3 great Custom Bourbon Cocktails

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….Delicious Bourbon Cocktail Tweaks

It hardly seems possible that anyone could really grow tired of bourbon. Hardly a week goes by without some new release or other catching one’s attention, just begging for a lingering sit-down over a neat pour or classic cocktail. But you don’t necessarily have to rush out and grab the latest bottle to taste something new: for the home mixologist, there is a vast territory of bourbon flavor yet to be discovered using the ingredients you may already have at home.

Bourbon pairs beautifully with a seemingly endless variety of flavors. Here in Kentucky, you’ll find it in everything from soy sauce to vanilla extract. But for those with a creative streak who want a little unexpected flavor in a bourbon-based cocktail at home, we’ve got three great recipes that riff on the classics while offering something fresh without requiring a barful of gadgets or certification from the International Bartenders Association.

The Earl Grey Old Fashioned

This is basically a classic Old Fashioned but with one key difference- the bourbon (or, more traditionally, rye whiskey- your choice) used herein has been infused with Earl Grey tea. This wouldn’t be the place to settle the discussion of how exactly you should make the Old Fashioned- there are as many variations as palates. But using a standard recipe, you will substitute in whiskey that has been left overnight at room temperature with up to 2oz of loose Earl Grey tea leaves per 750ml of liquor, then strained. This adds an unexpected floral feel to the bourbon that complements the whiskey’s natural sweetness well. Using orange bitters in lieu of the standard Angostura often called for in recipes will further accentuate the natural citrus character of the Earl Grey. Interestingly, tea and scotch is hugely popular in China, a little like the gin and tonic is elsewhere, so feel free to experiment with your own blend of tea and whiskey. Word is the best blends play off opposing flavors, e.g. a smoky oolong mixed with a sweet bourbon, etc.

The Bonal Manhattan

Here’s another easy way to imbue a classic cocktail with a little extra éclat. Swapping in the complexly herbal aperitif Bonal Gentiane Quina for vermouth in the classic Manhattan yields a drink that keeps the brevity of the original recipe intact while adding a host of additional subtle flavors. Bonal, technically a fortified wine that splits the difference in taste between sweet vermouth and Amari, has a rich and darkly fruity flavor along with bitter herbal elements and hint of honey. Bonal is a tasty sipper on it’s own, but it brings a little French panache to the all-American Manhattan, and can be had for about $20 locally at Old Town Liquors in the Highlands.

Bourbon & Tobacco Syrup

This one requires a little stovetop work, but the result is worth it. Essentially you’re just infusing simple syrup with the tobacco of your choice. This pays homage to the immemorial pastime of smoking while drinking without the side effect of making your house reek of smoke. I’m generally all for avoiding flavored pipe tobaccos, but this would be a good time to break out a little vanilla-flavored stuff- it works beautifully with the bourbon. But you can use something unflavored as well, as what you’re getting here is not the smoky taste of a lit pipe, but the essence of the tobacco fresh from the tin. You’ll take two cups of water and two of sugar, then bring the water to a boil before adding the sugar and reducing the heat. Add two teaspoons of the dried tobacco of your choice and stir until the mixture is smooth. You can store this in the fridge after letting it cool to room temperature and use this judiciously as a delicious addition to bourbon on its own or add it to any number of cocktails for a heady, unlit cigar kick. One word of caution- start small; a little goes a long way, and tobacco infusions are not something to overindulge in. For those of you that think this is way too much work, you can get a bottle of Jade Perique Tobacco Liqueur for about $50 and skip to the good part.

I’d love to hear some of your ideas for easy (or even unreasonably involved) bourbon cocktail tweaks. Drop me a line at dsteiden@mensbestguide.com