I was feeling good. I had cozied up to the thick oak bar and was cradling my glass of bourbon with both hands like a newborn kitten. Okay, I may have been kind of snuggling my drink, Iâ€™ll admit it. But I was just so happy I couldnâ€™t help it. I canâ€™t say I thought Iâ€™d ever end up in east Tennessee, but after my meal of tender barbecue, I was in no rush to leave. The bourbon was helping with that. My cheeks were rosy and I couldnâ€™t exactly feel my legsâ€¦but in a good way. In that special â€śIâ€™ll be happy with this evening if I donâ€™t make it further than talking whiskey and smoked meats with this charismatic and informative bartenderâ€ť way.
Â Not only did I end up having the chance to sip a whole spectrum of local bourbons that night, but I also learned a lot to boot! Special thanks to Fred, the talented mixologist at Corkyâ€™s in Gatlinburg, for his company and expertise.
Did You Knowâ€¦
Distillers started making bourbon during the 1700s in Bourbon County, Kentucky. To this day, legit bourbon must be made in the United States. I was under the impression that it was strictly a Kentucky-grown spirit, but as long as itâ€™s made on American soil and has at least 51% corn going on in it, itâ€™s bourbon!
Â There are all sorts of variables to consider when choosing your bourbon. If you want it straight, then itâ€™s been aged for two years or more and has no added coloring or flavors. Even blended bourbon must include at least 51% straight bourbon in its make-up.
Bourbon doesnâ€™t require a certain amount of aging, but it can stay put in its charred-oak barrels between four and nine years to achieve its sought-after coppery hue. Some cheap, mass produced brands may only age their barrels for a few months and boy, can you taste the difference!
Gatlinburg was close enough to be considered bourbon country, but if you really want to show your appreciation for whiskey, head to Bardstown, Kentucky. Fred said that 97% of all bourbon in the world is supposedly produced thereabouts. Jim Beam, Makerâ€™s Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve distilleries are all nestled in the farmlands surrounding the ĂĽber-quaint downtown and the renowned Kentucky Bourbon Festival is held here every year.
How Do You Like It?
Iâ€™ll always have a place in my heart and palate for the Evan Williams of my youth, er, early 20s, that isâ€¦it reminds me of late nights ranting and raving around the kitchen table with my dad and uncle, sloshing our Manhattans around due to fits of politically inspired gesticulations and laughter. Dating back to 1783, itâ€™s now considered a bargain brand, but I think itâ€™s perfect for mixing.
Uncle Philâ€™s Manhattan
2 oz Evan Williams Bourbon
Â˝ oz sweet vermouth
Splash cherry juice
Generous sprinkling of Angostura bitters.
Combine ingredients in a pint glass and fill with ice. Shake the living daylights out of it, then strain over fresh ice cubes in a rocks glass. Garnish with not one, but two cherries. You can thank me later.
If you want to savor the flavor of your bourbon, take it either neat or with a few rocks and sip away. Opt for a small batch like Woodford Reserve Masterâ€™s Collection, which is oaky yet spicy with notes of warm, sweet caramel. Basil Haydenâ€™s is another youâ€™ll want to spend some quality time with. Aged for 8 years, itâ€™s woody and complex, yet light at only 80 proof.
Arguably the most popular bourbon libation of winter is the Hot Toddie. A bracing, warm beverage that will scintillate your senses with its bouquet of spices and citrus, a toddie is good for what ails you. I like to use Knob Creek, a bold, kick you in the shin-style small batch bourbon. The strength of the whiskey stands up to the honey, clove and lemon in your mugâ€”youâ€™ll be defrosted in no time!
Classic Hot Toddie
2 Â˝ oz Knob Creek Bourbon
ÂĽ oz honey
1 clove studded lemon wheel
hot water boiled with a cinnamon stick
In your mug, gently bruise the lemon wheel to release the citrus oils in the rind. Add the honey and bourbon, then fill your vessel with steaming hot water. Stir and garnish with the cinnamon stick and a few dashes of bitters. If you really want to take your toddie to the next level, try it with brewed herbal tea in place of water!