Bourbon. How do we love thee? Let us count the ways.
America's native spirit and one of Kentucky's most popular exports (short of Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Muhammad Ali) has been enjoyed by residents of the Bluegrass State and beyond for two centuries.
Depending on your taste, you might like it neat, on the rocks, with a splash of your favorite non- alcoholic mixer or in the form of iconic cocktails like the old-fashioned, the mint julep or the Manhattan.
But part of the fun of mixing drinks is experimentation, and drinks based on bourbon aren't beyond exception. In fact, we found some Lexington restaurants, clubs and watering holes that have put their own twists on the bourbon cocktail.
■ Bluegrass sunrise at Azur Restaurant and Patio: It's no coincidence that a restaurant that prides itself on fusion cuisine would have the same attitude behind the bar. Bluegrass Sunrise is a Kentucky take on a tequila sunrise, but it's really a deconstruction of an old-fashioned. It combines the spice of Maker's Mark 46 with Grand Marnier, orange juice and cherry juice, and can be served on the rocks or shaken and strained into a martini. This refreshing beverage obviously has its fans because it became the 2010 grand champion at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival's bourbon mixed-drink challenge, earning it the honor of being the festival's signature cocktail for 2011. Visit: Azurerestaurant.com.
■ Kentucky margarita at deSha's Restaurant: The popular restaurant on Broadway effectively claims this Mexican concoction as its own by swapping out tequila for Maker's Mark and mixing it with Grand Marnier, sour mix and Rose's Lime. Visit: Deshas.com.
■ Pear of roses at Rossi's Restaurant: As the name indicates, this drink is a playful pairing of Four Roses Bourbon and pear purée. Splashes of limoncello (Italian lemon liquer) and orange juice give this martini added citrusy dimensions. Visit: Rossis-restaurant.com.
■ Kentucky pain killer at Nick Ryan's Saloon: When the owners of Nick Ryan's opened the restaurant last year, they knew they wanted to be generous behind the bar.
"That was one of the first things they said to us is they wanted to do a nice pour for people," said executive chef Joseph Pugh.
The Kentucky pain killer achieves that goal. For starters, it packs a punch by combining Booker's Bourbon and (ri)1 Whiskey. For sweetness, there's tawny port, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, white crème de cacao and Aperol for a hint of orange bitters. It all makes for a speakeasy-inspired drink that's potent and flavorful but not overpowering.
It's almost entirely comprised of alcohol and, at $11, it might seem a bit steep. But Pugh said one sip could alleviate your doubts.
"I'm sure there's a little sticker shock to it, but when you have one, you know why," Pugh said. Visit: Nickryans.com.
■ T.L. Hatten at The Dish: Trish Tungate, co-owner of The Dish, said she likes to think of ways to make any bourbon cocktail for a certain demographic. "I've always tried to make bourbon drinks that are more geared towards the ladies," Tungate said.
Named after a longtime friend, the T.L. Hatten features Maker's Mark and triple sec poured over a smashed orange and cherry with a splash of lemon-lime soda. Visit: Thedishlexington.com.
■ Bluegrass lemonade at Devassa Bar and Café: This is a refreshing beverage ideal for warm-weather sipping. It combines Maker's Mark, triple sec, lemonade and Sprite, but the blue curacao gives the drink its signature color, which pays homage to the region and the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Visit: Devassa.net.
■ Bourbon ball martini at Bigg Blue Martini: Another wonderful byproduct of bourbon is one of the state's signature sweets: chocolate bourbon balls. Bigg Blue Martini has made this indulgent delight into a sweet dessert drink with its popular bourbon ball martini.
Matthew Chalfant, lead bartender at Bigg Blue Martini, said the drink combines a choice of Woodford Reserve or Maker's Mark with Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur and a splash of cream in a martini glass lined with Hershey's chocolate syrup.
Chalfant said this drink is more of a spirited interpretation of an Old Kentucky Chocolates classic.
"It's a great way to introduce people to bourbon in general," he said. Visit: Thebiggbluemartini.com.
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