Of all the “National _______________ Days” that seem to come daily on our social feeds, this one is unique because it wasn’t created in a marketing department or PR office, but by congress. That’s right, the U.S. Senate declared September National Bourbon Heritage Month back in 2007, a “month to celebrate America’s Native Spirit,” the official title also given by congress back in the 60’s.
Clearly, the best way to celebrate bourbon is by drinking bourbon, but first, it’d be wise to learn all we can about it so that we can find bourbons we like. I’ve been talking about it a little bit on the podcast, but the new book by Fred Minnick, Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker is deeply interesting and unmistakably helpful.
Covering many details of bourbon making and history (did you know Tabasco sauce is aged in bourbon barrels?), Minnick leads us into the final 1/3 of his book: a highly-valuable tasting guide. Categorizing bourbon flavor profiles into 4 groups, grain-forward, nutmeg-forward, caramel-forward and cinnamon-forward, I realized quickly that the bourbons I’ve loved the most were in the cinnamon category.
…..then I realized that Simple Cocktails had previously missed an entire brand of cinnamon-forward bourbons. I’m not exactly sure why, but I has thought Four Roses was an expensive, exclusive bourbon, so I figured it’d be hard to cover here, but after reading Bourbon Curious, I noted that Four Roses is one of the oldest, most respectable bourbon brands in the flavor category I love the most, and I had to grab some immediately.
I tasted the staples of the Four Roses catalog, “yellow label,” Small Batch, and Single Barrel. At $25, $40, and $50 respectively, I was initially really stunned at the affordability of the line.
Not only is Four Roses exactly my personal bourbon flavor preference, but it’s incredibly accessible and smooth, even at the high-end high-proof Single Barrel. Four Roses yellow label, the baseline option, is an obvious choice for an affordable, quality cocktail bourbon. I’ve been sipping it as a nightcap and I can’t believe a bourbon of this quality can be had for $25.
These are similar in their flavor profiles, with increasing ABV % as you go up in price (40, 45 and 50%). All cinnamon-spicy, these increase in spice as you move up the line, with less caramel-and-vanilla at the higher end (likely due to the higher barrel time). Of the three, I’ve found myself enjoying the midrange Small Batch the most, as it has the right balance of sweet-and-spice for my palate.
Finally, let’s talk about a relatively new bourbon. We met the folks from New Holland Spirits at Tales of the Cocktail, and they distill a variety of interesting and quality spirits. Their Beer Barrel Bourbon is aged 90 days in casks that previously housed their Dragon’s Milk Stout.
This is a unique bourbon experience. When I opened the bottle, I smelled homemade vanilla ice cream. I taste very little beer in the final product, but there’s clearly a natural vanilla/caramel note that’s pronounced and solid. At a low ABV (40%), New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon is one of the most accessible bourbons I’ve ever tried (Lisa really liked it too), and because of the uniqueness of it’s flavor, is probably best suited in an Old Fashioned or sipped on the rocks…with a cigar.
I hope this post helps you to find some bourbons to try this month, because congress says you have to! At the very least, Fred’s book is the perfect field manual for bourbon hunters, and you owe yourself a purchase of that at the very least. Enjoy your National Bourbon Heritage Month!