Sometimes our government gets it right. On August 2, 2007 the U.S. Senate declared September as National Bourbon Heritage Month in a unanimous decision. This came years after Congress pronounced bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964. It makes sipping bourbon feel downright patriotic.
The Scots and Irish argue over who invented whiskey (or whisky as the Scots, Canadians and Japanese spell it), but bourbon is a completely American spirit. If the whiskey bottle says bourbon, it must be made in the U.S. By regulation, bourbon is made from fermented grains including at least 51 percent corn, it must be aged in new oak barrels and cannot contain any additives, colors or flavors.
There may be a lot of rules for how it’s made, but there aren't many rules on how to enjoy it, and Austin bars are pulling out all the stops to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month. Here are some of the best bourbon drink specials you’ll find around town.
The Blackheart: The Gentleman Caller
Old Grand Dad 114, Antica Sweet Vermouth, Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
The back bar of The Blackheart is studded with more than 100 types of whiskey. Amber sunshine brightens the smile of customers with a stellar selection of bourbons including Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year old and a solid selection of Texas whiskey including Garrison Brothers, Red River Texas Bourbon Treaty Oak Red Handed Bourbon and Balcones Whisky. General Manager Jeremy Murray describes The Gentleman Caller as, "Big bourbon, high proof meets black walnut in this a unique twist on a classic Manhattan. We serve this in an Old Fashioned glass with a single large cube."
Drink.well: Reverend's Reprieve
Elijah Craig 12 Year Bourbon, cinnamon syrup, fresh lemon, PAMA pomegranate liqueur, baked apple Bitters, Fever Tree Sparkling Lemon Soda, apple slice
Drink.well. is taking Bourbon Heritage Month seriously with a different whiskey offered for half-price every day. It’s an impressive list with whiskeys like Four Roses Single Barrel, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Old, Eagle Rare 17 year old and Stag Jr. from Buffalo Trace.
"This is an 'Indian summer'-inspired highball cocktail," explains owner Jessica Sanders of the Reverend's Reprieve. "Elijah Craig 12 Year is a small batch Bourbon with a nose and flavor profile that begs for fall — baked apples, toffee, nuttiness — but the anise and mint finish are just bright enough to let the feel of summer linger. The cocktail is long, refreshing and fizzy, but with the warmth and spice of a cooler-weather drink."
Due Forni: The Drunken Gaucho
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, house made Limoncello, Aperol, Amaro Montenegro, egg whites
This bourbon cocktail with an Italian twist is a great way to whet your appetite for a traditional Neapolitan pizza. A perfect balance of booze, bitter and citrus bite with a frothy bit of fun will transport you from the Kentucky hills to the Tyrrhenian coast.
Half Step: Kentucky Colonel
Bonded bourbon, angostura bitters, Benedictine
Half Step has a well-selected line up of whiskeys including Michter's 20 Year Single Barrel Bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 year. For this cocktail, Barman Florian Minier mixes a variation of an Old Fashioned using 100 proof bourbon and served with a huge, hand-cut ice cube. The bonded whiskey gives the drink little more heat to cut through the sweetness of the Benedictine in the cocktail. That huge hunk of ice also melts slowly, letting the drink mellow as you go.
Péché: High West Double Rye Old Fashioned
High West rye, lemon peel, JT bitters
Péché may be known for its absinthe, but it has an impressive selection of whiskey including Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, Jefferson Presidential 21 Year Bourbon and Willett 12 Year. An Old Fashioned is a whiskey lover’s go-to cocktail and this recipe packs a bit of spice to keep you smiling.
Searsucker: New Fashioned
Angel Envy bourbon, orange curacao, orange rind, a mixture of Angostura and Peychudes bitters
"We make a 'New Fashioned' with our very own Searsucker blend of Angel’s Envy Bourbon that we call the Suckers Blend,” says Bar Manager Robin Ozaki. "Angel’s Envy blended a specific batch based on three different styles that they let me experiment with. When I dialed in the recipe that I felt best as a base for a cocktail, they bottled 120 specially branded 'Searsucker' Angel Envy Bottles, and sent them to Texas!"
The Tigress Pub: Beggar’s Banquet
Treaty Oak Red Handed Bourbon, maple syrup, lemon juice, Old Speckled Hen ale
You might not get lost in this cozy bar, but it’s highly possible to get lost in thought while sipping on one of owner Pamela Pritchard’s elegantly crafted drinks. "The Tigress loves bourbon," she says. "We have just changed the menu for September to feature some bourbon cocktails. The three bourbon cocktails on the menu are The Scofflaw, The Black Demure and Beggar's banquet which is our on-tap cocktail. In addition, I have some bourbons I don't normally have on hand like Prichards Double Barreled bourbon, Angels Envy, Elijah Craig 12 year, Willet Pot Still Reserve and Wild Turkey 81."
W Austin: The Brother’s Quarrel
St. Germain and Canton Ginger, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Laphroaig scotch
Legend has it that the maker of Chambord challenged his two sons make a liqueur better than his — and better than each other’s. The result of the completion was one made St. Germaine and the other Canton. This drink is an homage to their quarrel with Bourbon and Scotch vying for affection in one glass. Dustin Courtright, libationist at the W Austin, recommends drinking the layered cocktail with a straw to let the ingredients’ flavors evolve as you sip. "The scotch will come down into drink and fuse into it, then you’re left with a bourbon-scotch marriage."
While you're there, try the single barrel Eagle Rare that was chosen and bottled specifically for the W Austin.
Whisler’s: Lion's Tail
Bourbon, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, lime juice, demerara syrup, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, lime wheel
Kick back with one of three featured bourbon cocktails at this easy going east side spot. The nights are cooling off just enough to enjoy whiskey on the patio. "This is not your typical citrus-driven cocktail," General Manager Cesar Aguilar says of the Lion's Tail. "By adding dram and angostura bitters, it makes a bright bourbon cocktail, where the bourbon’s sweetness is highlighted and accented with notes of all spice and clove, and it pairs well with the oak-y character of the bourbon."