Technically, winter is over, although I’m not sure I’m buying it: I look out the window at Central Bistro and snow is not only falling, but also blowing sideways pretty hard. It makes me want a drink that will quickly warm my body and satisfy my taste buds. I think this cold, wintery day calls for some bourbon.
Speaking of, I should introduce myself. I’m Bourbon Girl—nice to meet you. And in full disclosure, I am somewhat new to the world of bourbon, rye, and whiskey, one in the same but different. I started enjoying the brown liquor about two years ago thanks to a good friend who convinced me Old Fashioned’s were delicious. “You have to let the fruit hang out in the bourbon for a little while.” I tried it—and he was right! It’s been a fantastic journey ever since. I still enjoy a good Old Fashioned once in a while and have enjoyed many bourbons neat (no ice) and on a rock (yes, I meant that singular—something we’ll cover later). I am going to be chronicling my bourbon journey from a beginner’s perspective, because that’s what I am. I will say, I’m a quick learner and I take my studies seriously.
“You have to let the fruit hang out in the bourbon for a little while.”
I have enjoyed some great sipping bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle 15 and 20 year—those you definitely sip neat! “I’m pretty sure I would fail a DUI test with just one sip of George T. Stagg barrel-strength bourbon.” And why wouldn’t you—it’s 128.5% proof and is neither filtered nor cut with anything else.
(For the record, even though both are from Buffalo Trace Distillery, I’ll take my old friend Pappy over George any day—sorry George, no disrespect, but I enjoy my tastebuds and according to aficionados and industry experts, it would be blasphemy to drink you any other way but with just a few drops of mineral water. Pappy and Stagg are great for sipping and relatively expensive when purchased at a bar, but not so great if you want to enjoy a cocktail to start your evening.)
Let’s talk about an approachable bourbon and my current favorite cocktail.
Let’s talk about an approachable bourbon and my current favorite cocktail. When ordering a bourbon, I look for traditional characteristics: I prefer the ones with no artificial colors or flavors—kind of like my food. Just let it ferment and age in all its own glory—if you make a great bourbon, you don’t need to add anything to enhance it.
Bourbon should have a rich amber color with a slight tint of orange. The nose or aroma should smell like vanilla and caramel—this is imparted from the virgin, charred oak barrels the bourbon ages in, usually around 4 years. By the way, you’re not sniffing wine—you don’t have to submerge your nose in the glass, and you will want to slightly part your lips and breathe through your nose and mouth when sniffing bourbon (or any whiskey). The flavor should be smooth, soft, and well rounded. And like wine, different bourbons have different characteristics: some can be a little spicy and some can have a little more vanilla. This is the good stuff—there are a lot of bourbons out there, and finding the ones you really like is the best part.
Now, let’s talk about that cocktail, the classic Boulevardier (pronounced boulevard-e-a). Ironically, I was introduced to this cocktail in November while celebrating the five-year anniversary of my business, Culinary Connectors. James Menkal, barkeep at Central Bistro, conjured up this cocktail for me after asking what I like in my cocktails. I’m not a sweet drink person, so your typical umbrella drinks are out, nor do I like a drink with a lot of citrus/acid in it, like the standard margarita (although tasty, too many is too much) but I do like bitter drinks and one that can be enjoyed multiple times throughout the evening. The Boulevardier was the answer. Using the Woodford Reserve bourbon balanced quite well with the Campari and sweet vermouth—add one rock (or it can be served up) and you have a cocktail that can be enjoyed over and over again.
Why the one rock?
No, it’s not to be pretentious—it’s all about surface area: the bigger the ice cube, the slower it melts…which means it won’t dilute your cocktail.
Enough said. Want to try the Boulevardier? Head down to Central Bistro—they only have 160 different bourbons and whiskeys to choose from—or go to your favorite bar. If the bartender doesn’t know how to make it, simply tell them it’s a Negroni but with bourbon instead of gin. If they still don’t know how to make it, leave and go to another bar—chances of them making it right are slim to none. Or you can give them the recipe—just make sure they use good bourbon, like Woodford, and a quality sweet vermouth, like Dolin. Since there are only three ingredients, the quality of what you use definitely matters.
Thanks for following me on this month’s journey. I love to learn and entertain questions, so feel free to leave any comments or pose questions, and I will reply to them all.
1 1/2 oz bourbon
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Place in a glass with ice, stir, and strain into a martini glass or over one rock in a rocks glass.
Central Bistro is located at 1691 Central Street in Denver, and their bartending staff is quite talented.
You can listen to Bourbon Girl on Culinary Connectors LIVE every Monday 1-2 pm MST on velocityradio.fm, or check out their food tours at culinaryconnectors.com.