Ding Dong Merrily on Bourbon

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
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‘Tis time for the holidays. Waking up to an ice storm kinda puts one in the mood for it. First off, make sure you stop by a Starbucks and try their excellent holiday coffees, especially the Peppermint Mocha Latte and the Gingerbread Latte. Also, for holiday entertaining for the adults, Anthony Dias Blue’s great book of mixed drinks is available used, on Amazon, for just $1. Then gear up for the sounds of the season with some traditional/victorian/medieval/renaissance Christmas music, and turn off that radio station that plays the same Christmas songs by the same artists, over and over. Last but not least, stock up on that great winter warmer, bourbon. Now that we know that David Brooks drinks Jim Beam (yikes!), let’s see what makes bourbon so unique among spirits. Detroit’s local Hour magazine has a good lowdown on this most wonderful of American inventions.

Originally a product of Bourbon County, KY, more than two centuries ago, true bourbon still comes from only that state, say purists, who draw a distinction between the charred-oak aged, sour-mash corn likker of Tennessee and the similar, if not virtually identical Kentucky product.

The charred interior of the aging barrels gives bourbon its deep color, and the placement of the barrel in the aging house can determine the quality. This led to the selection, by some distillers, of especially high-quality “single barrels” from a batch, and their bottling as super-premium bourbons. Similarly, several such barrels are sometimes blended to produce other high-end “small batch” bourbons.

Most age for two or three years, and few much more than ten. But there’s a notable exception, so distinctive that it’s been chosen the best of the best, with a near-perfect 99 rating at the World’s Spirit Championships. It has a great, Kentucky-frontier name – Pappy Van Winkle’s 20-Year-Old Family Reserve.

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