September is National Bourbon Heritage Month in the United States, celebrating America’s ‘Native Spirit’ and The Sandton Times set out to learn a bit more about this popular drink, available in South Africa.
- Bourbon has remained popular for hundreds of years thanks to its robust flavours, golden colour and smooth mouthfeel, and the fact that it is available in a huge range of releases and expressions.
- This versatile option is finding favour with an emerging category of whiskey drinkers in South Africa.
- Bourbon has a growing number of adults who appreciate authentic American Bourbon for its allure, history and drinkability.
- Visit www.sandtontimes.co.za for more stories.
The Sandton Times joined a select group for a Bourbon tasting event organised by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), as part of the Cheers! Spirits from the USA campaign, to mark US National Bourbon Heritage Month. The month celebrates a spirit which has roots dating back to the migration of settlers west from the original colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Hosted by Valentine Maseko, WhiskyBrother Retail Manager and Brand Ambassador alongside Robyn Thobois, bar manager and mixologist at Curated Lounge, the afternoon promised a deeper insight into Bourbon whiskey.
Bourbon’s roots are linked to the migration of settlers west from the original colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Bourbon County in Kentucky, corn flourished, and scores of small-scale farmers began distilling their own whiskey, stamping the county name ‘Old Bourbon’ onto the barrels for shipping. Bourbon as we know it today has been distilled in the US since the 1800s and is still usually associated with the American south, particularly Kentucky. However, Bourbon does not need to be produced in Kentucky, it can be produced in any US State.
Bourbon is distilled from at least 51% corn with rye, barley and wheat making up the rest of the blend, and is aged in charred oak barrels, which give it its sweetness and amber colour. Bourbon is distilled at 160 proof and aged before being bottled at a minimum 80 proof in the US, which means it contains a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume. Aficionados and barmen will tell you the spirit’s warm, robust flavours, golden colour and smooth mouthfeel make it a classic. Offering a huge range of releases from super-premium to entry level, American Bourbon has something to offer every whiskey palate, from sweet, smooth spirits through to bold, robust drinks.
The proportion of corn to other grains impacts Bourbon’s flavour: a high proportion of corn and wheat typically makes Bourbon sweeter and lighter, while Bourbon with a high rye content will be spicier with a full-bodied flavour. Ageing, barrelling, blending, limestone levels in the water, and even the climate in which the Bourbon is aged in, all impact the flavour, resulting in notes ranging from toffee, caramel and vanilla to nuts, spice, tobacco, fruit and leather.
Bourbon’s complex blend of flavours make it excellent to sip neat, on ice, or in cocktails. It pairs well with hearty red meat-based meals such as steaks, roasts and braais, and even with chocolates and desserts. While American whiskey distillers insist that Bourbon should be enjoyed responsibly in ‘any way you like it’, connoisseurs tend to drink it neat and bartenders favour it as a base for cocktails.
Because Bourbon’s mash bill is predominantly corn, it’s generally sweeter than other whiskeys. And because it is aged in new oak barrels, the spirit is infused with notes of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, honey and coconut thanks to the lignin’s and vanillin’s in the wood. This makes it a versatile drink to be enjoyed however you prefer it.
// WhiskyBrother Retail Manager and Brand Ambassador, Valentine Maseko
Valentine highlighted a number of leading Bourbons during a tasting session:
- Maker’s Mark – made with soft red winter wheat for a one-of-a-kind, full-flavored Bourbon that’s easy to drink
- Bulleit Bourbon – with a unique blend of rye, corn, and barley malt, along with special strains of yeast and pure Kentucky limestone filtered water for a bold, spicy character.
- Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – claiming more than 200 detectable flavour notes, from bold grain and wood, to sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit and floral notes.
- Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon – smooth and refined, thanks to four years of aging in newly charred American white oak barrels.
- Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon Whiskey – with a lower corn component to cut the typical Bourbon sweetness and develop a more complex back palate.
- Gunfighter American Bourbon – aged in new oak barrels and finished in used French Port barrels to deliver a unique smoothness and complexity.
The Sandton Times pick for the summer months is the Bulleit Bourbon and Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, served neat on ice or in your favourite cocktail.
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