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? 

Texas Tiki Week returns to 10 Austin bars this week

Texas Tiki Week

Break out your coconut bras and Hawaiian shirts, it’s time for the Third Annual Texas Tiki Week taking place Tuesday, June 24 through Monday, June 30.

The world owes a debt of gratitude to Donn Beach (a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber) who established the first Polynesian-themed tiki bar shortly after the end of Prohibition in 1934 in Hollywood, California. The former bootlegger single-handedly created this tropical drink genre in an attempt to bolster interest in lowly rum. He introduced 70 original cocktails, such as the Scorpion and the Zombie, using the recipe for the Jamaican Planter’s Punch as a starting point.

During Texas Tiki Week, bars in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio will pour special tiki cocktails and feature tiki seminars led by cocktail experts from around the country. Participating bars in Austin include Bar Congress, Contigo, Drink.Well., East Side Show Room, Half Step, Péché, Pleasant Storage Room, Red7, The Tigress and Whisler’s.

“Texas Tiki Week was initially designed to be Austin’s contribution to all of the many cocktail weeks that are popping across the country,” says Jessica Sanders of Drink.Well., who is also co-founder Texas Tiki Week and president of the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG).

“Austin is a bit eccentric and quirky, which makes it ripe for a week that celebrates Tiki, which is also a bit left of center in the cocktail world. Tiki is fun, whimsical and there is an elevated level of theater watching a tiki cocktail come together. You can’t help but smile.”

This year’s festivities start on Monday, June 23 with the Official Kick-Off Party at Pleasant Storage Room with renowned New York barman and tiki master Brian Miller mixing classic and contemporary tiki cocktails. The event is open to USBG members and invited guests only, but Pleasant Storage Room will reprise the cocktail menu for the public through Sunday. Don’t look for a tired mai thai. The menu will include more interesting classics like Don the Beachcomber’s original Pearl Diver Punch and new drinks like the Na Poli Death Toll.

Here are just a few of the most anticipated Tiki Week events.

Tuesday, June 24
Tuesday, June 24: Drink.Well. will host the Grease 2-inspired “Rock a Hula Luau” with five tiki cocktails, including a tiki twist on the classic Pink Lady and the “T-Bird,” variation of the classic Jungle Bird with rhum agricole, pineapple gomme syrup and aperol. Mindy Kucan from the Hale Pele tiki lounge in Portland will be the guest bartender.

Wednesday, June 25
Bar Congress‘ Tiki Night will feature modern twists and tiki classics including the Flaming Bowl of Cong’s Navy Grog and the Baba Yaga tiki amuse booze’ shot featuring rums, spices and Amaro.

Thursday, June 26
The Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter will host a “Cinema Cocktails” screening of the Elvis Presley classic Blue Hawaii with a tiki menu created by Bill Norris, Alamo Drafthouse beverage director, and the cocktail team at 400 Rabbits.

Saturday, June 28
Red 7 presents V2, a special live performance by Leon Taylor and Bob Spalding of “The Ventures,” one of the most iconic surf rock bands in history. Cocktails from the Red 7 team will feature Sailor Jerry rum. Opening acts will include the Del-Vipers and King Pelican.

If you’d rather sip a tiki-inspired drink at home, Pleasant Storage Room has provided the classic Pearl Diver Punch and Jungle Bird recipes.

Pearl Diver Punch (Don the Beachcomber from the 1930s)
The Pearl Diver screams exotic: spicy, refreshing with a lovely balance of tart with a hint of sweet. The booze isn’t afraid to let you know it’s steering this sailboat. Dive in.

  • .75 ounce El Dorado 8 year Demerara Rum
  • 1.5 ounce Puerto Rican Rum
  • .5 ounce Jamacian Smith and Cross N.S. Rum
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • .75 fresh lime juice
  • 1 dash house-made falernum
  • 1 ounce pearl diver mix – an elaborate mix of sweet butter, nutmeg, allspice and other awesome ingredients

Blended and served over pebble ice in a tiki mug, garnished with mint and lime

The screams exotic. Spicy, refreshing with a lovely balance of tart with a hint of sweet. The booze isn’t afraid to let you know its steering this sailboat. Dive in.

Jungle Bird (Aviary Bar at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton 1978)

  • 1.5 ounces Hamilton’s Jamaican  pot-still blackstrap rum
  • .75 ounces Campari
  • 3  ounces pineapple juice
  • .5 ounce lime juice
  • .5 ounce roasted pineapple juice
  • 1 pinch black salt

Shake ingredients hard over ice. Strain into a tiki mug and garnish with a pineapple frond.

This drink is no joke. While you could try to make it at home, its better to go see an expert during Tiki Week to get the full experience.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?