5 tips to become an aficionado


“I don’t like bourbon.”

How many times as a Louisvillian have you heard that, especially from someone who’s not from here?

I always take this comment as a personal challenge.

“We can solve this problem,” I usually reply. That’s because when people say they don’t like bourbon, it often means they had the same a bad experience many of us have had, or not having a properly made bourbon cocktail.

And it’s a good cocktail that can open the door to savoring our native spirit.

Fortunately, there are experts in this town who can help you. During a visit to the Fort Nelson Bar at Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, 801 W Main St., in downtown Louisville as part of the Bourbon Classic 2021 media camp, I learned that having drinks at “Accessible” bourbon for beginners or naysayers is actually a specific intention, at least for bar manager Carrie Casler.

Bartenders at the Fort Nelson Bar at Michter's Distillery in downtown Louisville mixed cocktails for reporters attending the Bourbon Classic 2021 media camp. The bar features rye and bourbon-based drinks designed to both for bourbon lovers and newcomers to whiskey (and other spirits for those not on board yet or looking for something different).

Casler and her team like to offer drinks that appeal to visitors who don’t consider themselves bourbons, she said. I want to be able to do this for my own out of town guests, so I reached out to see if she could share some tips.

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And after speaking with her, I’m confident that I can take bourbon’s most avowed enemy—as long as he has an open mind—and convert him into a card-carrying member of the bourbon fan club by following her advice.

Here are five tips for the novice bourbon drinker in your life.

Choose a less avant-garde cocktail for new bourbon drinkers

Fort Nelson Crusta at Fort Nelson bar.

My house cocktail is an Old Fashioned, but since it’s little more than a glass of bourbon, at least for the uninitiated, I learned the hard way that it’s not going to appeal to a newbie.

“A lot of people have strong misconceptions about the flavor of bourbon,” Casler told me, “but there are also a lot of people who, quote-unquote, don’t like the taste of alcohol, no matter what. it either, so if someone comes along and they say they don’t like whiskey, I’m definitely not going to steer them towards an Old Fashioned, because that’s a cutting edge cocktail. one that’s a true bourbon lover. You may be converted to love an Old Fashioned, but this won’t be the introductory cocktail.

Start with a low-spirited cocktail that can “ease” them into the bourbon world, like a Highball.

Use high quality fresh ingredients in a bourbon cocktail

As in the kitchen, the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference. There are certainly some worthy bourbons that I happily serve, but a real low-end whiskey won’t convince anyone, especially not a new drinker.

But it’s not just the mind that needs to be of high quality. In a drink with only two or three ingredients, everything has to be the best.

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Journalists from the Bourbon Classic 2021 media camp toured Michter's Fort Nelson distillery, which recently reopened in downtown Louisville, and sampled the brand's 20-year-old bourbon.

“With all of our cocktails, we make our own syrups, we press our own fresh juices every day,” says Casler. “And not to say every home bartender is going to do it. But there is a way to put quality in a glass even at home. As if you weren’t buying the little lemon squeeze bottle from the refrigerated section to be your lemon juice. Squeeze a fresh lemon and it will make all the difference in the world. It’s like cooking with fresh garlic rather than cooking with what you buy from the jar.

Look for a good quality vermouth (ask for recommendations at a reliable store, like Old Town Liquors or Westport Whiskey & Wine), and splurge on Luxardo cherries (trust me on this one!) instead of fake reds .

Don’t look at your cocktail ingredients

For a fully stocked home bar, you will need a measuring spoon and a bar spoon in the mix.

Just like baking, precision makes the difference in many craft cocktails. Balance is perhaps the most critical element in a good cocktail, and looking at it (especially for us non-pros) isn’t going to cut it, says Casler. A jigger is super cheap and can make all the difference in a cocktail that pours down the sink, and is a first step on the way to becoming a bourbon aficionado.

Too sweet? Raw. Too bourbon-forward? No. Ingredients and layers need to work together, and being on just one, even a quarter ounce, can make or break a drink.

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Done correctly, everything shines and the drink becomes more than the sum of its parts. Someone like Casler probably worked extremely hard to develop this recipe, so trust the experts and take a few extra seconds to measure your ingredients correctly.

Why prepare a cocktail with one hand behind your back

South Point at the Bar at Fort Nelson combines unexpected elements like pistachios and peach with Michter's American Whiskey.

Have you ever noticed a bartender stirring a cocktail with one hand behind his back? Casler explained why it’s a trick of the trade. An enemy of a good drink is too much dilution. While an upscale bar like Fort Nelson is going to have beautiful, perfect, fancy ice cream, most of us at home are going to grab whatever’s in the freezer, but we can always avoid the dreaded watery drink. .

The key is that you can always dilute more if needed, but you can’t take it off, so err on the side of undermixing, says Casler. If a recipe says to stir or shake for 30 seconds, try 20 seconds, or even less if it’s also going to be served over ice. Our homemade ice cream will melt faster than good quality ice cream, so shortening the time gives us more time to sip and savor before it’s a watery mess.

And keep your hands away from that mixing glass. Our body heat melts ice faster, so putting your hand behind your back can quell that natural urge to grab the glass.

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Take your time to introduce bourbon

Like me, Casler also thought she didn’t like whiskey once. Thanks to the right cocktails (my front door was a cobbler at Bourbons Bistro several years ago), she ended up running a bar, and I became a Bourbon Steward executive who loves a straight whiskey.

An amazing place to start is the Whiskey Fix, curated by cocktail historian David Wondrich for The Bar at Fort Nelson (recipe below).

When it’s a hit (and in Casler’s experience, it absolutely will be), move on to something like a Highball. The classic combo of “a quality whiskey and a nice fizzy soda and that citrus zest,” lets you taste the whiskey, she says, “but it’s a little more subtle because you have that effervescence in it.”

Then maybe it’s time for an Old Fashioned. But not too sweet, she warns; The Fort Nelson bar uses a quarter ounce of simple syrup made with the bartender’s favorite demerara sugar. Follow all his other advice – get good quality bitters, don’t dilute them too much, and for the love of bourbon, please use a stellar main ingredient – and you’ll be making bourbon lovers in no time.

Tell it to Dana! Send your restaurant “dish” to Dana McMahan at [email protected] and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.

whiskey solution

Curated by cocktail historian David Wondrich for The Bar at Fort Nelson

  • 1 and 1/2 ounce US 1 Bourbon
  • half ounce of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ounce Raspberry Pom syrup*

Pour all the ingredients into a tall glass. Fill with crushed ice and stir. Garnish with crushed ice. Enjoy!

Pom Pom Raspberry Syrup

  • 1 portion of fresh raspberries
  • 1 part pomegranate juice
  • 1 dose of sugar

Bring to a boil for 5-10 minutes, remove from heat and let cool. Mix and filter.

new york sour

  • 2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white (optional)
  • half ounce of red wine

Add the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white (optional) to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously until well chilled.

Strain into a highball glass over fresh ice.

Slowly pour the red wine over the back of a bar spoon so that the wine floats above the drink.


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