Bourbon becomes fashionable spirit

November 30, 2012 8:30:08 PM PST
Blame it on shows like Mad Men, which practically romanticize drinks like the old fashioned and the Manhattan. There is a new surge of interest in bourbon.

Including local whiskey bars, where they offer dozens of small-batch producers, most of whom originate in Kentucky.

The hipster quotient at Logan Square's Longman & Eagle tends to run high; these days, that means whiskey.

"Most places that you go to in the world, when you say 'whiskey' it usually means Scotch, but here in the States, definitely means bourbon," said Bartender Derek Alexander.

With 300 whiskeys available - more than half of which are bourbon - Alexander has his favorites, including one called Buffalo Trace.

"It's a small batch bourbon so it's very, very consistent," he said. "It's kind of a house favorite for all of us that work behind the bar."

To fully understand this all-American spirit, you have to travel to Bourbon Country. With Louisville as a base, the trip to Frankfort - home of Buffalo Trace - is about an hour. They've been distilling here since 1787. It starts with the mash bill, that is, the recipe for bourbon, which must be at least 51% corn.

"But then you can add rye or wheat to that dominant grain to change the flavor, and of course they all use barley to jumpstart the process of fermentation," said Donald Flinn, of Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Corn is cooked with filtered water that comes courtesy of the limestone throughout this part of the country.

"We think the water is absolutely critical. And our water comes from limestone sources - wells, and springs and such - which produces a filtered water," Flinn said.

After the corn, rye and barley have fermented, the "white dog," a.k.a "moonshine" is transferred to new oak barrels that have been charred black on the inside. Here, they'll age in giant rickhouses for at least four years.

"The longer the whiskey is in the barrel, the better the flavor and darker the bourbon; it's gonna have much more of what I call robust and complex flavors," he said.

Back in Chicago, Alexander makes an Old Fashioned with two ounces Buffalo Trace, a quarter ounce Demerara sugar syrup, plus a few drops each of orange, cherry and old fashioned bitters. He stirs it up with large, dense ice cubes to slow the dilution rate, then strains it into a glass with fresh ice.

"We express some orange and lemon oil over the top, so when you bring it to your mouth it has, your olfactory is brought into play," said Alexander.

Even though this American spirit has been around for two centuries, not everyone is a fan. But Alexander remains optimistic.

"I think there's a bourbon out there for everyone," he said.

Longman & Eagle
2657 N. Kedzie Ave.
773-276-7110
http://www.longmanandeagle.com/

Buffalo Trace
http://www.buffalotrace.com/

For information about trips to Bourbon Country (via Louisville):
Mint Julep Tours
http://mintjuleptours.com/


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