The 4th of July. A blissful day of vacation perfectly situated into the midsummer. It means BBQ, friends, and a day to celebrate all things Americana, but that’s not just baseball and apple pie, it’s also whiskey. Bourbon, that is. Bourbon is the quintessential American spirit, and it’s the only spirit recognized by a federal law as being a “distinct product of the United States.” There are many of tales of Paul Bunyan-esque lore on how bourbon came to be, but the most likely version is that the settlers in the original county of Bourbon, Kentucky started distilling the local grain (corn) in barrels from made from readily-available wood (oak). The place of origin was stamped on the barrels and the corn whisky became known as bourbon. This spirit evolved to the bourbon we drink today.
Our wide selection of bourbon is worth exploring. Strong but sweet with brown sugar, caramel, and vanilla flavors help to make it so appealing and in turn, helped to fuel the bourbon demand / craze / passion that we are experiencing today. (It wasn’t too long ago that bourbons like George T. Stagg hung around on the shelf for weeks at a time!) The selection is vast – the most popular brands becoming notoriously hard to get – from the classic Kentucky standards like Buffalo Trace, to craft-producers like FEW Spirits from Chicago, to even those widely available yet easy to drink – Makers, Woodford. The category continues to rapidly expand, and with more producers trying to make the next Pappy, there is always something new to try. As with wine, in the end the bourbon you come to love comes down to your own personal taste.
So what should you do with this essential American spirit? The answer is the original cocktail: The Old Fashioned. As with all simple recipes, people tend to have their own opinion on what makes a proper Old Fashioned: soda water or none, garnished with a lemon, orange, cherry or none at all, or made instead with rye. (Sidenote: I’ve found this is not an argument to be had with Wisconsinites…) In any of its forms, the best thing about the Old Fashioned is that it heightens the spirit rather than masking it, in turn helping you to develop your own bourbon palate.
And so, in my humble opinion, How to Mix the Old Fashioned:
Into your old-fashioned lowball glass (bonus points for it being chilled):
Step 1: A teaspoon of sugar. Use Demerara sugar, available in the Cheese Shop. Its rich, raw sugar flavor complements the drink far better than granulated.
Step 2: A teaspoon of water to stir briskly into the sugar, making course simple syrup.
Step 3: 2 dashes of bitters.
Step 4: 2 ounces of bourbon.
Step 5: Add ice, and stir vigorously.
Step 6: Orange peel. Squeeze a bit to get the oils flowing, and rub around the rim of the glass before garnishing the drink with it.
Americans having been sipping some version of this drink for practically as long as we’ve had the right to celebrate our independence. With what could you toast your countries founders better than that? Happy 4th, everyone.