5 tips to help anyone become a bourbon lover


“I don’t like bourbon.”

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

I still take this comment as a personal challenge.

“We can fix this,” I usually answer. This is because when people say they don’t like bourbon it often means they had the same a bad experience that many of us have had, or that they haven’t had a properly brewed bourbon cocktail.

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

Fortunately, there are experts in this city 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 2021 Bourbon Classic media camp, I learned that having drinks bourbon “accessible” for beginners or opponents 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 prepared cocktails for reporters attending the 2021 Bourbon Classic Media Camp. The bar offers rye and bourbon drinks designed for bourbon lovers and new to whiskey (and other spirits for those not yet on board or looking for something a little different).

Casler and her team like to make drinks that appeal to visitors who don’t see themselves as bourbon people, 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 advice.

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And after speaking with her, I’m confident that I can take bourbon’s most avowed enemy – as long as they’re open-minded – and convert them into a bourbon fan club card member by following his advices.

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 the Fort Nelson Bar.

Fort Nelson Crusta at the 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’ve 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, in quotes, don’t like the taste of alcohol, no matter what. it is, so if someone comes along and they say they don’t like whiskey, I’m definitely not going to point them to an Old Fashioned, because it’s a cutting edge cocktail. It’s for someone. one who is a true bourbon lover.You may be converted to like an Old Fashioned, but that won’t be the introductory cocktail.

Start with a less prominent cocktail that can “ease” them into the bourbon world, like a Highball.

Use fresh, high-quality ingredients in a bourbon cocktail

Just like in the kitchen, the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference. There are certainly some quality bourbons that I enjoy serving, but a true low-end whiskey won’t appeal to anyone, especially a new drinker.

But it is not just the spirit that has to be of high quality. In a drink with just two or three ingredients, everything has to be the best.

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

Journalists from the 2021 Bourbon Classic media camp visited Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, which recently reopened in downtown Louisville, and tasted the brand’s 20-year-old bourbon.

“With all of our cocktails, we make our own syrups, we squeeze our own fresh juices every day,” says Casler. “And not to say that every home bartender is going to do it. But there is a way to put quality in a drink, even at home. As if you didn’t buy the small squeeze lemon 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.

Do not look at the ingredients of your cocktail

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

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

As with baking, precision makes the difference in many craft cocktails. Balance can be the most critical element in a good cocktail, and watching it (especially for us non-pros) isn’t going to cut it, Casler says. A measuring jigger is very inexpensive and can make all the difference in a cocktail that is poured down the sink, and it’s a first step on the road to becoming a bourbon lover.

Too sweet? Raw. Too much bourbon ahead? No. The ingredients and layers need to work together, and being on 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 properly measure your ingredients.

Why should you prepare a cocktail with one hand behind your back

The South Point at Fort Nelson Bar combines unexpected elements like pistachios and peaches with Michter's American whiskey.

The South Point at Fort Nelson Bar combines unexpected elements like pistachios and peaches 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 a nice, fine, refined ice cream, most of us at home are going to grab whatever is in the freezer, but we can always skip the dreaded watery drink.

The key is you can always dilute more if need be, but you can’t remove it, so go for a sub-mix, says Casler. If a recipe says stir or shake for 30 seconds, try 20, or even less if it also has 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 enjoy before it becomes 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 allay that natural urge to grab glass.

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Take your time to introduce people to bourbon

Like me, Casler also thought she didn’t like whiskey once. Thanks to the great cocktails (my catwalk was a cobbler at Bourbons Bistro many years ago) she ended up running a bar and I became an Executive Bourbon Steward who loves pure whiskey.

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

When that is successful (and in Casler’s experience it absolutely will), move on to something like a Highball. The classic combo “a quality whiskey and a good sparkling 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 the bartender’s favorite demerara sugar simple syrup. Follow all of his other tips – get good quality bitters, don’t dilute it too much, and for bourbon sake, please use a stellar main ingredient – and you’ll be becoming bourbon lovers in no time.

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

Whiskey Fix

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

  • 1-and-1/2 US ounce 1 Bourbon

  • half an ounce of fresh lemon juice

  • 1 ounce of Raspberry Pom syrup *

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

Raspberry Pom Syrup

  • 1 part of fresh raspberries

  • 1 part pomegranate juice

  • 1 part of sugar

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

NY Sour

  • 2 ounces of rye or bourbon whiskey

  • 1 ounce of lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup

  • 1 egg white (optional)

  • half ounce of red wine

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

Filter into a highball glass over cool ice.

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

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Bourbon for Beginners: 5 Tips to Become an Aficionado


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