Thursday, 20 June 2013

Kentucky Fried....

Don't worry, there's nothing chicken based about this post and my lifetime achievement of never setting foot in a fried chicken outlet, still stands. No, the 'Kentucky' I am referring to, is of course, bourbon and the 'fried', well, that's how I'm feeling now after sampling the delights of this week's spirited rye, Buffalo Trace.

I had the pleasure of taking tea in London at the weekend with my new companions from the Secret Tea Society, whom you might remember from an earlier post in which I detailed the rather delicious cocktail I created for them (click here for details). Anyway, whilst in the vicinity, I took the opportunity to pop in to the Soho branch of Amathus Drinks where the immensely helpful staff were able to assist me with a number of requests, including, a bottle of bourbon.

My knowledge of bourbon is limited to a brief period in my early twenties, when I made it my sole mission to  try just about every drink behind the bar. Along with the better known Jack Daniels and Jim Beam were the amusingly named Sheep Dip, Wild Turkey and Knob Creek. However, I have latterly, tended towards the clear spirits and although I have dipped a toe (metaphorically) into scotch, bourbon has remained a bit of an enigma. Thankfully, the resident cocktail expert at Amathus was able to point me in the right direction and impart some of his considerable knowledge. I now know that bourbon falls into two main categories - those that are made with rye, like Buffalo Trace and those that are made with wheat. Wheaty bourbon has a smoother, creamier finish and rye gives a bit more spice to the flavour. As I was looking to make cocktails, in particular, a Manhattan, he suggested I go for a rye as the spicy finish married well with the sweet vermouth and bitters.

I have consequently discovered that in actual fact, to qualify as a bourbon, at least 51% of the grain content must come from corn and in the case of Buffalo Trace, it is distilled from a mixture of corn, barley and rye. The clear distillation is matured in oak barrels for 8 years, in which time, it takes on some of the colour and the flavour of the oak. The makers say that it has a rich and complex flavour with hints of vanilla, toffee and candied fruit and I agree that there is a sweetness to it, which in my opinion, is reminiscent of glace cherry and yes, a bit of vanilla and spice too.

So, armed with my spicy bourbon, a bottle of sweet vermouth and some Peychaud's bitters, I made my first Manhattan. I used the 70's classic, Martini Rosso as my vermouth and yes, I know it's not very cool, but it's a good all rounder I feel and was more than up to the job. Peychaud's were the bitters, originally used in the Manhattan and although Angostura are more commonly used these days, I wanted to keep as close to the original recipe as possible. That said, I did go for a wetter version of the drink (more vermouth) as I thought it could be a tough swallow on an uninitiated palate. In the end, I went for a full ounce of vermouth as oppose to half and for me, it was definitely the right choice. Finally, I garnished the drink with a frozen fresh cherry, rather than a cocktail cherry, which is the norm, if one is including a garnish. My reasons were two fold - one, I'm not overly keen on maraschino and two, I didn't actually have any...oops. Anyway, the addition of the frozen cherry turned out to be a bit of ripping wheeze after all as it helped to keep the drink cold and actually, the slight infusion of cherry juice at the bottom of the glass was delicious and dare I say it, my favourite part of the drink. Overall, I really enjoyed the complex flavour of this cocktail; the slight bittersweet of the vermouth, the spice of the bourbon and Peychauds - there's a lot going on in every sip so that the complexity of flavour seems in disproportion to the amount of ingredients.


2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon
1 ounce Martini Rosso (sweet vermouth)
2 dashes Peychauds Bitters
Cocktail cherry (or frozen cherry) to garnish

Pour the bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters into a large highball or the bottom of a shaker, with plenty of ice.
Stir well with a barspoon, for about twenty seconds to get the right temperature and viscosity and then strain into a martin glass
Garnish with a cherry if desired.

Following on from the Manhattan, I decided to make an admittedly, more complex cocktail, that built on the flavours I had identified and enjoyed, namely cherry and hint of orange that I discerned from the vermouth. I didn't want to totally overwhelm the bourbon, but at the same time, I wanted to make something a little easier for a novice like me to drink. The result was pretty delicious and still very much a bourbon flavour.

Kentucky Cherry

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters
Frozen cherry to garnish

Add all of the ingredients apart from the frozen cherry, to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard for 20 seconds.
Strain into a chilled martin glass and garnish, if desired.

My final cocktail, before the Kentucky spirit got the better of me, was always going to work for me as I am such a big fan of King's Ginger. It's spice and warmth seem to work with just about everything, although I haven't tried it with rum yet... Anyway, pairing it with a spicy bourbon was a no brainer and adding to that, the classic sour mix of lemon and just a little syrup, as the King's Ginger is already sweet, made for a highly quaffable drink.

Ginger Bourbon Sour

1ounce King's Ginger
1ounce Buffalo Trace Bourbon
3/4 ounce lemon juice
Barspoon of simple syrup

Add all of the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard for 20 seconds.
Strain into rocks glass filled with crushed ice

On refection, I think my favourite drink of the day was the Kentucky Cherry as it retained the essential bourbon flavour and had a level of complexity that made it interesting, but was just more enjoyable to drink than the Manhattan - purists forgive me - I am trying ....

If you are in any way confused by any of the terms used in this post, then please take a look at the Dufford's Guide post which seeks to demystify some of the jargon.

And finally, if you are ever in London, I can't recommend enough, that you take a trip to Amathus City or Amathus Soho where the staff are so helpful, so knowledgeable and really make it a very pleasant, buying experience - and no, they're not paying me to say that... x

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