Toast National Bourbon Day with an Old Fashioned!

June 14 2012 - 2:22 PM

Today is National Bourbon Day. I don’t know who really establishes these things, but when spirits are involved, let’s not waste time investigating.

Bourbon is one of America’s quintessential original spirits (alongside applejack and rye, whose national holidays are… who knows?). Though Kentucky is the country’s bourbon epicenter, statehood is not part of bourbon’s legal status; bourbons are made in places as far flung as upstate New York (the Hudson brand out of Tuthilltown Spirits) and Evanston, IL (FEW spirits). What does define bourbon, however, is the grain that goes into it. Bourbon is a style of whiskey that must contain 51% or more corn and must be aged in new American oak barrels that have been charred slightly on the inside. The corn lends it a sweetness distinct from other whiskies like Scotch (made from barley) or rye and the new oak barrels give it rich, woody flavors. Most quality bourbons are aged about four to ten years, though very old expressions can be found. After they are emptied, the barrels cannot be used to make bourbon again, so they are shipped to places like Scotland (where they will hold Scotch whisky) or to breweries like Goose Island (where they hold beers for aging, e.g. Bourbon County Stout.)

Enough history! Let’s pour a drink! Here’s a recipe: The Old Fashioned:

The Old Fashioned

2 oz bourbon
1 sugar cube and a splash of water (or ½ oz simple syrup)
3 dashes Angostura bitters
an orange peel or brandied cherries for garnish

Place the sugar cube in a rocks glass, add the bitters and a splash of water and muddle until dissolved. Add ice and bourbon and stir. Garnish with an orange peel or a brandied cherry. Or not.

The Old Fashioned is one of the few drinks to survive to modern times that satisfies the original definition of a cocktail – spirit, sugar, water and bitters. It can easily be adapted to your taste. Pick a bourbon that you especially like or even crack open that older, special bottle you’ve been hanging on to. Try changing up the bitters you add — orange, chocolate, Peychaud’s, grapefruit,… — or even make a simple syrup infused with a warm flavor like vanilla. Through the long history of the Old Fashioned, some versions came to include things like a splash of triple sec or pineapple juice and even muddled fruit. That sounds ghastly to me, but I won’t judge what you do in the privacy of your own home.

Cheers! Until we meet again on Pisco Sour Day!

–David McCowan