Bourbon is a distinctly American whiskey. It’s so tied to its Southern American roots, even the name itself comes from Old Bourbon, a region that included much of what is today Eastern Kentucky.
Though it isn’t known exactly where bourbon originated, its invention is often credited to the distiller and Baptist minister Elijah Craig, who used to distill his whiskey in charred oak casks, giving his whiskey the signature red color.
Similarly, the sour mash process, by which each fermentation of the whiskey is conditioned with the same amount of spent mash, is usually attributed to either James C. Crow or Jason S. Amburgey. The acid from using sour mash controls the growth of bacteria and creates a proper pH balance for the yeast.
Today, bourbon is considered a “distinctive product of the United States” and importation of whiskey designated “bourbon” into the U.S. is prohibited. Recently, high-end bourbons have seen tremendous revenue growth. United States spirits exports have exceeded $1 billion since 2007, virtually all of which are American whiskeys. Bourbon is now sold all over the world and is especially popular in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia and Japan.
Some of the most popular uses for bourbon, aside from being served straight or over ice, is in the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep. Those looking to buy whiskey will probably find the most popular bourbon brand to be Jack Daniels whiskey.
Last week we offered a simple recipe for the de facto whiskey drink of summer: the venerable Mint Julep. But if you want to try a variation of this old standby, why not give the Double-Barrel Mint Julep a go? As the name implies, the Double-Barrel Mint Julep (via GQ) kicks up the intensity (and sweetness) of the original by adding rum, peach and bitters to the equation. Follow the recipe below to make your own. You’ll need to buy whiskey first, of course, and like any other Mint Julep, bourbon is recommended, so save the single malt Scotch for another day.
The Double-Barrel Mint Julep
- 6 sprigs mint
- 2 oz. bourbon whiskey
- 1 tsp. crème de pêche (or juice from canned peaches)
- 1/4 oz. simple syrup
- 1/4 oz. rum
- A dash of bitters
- Muddle half the mint in the bottom of a tall glass.
- Add the whiskey, crème de pêche and simple syrup.
- Fill two thirds of the glass with crushed ice and stir.
- Top with more ice, float the rum and bitters and add the remaining mint as garnish.
Of course, you don’t have to be this fancy to make good whiskey taste good. For a much simpler (but still tasty) summer cocktail, simply mix two parts whiskey and one part lemon juice, then add some sugar, soda and ice.
One thing we love about whiskey: It can be enjoyed any time of the year. Single malt Scotch is warming in the cold winter, but whiskey can also make a refreshing cocktail in the summer. Among the most popular summertime iterations is the famous mint julep.
Originating in the Southern United States, the mint julep was likely invented sometime during the 18th century, its name a derivation of the Persian word golâb, meaning “rose water.” It gained popularity when Kentucky Senator Henry Clay introduced the Southern treat to D.C. It also received national attention from the Kentucky Derby, where it’s been promoted by Churchill Downs since 1938. About 120,000 mint juleps are served at the Derby every year.
Part of the appeal of the mint julep is that, in addition to its delicious and refreshing taste, it’s also very easy to prepare yourself. Just buy whiskey and follow this simple recipe:
- 3 US fluid ounces bourbon whiskey
- 4 to 6 sprigs mint leaves
- Granulated sugar, to taste
- Put mint, sugar and a small amount of bourbon into the bottom of a mixing glass.
- Gently muddle the mint and sugar, then let sit to allow the muddled leaves to release their flavor.
- Strain and pour into a julep cup or tall glass, rotating to coat the sides.
- Fill with ice, then add the rest of the bourbon whiskey.
- Garnish with a mint sprig.
In the whiskey market, old does not always equate directly to a higher quality. If you had a $12 bottle of junk whiskey for a million years, it would just be a slowly disappearing bottle of junk whiskey. We say “disappearing” because each year 4% of whiskey simply evaporates into what is often referred to as the “angel’s share.” By contrast, if you had a beautiful, brand new bottle of your favorite whiskey, it would remain just that.
That said, the concept of the “angel’s share” means that the rarest whiskey is inevitably the oldest whiskey. For any given year, whether it is 1500 or 2013, the percentage of whiskey left over after that year is 96%. Each year that number is once again brought down by 4%. So if you value being the only person to have something, then the dream would be to be the only person with the oldest bourbon or single malt Scotch in the world.
Luckily for most whiskey drinkers, it is enough to enjoy a nice glass of the stuff. It is not about chasing some social cachet, but instead a private pursuit of unique and complicated flavors. For people looking for a stellar selection of whiskeys not buried in private layers for centuries, The Whiskey Place has a stellar selection to choose from.
A statue of Jack Daniel.
If you are a fan of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, you are quite obviously not alone. Besides an infamous history connected to a wide array of legendary musicians (Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Mötley Crüe, the National, Ke$ha), comedians (Sam Kinison, Jon Belushi) and film characters (The Shining‘s Jack Torrace), the beverage also counts itself among the best selling in the world, having sold 10.6 million cases in 2011 alone.
Jack Daniel’s cultural and market role is gigantic, but in many ways the company itself has maintained much of the homespun charms of its marketing image. Unlike many other market-dominating companies, Jack Daniel’s Whiskey has stayed true to itself while growing into a behemoth. To highlight this fact, it is worth pointing out that on the first Friday of every month employees at the Jack Daniel’s factory receive a free bottle of the beloved spirit. Sounds like good work if you can get it!
