In honor of National Bourbon Day, we sat down with our resident bourbon expert Jennifer V. Cole to discuss the South’s favorite spirit.
How do you take your bourbon?
I used to be a purist, drinking bourbon neat or maybe with a single rock. But with the advent of the cocktail revolution, I’ve chilled out. Some of today’s smartest bartenders—the Greg Bests, Neal Bodenheimers, Todd Thrashers, and Paul Calverts of the world—show how far you can push the brown water envelope. That said, if you give me a glass of A. H. Hirsch 16 Year Reserve (well, first, thank you, because that’s an awfully nice gift), please don’t do anything to it. That’s become the unicorn of the bourbon world, and I want to taste only it.
What is your favorite bourbon cocktail?
Right now, I’m all about the Boulevardier, which is basically a bourbon negroni (bourbon + Campari + sweet vermouth). I think of it as an Italian with a Southern accent. Sexy, but unassuming.
You’re a bourbon expert and a bourbon lover. Why bourbon? What sets it apart from other spirits?
Aside from the obvious (um, I’m Southern and it’s our native spirit), one reason I love bourbon is because it’s so accessible. Other than a handful of rare birds that cost above $100, you can find really amazing bourbon in the $30 to $60 range. So, unlike Scotch or even great wines, it’s easy to sample around and find flavors you like without spending like a Vanderbilt. A “collection” can be just a c-note away.
You’re splurging, price is no object. What bourbon do you buy?
Everyone says Pappy to this question. And don’t get me wrong, I love the Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year Family Reserve. But the cult craze had made it damn near impossible to find. I’ll go with George T. Stagg or Black Maple Hill.
You’re back in college, on a collegiate budget, but you still want to drink well. What bourbon do you pick up and how do you drink it?
Bulleit. At roughly $25, it’s great value. It drinks well with an ice cube or two, and thanks to the rye in the mash, it’s got enough spice and heft to hold its own with mixers. In summer, I especially love it with a wedge of lemon and tonic, a drink Tom Bulleit himself introduced me to in New Orleans several years ago. He calls it the BLT.
Do you ever cook w/ bourbon? If so, what’s your favorite dish to make with it?I’ve tried. But I usually just end up drinking the bourbon. For the sake of argument, let’s say bourbon pecan pie.
People are strange, and they put bacon in their bourbon now. How does this make you feel?
I’ve tried it. Heck, I even geeked out and made it myself (fat washing). But personally, I want to taste the bourbon itself. And if you’re at my house and I’ve paid for the bottle, I’m probably not going to let you mess with it. But as Fred Noe (son of Booker Noe, of Booker’s bourbon; great grandson of Jim Beam) once told me, “My mama always drank her bourbon with ginger ale. And if Booker Noe’s wife can mix her bourbon, I guess anyone can.”
Does it anger you that Bourbon Street is not, in fact, a street dedicated to bourbon?
Is there even a single bourbon bar on the strip? Such a wasted opportunity.