Whether you call me a spirited patriot or just a “homer,” there’s one truly American spirit that has always been my favorite.
The real mystery is why it isn’t more popular in its native country–right here in the United States.
That spirit is Bourbon.
Now, depending on how you want to research it, such as by popularity, actual dollar sales or just anecdotal evidence, Bourbon’s identity is buried under an avalanche of Vodka brands, Tequila and even its distant relative, Scotch.
But the fact of the matter remains that Bourbon is “America’s Native Spirit.” Its origin is indisputably ours.
What exactly makes Bourbon, Bourbon?
The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits state that Bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be the following:
Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51-percent corn (Now you’re beginning to see the truly American connection–an American indigenous grain is at its heart.)
Aged in new, charred-oak barrels (generally American White Oak–another American contribution.)
Distilled to no more than 160 proof
Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof
Bottled at 80 proof or more
Notice that is doesn’t have to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky or even IN the state of Kentucky (even though the overwhelming majority of Bourbon in this country is produced there).
And just an FYI (because it drives me crazy): Although Jack Daniels is listed under the North American Free Trade Agreement as a Bourbon, it is NOT considered a Bourbon by Federal Law or even by Jack Daniels or George Dickel, its most prominent distillers. It’s a Tennessee Whiskey, which is classified (Federally) as a unique product unto itself, as it is made differently from Bourbon.
Anyway, although Bourbon is my drink, it doesn’t stop there. I also enjoy using Bourbon in many different recipes. The subtle influences of Bourbon’s signature flavors of caramel, oak, spice, and tobacco as well as a flavor called “leather” can make fabulous contributions to dishes ranging from pork and chicken to hot bacon salad dressings, and of course, desserts.
Probably the most common use of Bourbon in recipes is barbecue sauce, and I can understand why. The sweet, spicy and sometimes smoky flavors of most barbecue sauces are a perfect match for Bourbon.
But there are SO many other GREAT recipes to which Bourbon adds its special touch. Here are a few of my favorites:
Not only are Bourbon Pecans addictively delicious on their own, but they also make a tasty garnishment on salads, grilled pork or ice cream! This is a pretty tried-and-true recipe, but I’ve always made it using both granulated and brown sugar. You can also substitute ground cinnamon for the cumin.
Makes about 1 ½ lbs or 4 Cups
1 Lb Pecan Halves 6 TBSP Bourbon ¼ Cup Granulated Sugar ¼ Cup Brown Sugar ½ tsp Angostura Bitters 1 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce 1 TBSP Vegetable Oil ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper ½ tsp Fine Sea Salt ¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper 1 tsp Ground Cumin
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, reduce the 6 TBSP of Bourbon in half (to 3 TBSP). Remove from the heat and add the sugar, bitters, Worcestershire sauce and vegetable oil. Let stand.
In a separate sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add pecan and blanch 1 minute. Drain off all the water, and pat dry with paper towels.
Add the blanched (still warm) pecans to the sauce mixture and carefully stir to coat.
Spread the entire nut mixture (with resulting syrup) onto a rimmed, non-stick cookie sheet, and bake in a 350 F oven approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the nuts are crisp and lightly browned, remove from the oven into a medium-sized bowl, and sprinkle with the cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and cumin.
Enjoy warm or save in an airtight container (after thoroughly cooling) to enjoy later.
Last but not least, try this sauce with grilled bananas or with Nino’s crisp maple bacon. You can even try it WITH grilled bananas TOPPED with crisp bacon!!
Buttery Bourbon Sauce
Makes about 1 ½ Cups
1 Cup Brown Sugar ¼ Cup Water ½ Cup Heavy Cream 1 TBSP Butter, Unsalted ¼ Cup Bourbon ½ tsp Pure Vanilla Dash Sea Salt (Or Kosher Salt)
Mix together the sugar, water and butter in a saucepan over high heat.
Bring to a boil, and whisk until sugar has dissolved. Add vanilla and cream, and remove from heat.
Stir in Bourbon.
Bring mixture to a simmer again over medium heat, and cook for 5 minutes while stirring.
Remove from heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.
My last recipe is for a simple glaze that I enjoy over grilled chicken and salmon. You can also add an Asian-Style Sweet Chili Sauce to this recipe to kick it up a notch!
Bourbon Grilling Glaze
Makes about ¾ Cup
½ Cup Honey 1/3 Cup Bourbon ½ tsp Chipotle Chili Powder 1 TBSP Lime Juice Optional ¼ Cup Sweet Chili Sauce
In a small saucepan, simmer together the honey, bourbon, chili powder, and lime juice (and optional sweet chili sauce) until the glaze thickens slightly.
To use, season your chicken or salmon with salt and pepper. Spray your grill with vegetable oil, and baste your Bourbon glaze on each side as you turn your pieces over.
After cooking, baste once more for an additional coating of flavor.