Finding My Unique Spirit — a Bourbon Journey
In pursuing the ultimate bourbon, just one sip in all its simple, unrefined glory made a lasting impression on me. Welcome to my bourbon journey.
Finding my unique spirit was happenstance. Intrigued by a cozy, dimly lit bar tucked away in Midtown Atlanta, I eagerly stepped over its threshold to explore. I saw a wall of sparkling bottles beckoning me. My senses were tantalized by their warm amber glow, though I was admittedly intimidated by all the choices. All I knew was beer. In that moment, it struck me that life called for something bolder — it called for bourbon. Summoning courage and conviction, I decided to begin my bourbon discovery journey.
After chatting with several bourbon aficionados, I learned that the government regulates bourbon in nearly every way. And, to be legally called “bourbon,” several rules must be followed.
Before you can appreciate it, you need to know the basics. There’s a difference between bourbon and rye. A whiskey mash will consist of corn, rye or wheat, and malted barley. For it to be considered bourbon, the mash bill has to be 51% corn and made in America. True bourbon is made in Kentucky. Everyone has a different preference, and mine is rye. I stock Wild Turkey 101 or Old Grandad 100 Proof in my liquor cabinet.
Here is a cheat sheet to help you understand how the ingredients in the mash give bourbon its characterizing flavors.
Bourbon is the most diverse of all spirits. The complex flavors allow you to enjoy it neat, with ice, perhaps a splash of water, or mixed in a cocktail. It seems counter-intuitive to water down your drink, but with bourbon, it enhances the flavor. Check out this video for one of my favorite bourbon cocktails.
There are six types of bourbon. There’s single barrel, cask strength, wheated, high rye, high corn, and small batch. I recommend a small batch, at least ten years old, such as Russell’s Reserve 10 Years. Small batch is aged in smaller facilities and has a human involved in turning the casks, so you get a better tasting bourbon. If you want something more on the premium end and have a little cash to splurge, try Buffalo Trace and Early Times Bottled in Bond.
My love affair with bourbon comes down to my magnetic interest in the drink, my desire to learn more about its craft and its complexity, and the exploration of trying new ones.