If you’re like many college-aged millennials, you’re probably a fan of crappy light beer, or overly sweet cake-flavored vodka, or a three-in-the-morning favorite like Jagermeister. That’s cool, for now. But you might want to consider changing these preferences soon — as a millennial, you’re part of the most open-minded and curious generation ever.
And as dorm-room throwdowns will become cocktail parties and networking happy hours soon, you might want to learn a little about some more grown-up flavors. You know, to impress the older people who’re going to mentor, lead, and hire you.
And what’s a better flavor than America’s best spirit? Not much is better than bourbon.
Old-Fashioned Recipe (Just like in Mad Men)
1 orange slice
1 tablespoon of preferred sugar or sugar substitute
Muddle all these together
Add a few rocks (ice cubes)
A splash or two of bitters (if you really want to keep it authentic)
Add 2 ounces of bourbon of choice
Top with a splash of soda water
Be more badass than everyone in the room.
What is bourbon anyway?
It’s OK to ask questions like these, because honestly not a lot of people know. As a bartender myself, I’m stunned by the mysticism people associate with what I do. I’ve found that a ridiculous number of drinkers, both the elderly and young adults, have little knowledge about what they’re drinking or ordering. "I’ll have an extra dry vodka martini," they might say with a snooty lift. "So you want chilled vodka in a martini glass?" I might reply if sufficiently annoyed. And no one knows what “neat” means (just pour it from the room-temperature bottle into a glass) — they use “up” or “straight up,” which are just wrong.
So here’s your 101: Bourbon is a county in Kentucky, and the alcohol made there is an aged and fermented mix of water (preferably limestone-filtered water), at least 51% corn mash, and any other ratio of wheat, rye, and barley. The resulting mix, sometimes called “white dog,” is clear. It’s only when it’s added to fire-kissed white oak barrels which are stashed for a few years that bourbon gets its distinctive copper color and taste. Despite what you may have heard — and despite the fact that the spirit came from and was named for Bourbon County, Kentucky — bourbon does not have to be made in the Bluegrass State.
No matter where it's from, though, the results are delicious with smoky, sweet, spicy, and/or slightly fruity variations, depending on the brand. You can even get started with gateway brands saturated with honey, cinnamon, cherry, and apple flavors, among many others.
(Whiskey) Bourbon Sour For Newbies
Fill up a large glass with rocks
Add 2 ounces of bourbon of choice
Fill to top with sweet and sour mix or super sweet lemonade
Drop in a cherry and own that look.
Yawn. My granddad drinks this. What does it mean to me?
Most importantly, bourbon is cool. Tom Bulleit, founder and master distiller of Bulleit Bourbon, one of my favorite brands, shared that, “Rye [bourbon] just flat out has a great story — it was the drink of choice for guys like Frank Sinatra and as that vintage vibe has returned to modern culture, so have the delicious rye cocktails that came with it.” Mr. Bulleit added, “Bourbon has a special place in American culture.”
Amy Preske, public relations and event manager for Buffalo Trace Distillery (another of my favorites), agreed that bourbon is back with a vengeance, even with our generation. “Young people are becoming more drawn to bourbon because they are used to sweet drinks from a very young age, with flavored water and sodas.” Ms. Preske continued, “As their taste profiles mature, they move on to other (non-flavored) bourbons and they find there is so much out there they can experiment with to find what they like — for example a wheated bourbon which may be a little sweeter, or a high rye bourbon which may be a little spicier.”
The other more mainstream brands include Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve. But the latter two are often over-priced (particularly at bars), and Beam, to me, is kind of like the Dunkin Donuts black coffee of bourbon. You’ve got to be initiated to drink it neat. Just like how when you first started drinking coffee you probably loaded it with flavors other than just the filtered beans and water, and then learned to appreciate it in its purer form.
Bourbon is a passion and slightly more mature taste that millennials are growing curious about. Don’t let those first sips deter you. Start with the flavored brands if you like, or drink your bourbon on the rocks or with a mixture of coke or ginger ale to take off some of the bite. Just like with coffee or wine or even craft beer, I know you’ll grow to love it even though you might not be able to appreciate it at first.
What are your favorite brands? What recipes would you like to share? When did you come to love bourbon?