Last week Rahul and I took part in the 4th Annual Bourbon and Whiskey Tasting at Crown Liquors in downtown Indianapolis. Our friend Melanie was celebrating her upcoming birthday and asked us to attend. How I had not known of this extravaganza before, I do not know, but I will not be missing it in the future.
We walked down into the basement to find about 50 people huddled in groups at tables where representatives of the different liquor companies were pouring 3 to 6 different bourbons and whiskeys each. Hand over a ticket for a sample and you would hear about what made that particular spirit and why it was special. Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Jim Beam were on one end of the spectrum up to Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon, a $160.00 bottle.
A lot of bourbon and whiskey was sampled, but I wish I knew more about them to understand why some taste smoky or cloudy or sweet or peppery. Thankfully, there’s a book for that. The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar: Real Bartenders’ Reviews of More Than 250 Whiskeys was written by Chad Berkey, General Manager of The Aero Club Bar and Jeremy Leblanc, Master Mixologist of Park Restaurant and Nightclub and author of The Best Craft Cocktails and Bartending with Flair. Now there is no excuse not to brush up on your bourbon facts while watching Saturday Night Live with your favorite homemade cocktail.
Spirits are rated by a scale of 1 to 5 propellers and include comments from the bartenders. For example, the Ridgemont Reserve 1792 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is described as “smells like maple sweet at first with a solid burn in the back of the throat,” and “a great burn on the whole way down, lots of good flavors that show up. I give it a B+.”
The back few pages contain unique recipes with color photographs and suggested spirits to include. I decided to make the La Marquita because it mixes cranberry juice, rhubarb syrup and bourbon with pomegranate seeds. Gentleman Jack was suggested but I happened to have some Rahul E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon on hand so I chose that instead.
The Larceny is a great bourbon on its own and has quite a heavy burn, but the cranberry juice is so sweet that it really cuts through the alcohol and the rhubarb syrup darkens the color and provides just the right balance of flavors. Pomegranate seeds are a fun way to add color and instantly elevate the cocktail without spending a ton of money on garnishes. Since each cocktail only uses 2 teaspoons of seeds, you will have plenty left over for salads or snack.
You can try one, too, by entering my giveaway of The North American Whiskey book! I’ll be giving one copy away to a US resident who enters via the Rafflecopter below by Thursday, December 18 at noon.
MAKES 1 COCKTAIL
- 1 1/z ounces whiskey
- 1/2 ounce red cranberry juice
- 1 teaspoon homemade rhubarb syrup
- 2 teaspoons pomegranate seeds
In a shaker, combine a scoop of ice, whiskey, juice and syrup. Shake vigorously for a count of 15 seconds, strain and pour into a cocktail glass. In your glass, add seeds and stir for about 10 revolutions.
Note: The bitterer your pomegranate seeds are the more they will tend to float on your cocktail. By the end of the sip, note how the pomegranate seeds have taken on a smokier flavor.
- 2-3 small stalks rhubarb, chopped
- 1 cup cane sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 vanilla bean pod
Combine ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes, then let cool completely. Strain ingredients. Syrup will keep well covered in a fridge for 2 weeks.