Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Recipe, Bourbon On The Rocks!
Greetings, Wonketteers! I'm Hooper, your bartender. Let's go ahead and review the simplest drink I'll ever write up. Let's talk about bourbon on the rocks. You thought this was simple, but there's a lot more going on than you'd think. Here's the recipe. Yes, there's a recipe. It's me, what did you expect?
Straight Bourbon on the Rocks
4 oz. 90 proof or more bourbon or whiskey
500 ml. Liquid Death bottled water (one can)
In a silicon mold, freeze 6 large ice cubes (2"x2" minimum). Crush 1-2 ice cubes and add to a stirring vessel. Stir whiskey with ice until chilled, 8-12 seconds. Strain over one large ice cube into a rocks glass.
Whiskey in general, and bourbon in particular, is easily the most popular liquor in America. Along with that popularity has come a lot of pretentiousness, and some stupidly overpriced bottles. (Pappy Van Winkle is not worth $30,000, period.) Here's my attempt to cut through the mystique and give you some clear advice on what to drink. Let's review the ingredients – both of them.
Whiskey: Bourbon, rye, Irish whiskey, and Scotch are all whiskeys, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of the definitions things get complex. I started off by writing all the facts and details, but that got boring fast. Instead, I'm going to lead everyone on a virtual tour of my local liquor store, point out of my favorites and some weirdos, and explain what the heck we're looking at.
Shout out to the guys at North Court Beverage for letting me window shop and lending me a cart. Matthew Hooper
Going from left to right:
This is Bulleit. It's one of my favorite mixing bourbons. Like all true American bourbons, it's made of at least 51% corn, aged in charred American oak barrels for at least 3-5 years, and is distilled and aged in America.
This is Jack Daniels. Jack insists it's "Tennessee Whiskey" and not bourbon, but they're lying. Jack Daniels is made with 51% corn, and is aged in American charred oak. Filtering the bourbon through charcoal doesn't change what it is.
This is Middle West Bourbon. It's a wheated bourbon made locally in Columbus. "Wheated" means that some portion of the grain used to make this liquor is wheat, but it's still at least 51% corn. ("High rye" bourbon is the same sort of thing – there's some rye in the bottle, but it's still 51% corn.)
This is Rittenhouse Rye. It's a rye whiskey, not a bourbon. That means the grain used to make it is 51% rye as opposed to corn. Think of it this way: Bourbon is corn bread, rye whiskey is rye bread. Bourbon is sweet and mild; rye is dark and spicy. This is a Heaven Hill product; thankfully, the strike is over, so you can buy it with a clear conscience.
Rittenhouse is also 100 proof – at least 50% alcohol. All whiskey is distilled at a very high proof, and is then diluted before being put in the bottle. Higher proof means you're buying more whiskey and less water. Water's cheap. Buy your own water and add as much as you'd like at home. No one will judge you.
This is Howler Head. It's banana flavored whiskey. The label says it's "Kentucky straight bourbon with natural banana flavor," but that's misleading. It's not bourbon, because bourbon can't have additives and be called bourbon. It's weird and I haven't tasted it. Neat label, though.
This is Middle West White Rye Whiskey. It's "aged" in an oak barrel for 24 hours. Cute, but bourbon has to be aged for 3-5 years, so it's not bourbon. It's rye based, so it might technically be whiskey, but no one's fooled. Never bought this moonshine, never want to.
This is Widow Jane 10 Year. It sat in an oak barrel for (surprise) 10 years. The longer a whiskey ages, the more of the flavor of the barrel comes through. It's an exceptionally tasty flavor – vanilla, toast, butter, and tannic bitterness all shine. But after a while, it feels like you're tasting barrel juice instead of bourbon. Long-aged bourbon, tequila, and rum all taste great, but they taste great in a very similar way. And that aging generally results in a higher price tag. I'm not a fan. This kind of looks cool, though. I might try it later.
This is Writer's Tears, an Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey must be made in Ireland, and malted grain must be used in the distillation process. It also has to be aged for no less than three years in some kind of wooden barrel (oak isn't required). It's generally thinner and has a different kind of sweetness than bourbon that's hard to describe. Irish whiskey is sweet like a sugar cookie; bourbon is sweet like vanilla pudding. It's less about sugar content than mouth feel.
This is Laphroig, an AMAZING Scotch. Scotch whiskey is made like Irish whiskey, but the malted grain is dried over a peat fire during distillation. Laphroig is a ton of peaty smokey flavor, and more than a little bit of iodine flavor too. It's been described as tasting like "a burning hospital" by Laphroig's own marketing team. It's lovely. Pricey, but lovely. I want this for Christmas, please and thank you.
Liquid Death Water: There's something very wrong about buying an expensive bottle of bourbon and adding tap water to it. Ice is the second ingredient in any glass of liquor "on the rocks," and it deserves some thought.
Liquid Death is iron-free. This matters when we're talking about bourbon. The water source used in Kentucky bourbon is iron-free. Therefore, Liquid Death should taste similar to the water used to make the bourbon. It's also packaged in recycled aluminum cans, which is awesome. Their marketing is hilarious too. I never thought I'd see bottled water marketed to straight edge punks, but here it is.
Technique: "Straight" and "neat" don't mean the same thing behind the bar. "Neat" is liquor poured over an ice cube into a glass, no fuss. "Straight" is chilled with ice before being served. I prefer straight to neat. The big ice cube won't melt as fast if it starts with liquor that's below room temperature. Melting ice dilutes a drink, so in theory straight bourbon will remain at a consistent temperature and dilution longer than neat bourbon. Either way, please use a large ice cubetray for your ice. The less surface area exposed to the bourbon, the slower the dilution rate. Some dilution is important, though, so skip the gimmicky granite ice cubes for your whiskey.
As for a non-alcoholic cocktail … did I mention that Liquid Death bottled water is tasty? Most bottled spring water has a lot of minerals dissolved in it; some have iron, some don't. There is a difference between brands. Exploring different kinds is worth your time. And a company like Liquid Death, which makes sustainable choices and doesn't take itself seriously, is worth your time. Much more so than Dasani (a Coca-Cola product).
In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below! Tiki Underground is winding down in anticipation of moving; right now I'm behind the pine at M Italian in Chagrin Falls. Come by and say hello. And if you'd like to buy some ingredients or bar gear from Amazon, please click on the links above, or this one!