FEATURE

It’s An American Brand

by Ari Bendersky
Bourbon is a truly American spirit. Ready to take the plunge?

There are few things more American than bourbon. Except maybe baseball and apple pie.
But after a long hard day or when you're holed up during a killer mid-winter blizzard, a
beautiful glass of caramel-colored Kentucky bourbon takes the edge off in a way apple
pie never could. For bourbon to be bourbon, it must be made from a 70 percent corn
mash in Kentucky (although some bourbon made in Tennessee is often referred to as
Tennessee whiskey, but there are many other small-batch distillers making American
whiskey and a renaissance is taking place. Here we explore some great bourbon options,
and we recommend sipping them either neat or with a few ice cubes

Eagle Rare
While owned by the New Orleans-based Sazerac Company, Eagle Rare has always been
produced in Kentucky. Its 10-year-old single-barrel bottling has won numerous awards
and accolades and is a favorite among bourbon drinkers. Eagle Rare produces a beautiful
spirit with caramel notes and definitely a lot of heat, a result of it being 90 proof. It is
aged 10 years in charred oak barrels and produces an amber-colored bourbon, giving off
notes of orange peel and toffee.


Pappy Van Winkle
The Old Rip Van Winkle Company produces a varied line of American whiskies, with
its acclaimed 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle its star. Their spirits age a minimum of
10 years in lightly charred mountain oak barrels, offering a smoother taste. And its
popularity has crossed over into the beer world. In late 2010, Chicago-based Goose
Island Brewery released its Rare Bourbon County Stout, a $45 bottle of stout beer that
was aged for two years in 23-year-old Pappy barrels. The day it hit the Chicago market in
limited release, it sold out.

Black Maple Hill
This small-batch bourbon, produced in Heaven Hill Distillery oak casks, is about 95
proof and is surprisingly affordable at about $35 a bottle. This rare find offers a bit of
vanilla and caramel with a bit of citrus backed with some heat. Adding a couple of cubes
or a bit of water will mellow it, making it a fantastic sipper. Black Maple Hill pairs well
with various desserts. Also look for the 14-, 16- and 21-year-old bottles.
 

Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbons
While bourbon aficionados will scour the earth for the rarest of bourbons, some
good "gateway" bourbons to familiarize yourself with more commercially accessible
brands is the small-batch line from Beam Global Spirits, makers of Jim Beam. These
easily recognizable labels include Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker's and Baker's.
These bourbons, some made from recipes dating back nearly 200 years, are all aged from
six to nine years in charred new American white oak barrels, offering a range of tastes
and aromas.
  • Ari Bendersky eats, lives, plays, hunts and sometimes sleeps in Chicago. In addition to JACKarcher, he’s also the editor of Eater Chicago and has written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, the Associated Press, Out, Chicago and more.