My love affair with all things drinkable began in scotch and evolved to bourbon. Kind of backwards, I know, but it conjures up memories of friends gathered next to a fire in early spring, sitting on the porch sipping Mint Juleps in the dead heat of summer, and a clear change in how and what I like to drink.
Bourbon is often thought of as a cold weather beverage. It’s amber in color, higher proofed, and commonly mixed with cola or ginger ale (or into toddies). It is great for knocking the chill off your spine in the winter months, but what about the summer heat? So often drinkers overlook bourbon for vodka and its cousin, gin, but that’s a sacrifice no one should make.
In my house, we opt for the Julep. Old Grand-Dad 86 proof is my go-to brand for sippability and price. Prepare it in a metal cup—the heat transfer that takes place in drawing energy outwards of the cup forms a frost and the Julep is at its best when frosty and sweet. If you want to get nerdy about it, my friend Chris McMillan of New Orleans recites prose when crafting a Julep at his bar. It’ll make you weep it’s so beautiful. (Watch it at bit.ly/bewlNQ.) If you’re anything like me (and a lot of the commenters), you’ll need a hankerchief.
What I didn’t realize along my journey from scotch to bourbon was the myths and amount of misinformation that surround my beloved brown water. Here are a few of my (least) favorites.
Myth: It has to be made in Kentucky.
Truth: If it is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, then yes. However, if you are making bourbon, you can make it anywhere in the States.
Myth: The older it is, the better.
Truth: Sometimes it may be. I’ve had a few that are in the 5- to 7-year-old range that are superb and only $25-30. Hell, some of my favorites are in the sub-$20 range. Some bourbons are just better when younger. Not many, but a few are.
Myth: Bourbon has to be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels.
Truth: Bourbon can be aged very little to be called bourbon. For quality straight bourbon, it must spend two years in new charred American oak barrels, never to be reused for bourbon again; the recipe must be 51 percent corn; and it must be bottled at 80 proof or more.
In town, you can find the brown water just about anywhere, but my favorite haunts are The Whiskey Jar, West Main, Rapture, Citizen Burger Bar, C&O, and Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar. Indulge in the sweet Appalachian nectar over your usual clear spirit. You really can’t go wrong.
Nick Crutchfield is the bar manager at Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar.