s smoky like a scotch and honey sweet on the end. I’m going to have to go back and drink more of it and wander through the huge list of bourbons. tenOak is Austin’s Mecca for whiskey.

What’s your mood when you drink whiskey? Want to go to tenOak with me and find out?

tenOak provided a sample of Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon for this review.

What are you drinking?

The Right Drink for the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep

Mint Julep made with Basil Haydens

Churchill Downs is the most remarkable of all sports venues the first weekend in May during the running of the Kentucky Derby. There is nothing like seeing the horses line up in the paddock with their racing silks. It’s always obvious which horse wants to run. They toss heads and drag the trainer behind, heels dug into the mud in a vain attempt to hold back 1,500 pounds of rippling muscles. The diminutive jockeys join the horses in matching silks as the trumpets herald the coming of the race, looking like odd toys tethered to their massive equine masters. Ah the pageantry.

Then there are the ladies all decked out in summer fineries and lavish hats like they are headed to a polo match in the Hamptons. Hats so elaborate, they could have been worn to the Royal Wedding. It’s a wink and a nod to the ladies in London that get decked out for the Royal Ascot. Their perfume mixes with the perfume of the roses worn on lapels and wrists. An intoxicating mix of sight and scent.

The scene in the infield is altogether different; frat boys in flip flops yelling at girls to lift their tops, drunks passed out in the sodden mud and revelers wondering whether they are at Mardi Gras or the most prestigious horse race in the U.S. Drunken debauchery on parade wobbly dancing to My Old Kentucky Home.

Tying it all together with a bow of tradition dipped in nostalgia is the “official” drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep. The mint julep has been served to the winning rider and enjoyed by fans for more than a century. No matter whether your horse shows, places, wins or dies on the track, you will feel like you got your money’s worth when you drink that julep. There is nothing more Kentucky than horse racing and bourbon.

Whether you’re at the track or at a watching party, you’ve just got to have a mint julep during the Kentucky Derby. If you’re not fortunate enough to be at the Downs for the eight race of the day, mix up a batch of julpes yourself. Here’s how.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Several sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Liberal amounts of your preferred Kentucky Bourbon (Early Times Kentucky Whisky is the official Derby whisky)

Glass type: Silver Julep Cups or Old-fashioned Glass

Directions

  1. Mint extract: make mint extract by removing about 40 mint leaves from the stem, wash ‘em and toss ‘em in a bowl. Pour 3 ounces of bourbon over the leaves and let them soak for 15 minutes. Wring the mint out in a cloth or paper towel over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Then set aside.
  2. Simple syrup: prepare simple syrup by boiling 2 cup of granulated sugar in 2 cup of distilled water for 5 minutes. Stir it constantly to make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside to cool. You can prepare it ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight.
  3. Mint syrup: Blend 1 cup of the simple syrup with mint extract. Add the 1 tablespoon of mint at a time to the syrup to get a soft mint aroma. Repeat this with the next cup of simple syrup.
  4. Mint julep: Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and three ounces of Kentucky Bourbon.  Stir briskly until the glass frosts. Top it off with more ice and stir again before serving. Pop in a spring of mint and then insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
  5. Finish it with splash of water and a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top.
  6. Drink, repeat

Do you have a favorite julep recipe? If so share it with us so we can try it.

What are you drinking?

Whiskey Tinged

Some nights call for a fine wine and other nights call for a belt of whiskey. You know that mood – mischievousness fighting with melancholy tainted with mirth. When you have a gleam in your eye that would read “trouble” in a retinal scan, it’s time to grab a rocks glass, your favorite brown elixir and head out to the back porch swing. Dog at your feet is optional, but a nice touch.

I like Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky and Canadian whiskey, but bourbon says love to me. Love American style. It tastes like home. Like its fancy-pants cousin, Champagne, bourbon is closely associated with a small region; in this case, Kentucky. It’s so American, that it has been declared the official spirit of the United States by Congress in 1964, when it was recognized as “distinctive product of the United States.” That fine designation comes with a whole boat-load of regulations on content and qualities which keeps it true to its character.

