Liquid gold

From over a hundred bourbon distilleries that towered over Kentucky’s bluegrass before America’s prohibition era, only nine remain. But fortunately each produces several brands, so there’s a good selection.

photo: archiv

Not only was this caramel-colored liquor born there 200 years ago, in 1965 a federal law stipulated that only distillate produced in the US can be called bourbon. Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who spent as much time in the company of Jim Beam as Bill Clinton spends in the company of Wild Turkey to this day, played an active role in the passing of this law, which is still in effect today.
But for bourbon to be real bourbon and not any of the many whiskeys (the letter at the end of the word sets American whiskeys from European ones), it must meet several criteria. Remember the next three sentences and you can show up any bartender whose bottles of amber-colored beverages are shelved behind him merely as decoration. The mix of grains used to make bourbon – corn, rye, and barley – must contain at least 51% corn, and the clear distilled liquid must age at least two years in new oak barrels charred black inside. If the time it takes the bourbon to acquire its purely natural color is less than four years, that must be stated on the label. Connoisseurs of fine drinks and long-term alcoholics know that the direct proportion, “the longer the aging in barrels the better the potion,” far from applies in this case. The ideal aging time for bourbon is 6 to 8 years, and it’s mainly just the Japanese who drink bourbon that’s aged 12 years or more, as they think it’s the same as with Scotch. But bourbon that’s been in the barrel too long absorbs bitterness from the wood and, although its alcohol content has increased, it’s no longer right. Roll a sip of this potion around in your mouth, let its caramel flavor tickle your palate, and its strength will cut your tongue like a sharp reproach from your wife: “…are you drinking again?” It’s better to swallow and let the almost vanilla taste fade away.
Although today all American bourbons are de facto produced in the same way, small differences, passed on from father to son over the years, play large roles. Each brand tastes different – milder, duller, or coarser, with an overriding aroma of corn or wheat. You just have to pick the right bottle. If you want to prove you’re a real connoisseur, pick one marked “single barrel”, the finest bourbon. It hasn’t been blended with anything, and the only thing that could ever have been added to it is pure water from a local limestone subsurface, in order to cut its fiery nature.

The author is the deputy editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine.



  Photo: Věroslav Sixt

Not only for professional bartenders. This five-piece stainless steel set from Blomus contains everything you need for preparing cocktails: tongs, knife, opener, and sifter. Price: CZK 1,642

Available at: Blomus, Karlínské nám. 9, Praha 8




  Photo: Dorothea Bylica

It was born in 1874 at a banquet organized by Winston Chruchill’s mother and it immediately became a hit. You’ll need bourbon (2 1/2 parts), sweet vermouth (1 part), and two drops of maraschino cherry juice. Pour it over ice without stirring and garnish the glass with a cherry. A variant is the Dry Manhattan, for which you use dry vermouth and add a green olive. In any case, a Manhattan must always be clear and icily refreshing.Photographed in cooperation with hotel Radisson SAS Alcron



Maker’s Mark
Probably the longest-aged bourbon, it boasts the marking, “The finest bourbon of all times”. It’ll capture you with its aroma of honey, raisins, dates, and butter every time. Many awards from London to San Francisco also speak of its high quality.
Price: cca 900 Kč

Four Roses Single Barrel
Its high price of over a thousand crowns is balanced by its pure flavor, which can be attributed to its having fermented in century-old cypress vats. Moreover, it boasts the “single barrel” designation.
Price: cca 1100 Kč

RX Bourbon
Six-year-old bourbon with the highest wheat content. Like Jack Daniel’s, it’s filtered through sugar maple charcoal, which is why it’s much sweeter and milder. During Prohibition it was the only alcohol sold with a doctor’s prescription, which also says a lot.
Price: cca 500 Kč

Jack Daniel’s
This isn’t classic bourbon, and it doesn’t come from Kentucky either, but it’s real American Tennessee whiskey. It’s amber-colored and has a slightly woody flavor with a fruity aroma. Its double-distilling through charcoal is unique.
Price: cca 600 Kč

Wild Turkey
This third-best-selling bourbon in the US was first produced in 1789 as a spirit from a mixture of corn, barley, and malt. Its full, rich aroma extends from oranges, honey, and vanilla to nutmeg, tobacco, and port wine.
Price: cca 600 Kč






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