To many people, whiskey is the stuff of heartbreak and country songs. I’m familiar with it only in the form of whiskey ginger and thought it was time to broaden my horizons. Thankfully, Chris Fierst, one of the owners of The Half Barrel Bar & Kitchen, gave me the inside scoop.
Whiskey is to liquor what ale is to beer: a broad category with smaller divisions. “Whiskey in its simplest form is distilled beer,” says Fierst.
The grain used in the batch is what creates the different subcategories.
What is bourbon?
- Made from 51% corn
- Aged in oak barrels
- Aged for no less than two years and a day
- Cannot exceed 160 proof (80% alcohol)
Bourbon is made in three different batches: big batch, small batch and single barrel, explains Fierst. Big batch is when the liquor company combines tens of thousands of barrels to get a more standard profile.
Small batch combines a smaller number of barrels, creating some nuances in flavor.
Single barrel whiskey is when one batch is created from one barrel. Every bottle in this batch will have the same flavor profile, but it will taste different than a different single barrel batch.
Half Barrel works directly with Knob Creek and purchases single barrel batches from them. Often, staff will go to Kentucky for a tasting to choose which barrel they want. “We go through about a barrel every two months,” notes Fierst.
That’s a bunch of bourbon. So what do they do with it all? Make drinks, of course!
Here are three bourbon cocktails created by Fierst to showcase the depth and complexity of bourbon. And also the deliciousness.
On The Rocks
Put ice in a lowball glass. Add as much bourbon as you like. Sip away! Note that as the ice melts, the flavors in the bourbon change.
- 3 parts bourbon
- 1 part vermouth
- Couple dashes Angostura bitters
Add all to cocktail shaker. Top with a handful of ice cubes and stir, don’t shake. Strain and serve in a martini glass.
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 4-5 mint leaves
- Juice from half a lemon
Add bourbon to cocktail shaker. Muddle in mint leaves and lemon juice and top with ice. Shake it and strain into a short tumbler. Garnish with spring of mint, lemon peel and raspberry.