Produced in Kentucky since at least the 1800s, bourbon is a traditional corn whiskey with a sweet, smoky flavor. Beginning in 2012, sales of whiskey in the US began to increase more quickly than sales of other liquors such as gin, vodka or rum. The “bourbon boom” sees this whiskey finally being considered alongside the best Scotch whisky or Irish whiskey. There are many ways to drink this classic American liquor, ranging from neat to classic cocktails to elaborate modern recipes.
The classic method of enjoying bourbon’s distinctive flavor is to drink it neat. Pour two or three fingers of bourbon into a tumbler and serve at room temperature, the better to appreciate the aroma. Some purists scoff at mixing bourbon with anything at all, but a few drops of water or even an ice cube can enhance the flavor. Different bourbons will respond differently to different treatment, so experiment and see which method is right for you.
Bourbon and ginger ale is a classic combination best enjoyed on a hot day; simply pour a measure of bourbon into a tall glass with ice, and then fill with ginger ale. Bourbon also goes well with fierier ginger beer or ginger liqueur. Club soda is another common mixer for bourbon. Probably the South’s most famous drink is the mint julep, a simple combination of bourbon, ice, sugar (or sugar syrup) and fresh mint leaves traditionally served in a tall silver beaker.
Bourbon is the key ingredient in a number of classic cocktails. The Old-Fashioned, one of the earliest known cocktails, mixes bourbon (or rye whiskey), club soda, sugar and a liberal helping of bitters to create a potent mix that’s neither too sweet nor overpoweringly alcoholic. Similarly, many bartenders make their Manhattans with bourbon (although rye is the more traditional choice), vermouth and bitters.
The warm sensation of bourbon going down makes it a great choice for hot drinks. Bourbon can replace Scotch in the traditional recipe for a hot toddy: Combine 2 tablespoons of honey and 6 of bourbon in a cup of hot water, and then add lemon peel and cinnamon sticks. It’s both a classic folk remedy for a sore throat and a comforting way to deal with a cold winter evening.
References and ResourcesKentucky Distilleries: How to Drink Whiskey
The New York Times: Bourbon's Affinity for Ginger
Esquire: Mint Julep
Esquire: Old Fashioned
Esquire: The Manhattan
Bon Appetit: Honey-Bourbon Toddy
Lexington Herald-Leader: The Spirit of Kentucky