As it turns out, today is National Bourbon Day as well. June 14 is the 223rd anniversary of the day that the Rev. Elijah Craig first distilled whiskey from corn in Bourbon County, Kentucky. (Elijah Craig’s name lives on as a premium bourbon brand from Heaven Hill.) In 1964, Congress declared that “bourbon whiskey is a distinctive product of the United States.” Any day is worth celebrating America’s native spirit.
To be sold in the US, bourbon has to be, by law, made up of at least 51% corn in the “mash bill” or recipe - it’s often much higher, and the rest is made up of wheat, rye, and/or malted barley. Mash bills tend to be closely guarded secrets, and they have to be aged in new charred American oak barrels.
Bourbon whiskey (and its close sibling, Tennessee whiskey) are making a real comeback, with the cocktail boom and a renewed appreciation for quality food and drink. Especially in the premium brands, bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys now outsell Canadian whiskeys in the US, with over 21 million cases sold in 2011. Michter’s Whiskey master distiller Willie Pratt tells Eatocracy, “I think the young people are starting to recognize the types of bourbon, the quality. They have pride in their choice.”
How best to enjoy your bourbon is, as always, a matter of personal preference. Pratt likes his straight, with one ice cube. Adding a splash of water can bring out some additional flavors, and it’ll make lots of bourbons taste a bit sweeter or more floral. There’s the mint julep, of course, and spirits writer Paul Clarke calls the classic whiskey sour the “comfortable T-shirt of drinks.” Speaking of classics, if you want to make like Don Draper - or get in arguments with mixology geeks - try an Old-Fashioned, perhaps the best way to really showcase a good bourbon.