Recently I picked up a bottle of Bulleit Kentucky Bourbon. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for packaging, and Bulleit comes in an antique looking flask-shaped bottle with raised glass lettering. I felt like I was buying a bottle of snake oil from a transient peddler of the back of a horse-drawn wagon. It’s a great nod to the   “frontier whiskey’s” heritage.

The lore of Bulleit is that Augustus Bulleit first began making whiskey in 1830. Augustus’ potion was popular on the wagon trains headed west, but in 1860 Bulleit died and his whiskey died along with him. That is until his great-great-grandson Tom Bulleit came along. In 1987 Tommy-boy resurrected Bulleit Bourbon purportedly using the original recipe.  That’s likely just a quaint marketing story. The original recipe was probably pretty harsh like white lightning. Anyway, Bulleit Bourbon is now made in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and is owned by Seagrams. It’s so big-time, it even has its own Facebook page.

Great bottle, great legend, but does it taste good? Yep.

Let’s start the inspection. It’s a gorgeous dark copper color like a bottled sunset. I gave it a big swirl and a snort like a wine and breathed in floral scents, juniper, oak spices and hay.

It’s not overly alcoholic like some of the 100+ Proof premium bourbons on the market. Clocking in at 90 Proof, it still billows out through the body like a warm thunderhead growing in intensity.

Bourbon is required to be at least 51% corn. Bulleit takes the sweet edge of that mash with a wicked high rye content of about 30%. Rye is the most important flavor grain for bourbons, which gives Bulleit some complexity. Let’s not confuse it with rye whiskey though, which must have at least 51% rye.   All of that rye doesn’t make it taste like a Rueben, but it does give it a slightly sharper taste than wheat filled bourbon.  The front of the sip tastes like honey, apple and spices, which gives way to smoked sweet-corn and vanilla for a decently long finish, but it doesn’t over stay its welcome.

I typically like my bourbon with a few lumps of ice and nothing else. However, my bro introduced me to a delicious mixed drink over the holidays made with rye whiskey. Here it is:

  • 2/3 rds rye whiskey
  • 1/3rd ginger beer (or to taste)
  • just a little squeeze of lime
  • a large pinch of fresh ground ginger

Stir that up and throw in a few cubes of ice. Deelish!

Like I said at the top of the post, there is definitely a whiskey drinkin mood. When I’m in that kinda mood, I want a soundtrack to accompany it. Here’s my latest mix, Whiskey Tinged:

  1. Busted, The Black Keys
  2. Peaches, The Stranglers
  3. La Grange, ZZ Top    ZZ Top
  4. Pill Bug Blues, The Gourds
  5. Sugar Never Tasted So Good, The White Stripes
  6. 50,000 Unstoppable Watts, Clutch
  7. Search & Destroy, The Stooges
  8. Stuck In Thee Garage, The Dirtbombs
  9. Bitch, I Love You, Black Joe Lewis
  10. Diggin’ My Grave, William Elliott Whitmore
  11. Cold Water, Tom Waits
  12. The Desperate Man, The Black Keys
  13. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Led Zeppelin
  14. Me And The Devil, Gil Scott-Heron
  15. Gypsy Woman, Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights
  16. Too Many Drivers, Lightnin’ Hopkins
  17. Always a Friend, Alejandro Escovedo
  18. Can’t Let Go ,Lucinda Williams
  19. Tuesday’s Gone, Lynard Skynard

OK, so do me a favor, let me know what your favorite whiskey is. What’s your favorite whiskey drink? What do you like to listen to when you’re in that whiskey mood? Give me some good ideas, and I might just burn you a copy of my mix and pour you a glass of Bulleit.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY. IT’S THE MARK OF A GENTLEMAN