The unique charms of Jack Daniel’s entire line of whiskeys is rooted in the place it is made, Tennessee, and in their self-constructed image as a maker of rustic, rough and tumble charm. For some reason, maybe it is the taste, Jack Daniel’s reputation seems fossilized and unlikely to change.
The debate over “rocks” or “neat” whiskey has raged for years. For a little while it seemed like the folks who preferred it neat, or without ice, had won. Ice, it was suggested, dulled the taste of a well made whiskey and cooled the beverage more than was optimal. Then somewhere between five seasons of Don Draper taking ice in his Canadian Crown and an expanding market for whiskey among novices, the rocks (a.k.a. ice) came back.
Experts in whiskey enjoyment tend to continue flouting the use of ice as unbecoming of an honest whiskey aesthete. Many of these same experts, however, say that a splash of water is necessary to open up the flavor of the whiskey, something that a rocks fan would insist the ice eventually does while also making the drink more palatable as a beverage.
In all, it seems that there are no more hard fast rules about whiskey and ice. These days I am as likely to rocks as I am to go neat, a clear break from a past where being “right” mattered more to me than enjoying an experience. My decision, and perhaps more of us should be open to this sort of thing, is to be open to enjoying whiskey however it can be presented. Sometimes that means ice and sometimes it means going neat.
These days there is a wide array of ways to check the exact proof of whiskey. This is a lucky break for distillers, considering the close monitoring of whiskey alcohol percentage requirements by various international governments.
Before the more complex variation of alcohol percentage research, there was a very simple–if hardly exacting–way to check how boozy your booze actually was. You would simply light it on fire. For distillers, this was a good way to figure out just where the percentages landed. If the whiskey burns too hot, it is an indication that there is too much alcohol. In these cases, older distillers would sell–at a steep discount–this whiskey to their employees, saving the safer whiskey for actual consumers.
Some novice whiskey drinkers are likely saying things like, “The more alcohol, the better!” This assessment is dead wrong. Whiskey drinking is not supposed to be solely about the buzz you are hoping to get. It is about the complexities of flavors therein that truly matter. Not to mention whiskey with an explosive quantity of alcohol can be incredibly dangerous. It can lead to blindness and organ failure.
Luckily, the days of watching whiskey burn as anything other than an experiment are long gone.
A whiskey prescription.
Last week we discussed a historical rebellion thanks to people’s dedication and love for whiskey. It was a revealing bit of history that shines just a bit of light on how far people will go for their favorite beverage. The booze stifling of Prohibition likely caused almost as much of a stir among whiskey drinkers in the United States of the 1920s. The full scale banning of alcohol by the Federal government was harder to end with a large protest.
Lucky for drinkers of whiskey then that the government left a clear and easily exploitable caveat in their Prohibition legislation. At the time pharmacists and doctors could easily prescribe and sell whiskey respectively as a pain killer. Through that loophole a lot of American drinkers were able to continue enjoying whiskey throughout Prohibition, though without the vast array of different Scotch whiskeys and bourbons that make whiskey appreciation such a enjoyable hobby.
While the popularity of medicinal whiskey kept some enjoying their favorite spirits, it was a huge boom for the drug store business. Over the lifespan of Prohibition, the Walgreen’s drug store grew from 20 locations to 400. By almost any estimation that growth would have been impossible without a little whiskey.
As anyone with a cursory history of America at their intellectual disposal will tell you, the United States is no stranger to uprising. The item that often comes to mind is the Boston Tea Party where, out of frustration over an English tax on America’s tea purchases, Bostonians dressed up like Native Americans and hurled tea into the Boston Harbor in protest.
While Americans fought the taxes of the English tooth and nail, taxes by their own government have often been moaned about but rarely resulted in full uproar. However, it appears Americans’ passion for whiskey pushed them towards what is commonly referred to as The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
Thanks to a tax on whiskey levied by Alexander Hamilton, an uprising began in some Pennsylvania counties in 1791. Among Irish and Scottish settlers in these areas, whiskey was an important economic commodity and so they felt uniquely targeted by the tax.
Things boiled over and rioting began in 1794. Then President George Washington sent in the United States Army to quell the rioting. Once things settled down, Hamilton attempted to have two dissenters tried for treason, hoping to set an example for other would be revolutionaries. They were later pardoned by Washington and the tax was repealed in 1804. A happy end to a strange chapter in American whiskey consumption.
St. Patrick’s Day is this week, and for a lot of us that means celebrating the grand traditions of the Irish in America and beyond. On St. Paddy’s Day, the music of the Pogues, a well boiled corn beef and the best Irish whiskey on the market are all of ours to share.
We here at The Whiskey Place have a soft spot for the wide variety of high quality Irish whiskeys available from our site. Looking over the standards set for Irish whiskey by the government in the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980, you get the sense that the country as a whole has a unique sense of pride around their whiskey.
The Act ensures that, first and foremost, Irish whiskey must be distilled and aged on the island of Ireland. It also defines specific alcohol by volume standards, less than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains. Irish whiskey also must be aged, at minimum, three years in wooden casks.
Of course, these rigorous standards for whiskey production have led to a wide variety of some of the most popular whiskey brands the world over. From Bushmills to Jameson, for many people when you mention whiskey, you are talking first and foremost about Irish whiskey.