October 20, 2004
Before flavored martinis and frozen margaritas came bourbon, the most American of spirits.
But not the stuff grandpa slapped back after a hard day’s work.
No, today we’re sipping small-batch, handcrafted elixirs with real guts and nuance, savored neat without ice.
Bourbon whiskey is high in our minds this time of year as we host family get-togethers and entertain more at home. Big meals and cool weather require an equally compelling, complementary drink. Highend vodkas, tequilas and single-malt scotches are still haute, but savory boutique bourbons are clearly on the rise.
"The trend is consumerdriven," says Clyde Schachner, cellar master at AJ’s Fine Foods in Chandler. "Bourbons are getting aged longer and better crafted.
"Customers come in and ask for specific bottles and premium items. They try something at a bar or restaurant and want a bottle at home."
Bourbon’s background isn’t terribly complicated. It is a county in Kentucky, though the spirit can be made in a number of states as long as the producers adhere to some rules.
By federal law, bourbon must include at least 51 percent corn, aged for a minimum of two years in new, charred white-oak barrels, and not be made above 160 proof or 80 percent alcohol. At this level, you could fuel a car. Most of the premium bottles are higher than the standard 80 proof, but usually not more than 100 proof.
Filler grains include barley, wheat and rye. Most producers usually don’t combine wheat and rye, however, as taste is adversely affected. Corn content usually ranges between 60 percent and 75 percent. More than 80 percent, and you have corn whiskey, not bourbon.
The flavors you’ll find in high-end bourbon run the gamut, from vanilla, fruit and spice to leather, smoke and nuts.
You can enjoy it on ice, but the preferred method is on its own and perhaps with a splash of water. Please keep juices, sodas and colas away from premium bourbon. Would you put a $50 bottle of wine on the rocks or into sangria?
A couple of good recommendations from Schachner include Black Maple Hill Single Barrel ($50), with its nice floral notes and sweetness, or personal favorite Booker’s True Barrel ($55), one of the few bourbons bottled straight from the barrel, uncut and unfiltered. It’s potent, too, at 126 proof. Booker’s is an outstanding example of
What is bourbon?
• A county in Kentucky
• It became America’s official spirit by an act of Congress in 1964
• Made of at least 51 percent corn
• Barley, wheat and rye are fillers
• Aged for minimum of two years in new, charred white-oak barrels, usually from Missouri, Indiana or Kentucky
• Cannot be distilled higher than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol)
• Cut only with water to reduce alcohol levels
• Rum was America’s first spirit, due to plentiful molasses from sugar production, but lost favor to whiskey as more Europeans settled in America
super-premium "old-school" American whiskey, developed by Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson. Other good names to look for, or to sample the next time you’re in a lounge, are Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Jefferson’s Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark and Baker’s.
And if you’re wondering about Jack Daniel’s, it’s not bourbon. While a terrific, flavorful whiskey, its recipe doesn’t fit within guidelines. Plus, it’s produced in neighboring Tennessee, and, well, the two states are whiskey rivals and they prefer to call their products "Tennessee sour mash."
But you don’t have to wait for the Kentucky Derby to pull out a bottle of spirited bourbon. It’s ideal for fall fun. You can still don your best chapeau while hanging out with old granddad.
Anzio Landing Italian Restaurant, 2613 N. Thunderbird Circle in Mesa, is hosting a wine and hors d’oeuvres tasting Saturday, with proceeds benefiting Mesa United Way. The event starts at 3 p.m. Five wines will be paired with different hors d’oeuvres. Attendees receive a commemorative wine glass. $25. For reservations, call (480) 834-2104.