September is National Bourbon Heritage Month.  I realized that both my seasonal drinks of choice this year have been bourbon based – the Bourbon Smash for summertime, and the Manhattan in the winter.  Both are simple to make and delicious to sip and I’ve included the recipes below.  But first…bourbonheritagemonth

Since it is Bourbon Heritage Month, I thought I’d also include a couple tidbits* about bourbon.

  1. Whiskey and Bourbon are made from a fermented grain mash of corn, rye, oats, wheat or barley. For a whiskey to be called bourbon, it must come from USA and be made from at least 51 percent corn, aged for two years in oak barrels, and never blended with neutral grain spirits. Also, it must be at least 80 proof.
  2. Bourbon distillers can only use their oak barrels only once, often shipping those used barrels to Scotland or Ireland for use in producing whiskeys.
  3. Bourbon is only made in America, though not solely in the South.
  4. Bourbon was declared, “America’s Official Native Spirit”, by an act of Congress in 1964.
  5. Immediately following Prohibition, many Bourbon distilleries struggled to reopen. And just about the time some were back up and running, they were stalled with the surge of World War II when  the distilleries were re-purposed to make recently invented penicillin. Penicillin is a product of fermentation, so distilleries were a natural choice for places to make it in mass quantities.
  6. The famous boulevard of New Orleans, Bourbon Street, was not named after Bourbon Whiskey.  In 1721, French Royal Engineer Adrien de Pauger named each of the streets of the newly planned port city of New Orleans in the French colony of Louisiana after Catholic Saints and French Royal Houses.  Bourbon Street was named forFrance’s ruling family, the House of Bourbon.
  7. Although virtually every Mint Julep recipe calls for bourbon, the official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby is not made with bourbon.  Its made with Early Times whiskey, which is aged in second-hand barrels passed down from the Old Forester bourbon distillery, so (as we learned in #2), it’s not actually a bourbon.
  8. The weather plays a big part in bourbon production. Bourbon needs hot summers and cold winters, making Kentucky an ideal place for distilleries. In the summer, the heat makes the barrels expand, pushing the bourbon into the wood.  In the cool winter, the barrel contracts and releases the bourbon out.  That interaction with the oak wood barrels is key to production.
  9. Ever seen “Bottled in Bond” on a liquor label and wondered what that meant?  Bourbon was originally distributed in barrels, not bottles, which allowed for a lot more tampering and unscrupulous behavior along the supply chain before it got to drinkers (diluting it, for example, to stretch the profit margin). In 1897, the government passed the Bottled in Bond Act, which allowed distilleries to bottle their bourbon on-site and store it in a “bonded” warehouse, protected by the feds.
  10. In 2012, nearly 17 million 9-liter cases of Bourbon were sold in the United States, generating over $2.2 billion in revenue for distillers.
bourbon smash

(image by Melissa Kay Allen)

In a cocktail shaker, place half a lemon, cut into wedges, a handful of fresh mint (I like it minty, so I use about 12 leaves, but 6 -8 will do nicely). Muddle firmly to extract juice and release mint essence (no need to pulverize, a couple strong press/twists will work best.) . Add 3/4 ounce 1-to-1 simple syrup, 2 ounces bourbon (I like Buffalo Trace, but chose your favorite) and fill with ice.  Cover and shake to chill and dilute, then double-strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with mint leaf.


(image by Melissa Kay Allen)

In a mixing glass, add 2 ounces bourbon (though I tend toward Willett Rye Whiskey), 1 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula eg), 2 dashes bitters (I like Angostura).  Add enough ice to clear past the liquids then gently stir to dilute and chill (give it at least a minute.)   Strain into a chilled stemmed glass cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry (go gourmet – there is nothing better!).

The alternative I came across and enjoy immensely is the Employees Only Manhattan.  They change out the 2-ounces of bourbon for 1-1/2 ounces whiskey and 1/2 ounce of Grand Marnier. Delicious!

How do you drink your bourbon?  Let us know your favorite drink recipes (even if its as simple as “neat” or “with ginger ale”) and let’s celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month together!



(*Facts collected from Binny’s Blog, Wikipedia, Knob Creek,,, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, and Bon Appetit)