A Walk Down Bourbon Lane

Courtesy Furchtbar
Courtesy Furchtbar

Bourbon. Quite possibly the first real spirit I ever encountered. That is, if you don’t count that one time when I was like 3 years old, everyone was not looking and somehow I got hold of the wrong glass on the table, way up above my head. After that sip, my face turned into a fist, the glass fell and I didn’t consider having a good Scotch for a long long while. At least that’s what I’ve been told. By the time I was of legal drinking age, or at least of a fully conscious mind, I may or may not have had contact with a spirit called Bourbon. Of course, by that time none of us had the least bit of a clue and it was the cheapest stuff available. I hated it. I loathed it. I was right about to make a turn for the classical “No Bourbon, only Scotch” attitude, we’ve all met more than once.

However, I entered the bar culture early enough and couldn’t completely be turned away from it. In fact it was that very same cheap, pour-it-down-the-sink brand (which I’m not gonna name here, they have good stuff in their portfolio after all) that started smiling at me from the backboard of that club where I made my very first bartending experiences. And its smile got even wider, when we used it to cook up one hell of a punch for “First Snow Party.” (We were never short of excuses for a good party and the first day in the year the snow actually stays on the ground instead of melting is quite a reason for a party, no?)

Then came the deeper insight. More than one bartender passed their knowledge on in order for me to go from there. I had my first Mint Julep. I made my first Mint Julep. I had my first Manhattan with a bourbon (due to the lack of good rye) and -- snap! -- I was hooked. I went to my first bourbon tasting and serious drinks won over a new fan. And for serious drinks bourbon is just about as essential as… well, any good spirit -- no pun intended.

By now one of my favorite drinks, beyond the obvious Jynnan Tonnyx, is the Vieux Carré. And I’ll have mine with a good bourbon over a crappy rye any time. In fact, I’ll even have it with a decent bourbon over a good rye, if the right bitters are around. How I met said drink was in fact a funny story:

I was guest-tending at Booze Bar Berlin and the chef de bar, Roman, told me to make a Vieux “and it better be good or I shouldn’t even bother about the upcoming shift” (but with a wink). I was almost intimidated and embarrassed, but at that time I didn’t know that lovely classic -- yet. So I asked and I was told it was “equal parts good whiskey, Cognac, and vermouth, a bit of Benedictine and a healthy dose of bitters.” Said order made it quite clear what had to be done in terms of how, so my next look went to the backboard. I immediately found my most favorite bourbon, but went with a different one, as it seemed too smooth for this sort of recipe. Vermouth was an easy choice and the Cognac just had to make a perfect match for the two.

Vieux Carré

Courtesy Furchtbar
Courtesy Furchtbar

- 25ml (~¾oz) Knob Creek Bourbon

- 25ml (~¾oz) Punt e Mes

- 25ml (~¾oz) of a fine Cognac, might have been Prince de Polignac V.S.O.P., to blend ‘em

- 1tsp DOM Bénédictine

- 1dash each of Angostura and Peychaud’s Bitters

- lemon zest

Method: Stir everything in a mixing glass over ice, double strain into prechilled coupette, twist the lemon zest and discard or use it to make the drink purrdy.

Knob Creek (editor's note: a medalist in the 2012 NY International Spirits Competition) seemed just the right choice from which to build up. I love how Punt e Mes incorporates both sweet and bitter, so that is a no brainer. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure about the Cognac selection in their backboard anymore, but I know I made the right choice. Turns out I had to make another one right away, as this one wouldn’t leave his hands and I wanted to have one too.

After that, we just went on tossing drinks at each other and, of course, taking care of stray guests every once in a while.

If you must know what said most favorite Bourbon of mine is, come ask me.