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You can’t argue that a good bourbon is best drunk neat or in a cocktail that pushes those vanilla, corn and caramel notes front and center. But some of the best bars today are infusing bourbon in creative new ways, from traditional maceration to fat washing to the latest sous vide wizardry.
The result? A spirit that’s exciting, dynamic and packed full of interesting flavors, whether it’s coffee beans and dried fruit or sesame seeds and meat. So if you’re ready to mess with your precious brown, these are nine infused bourbon cocktails to drink in bars now.
At the Southern-focused restaurant and bar in Miami, 50 Eggs beverage director Josh Holliday created three spirit-forward infusions (applewood bacon, banana and dark chocolate) that preserve the integrity of the booze without adding a lot of sugar. For the latter, he roasts cacao nibs in the oven, transfers them to a large Mason jar filled with Knob Creek bourbon and macerates the mixture for a day before straining out the solids. For his twist on the Old Fashioned, he stirs the bourbon with simple syrup and orange and mole bitters, served in a large rocks glass and garnished with an expressed orange peel. “I haven’t found a lot of ingredients that don’t mix well with bourbon,” says Holliday. Cocktail-loving chocoholics would agree.
“What’s not to love about bacon?” asks director of food and beverage Matthew Horsley. “And what’s the second-best thing to eating bacon? Drinking bacon.” For this savory, salty creation at the live music and event space in Austin, he fat-washes a bottle of Treaty Oak Red-Handed bourbon with bacon fat, then mixes it with maple syrup and Fee Brothers black walnut bitters. The drink is served on the rocks and garnished with (what else?) a crisp slice of the breakfast meat. “Bourbon lends itself to this infusion because of its ability to stand up to and complement the smoky flavors of the bacon and maple syrup.”
Named for the hip bistro’s neighborhood in Northern Virginia, spirits manager Nick Farrell’s locally focused take on the Boulevardier infuses Filibuster Dual Cask bourbon (bottled in Virginia) with bitter orange peels and basil sourced from the rooftop garden of sister restaurant Evening Star Cafe. It’s mixed with Don Ciccio & Figli Luna Amara aperitivo from Washington, D.C., and Flying Fox No. 17.01 strawberry rhubarb vermouth from Virginia, barrel-aged and garnished with a basil sprig. “Anybody who has had an Old Fashioned can you tell you the classic combination of bitterness, orange peel and bourbon go swimmingly together,” says Farrell. Rhubarb plays nicely with bitter liqueurs like amaro, and basil partners up well with strawberry, he adds.
Beverage director Erick Castro’s homage to Kentucky’s state spirit takes a forgotten drink and reinvents it into a modern classic. Fresh strawberries and bourbon are placed in a vacuum-sealed bag in a sous vide machine for two hours set at 135 degrees Fahrenheit. “Sous vide allows us to produce more infusions with a strong flavor at a faster rate,” says general manager Frank McGrath. It’s shaken with ginger syrup, lemon juice and Angostura bitters, strained into a Collins glass, topped with seltzer and garnished with a lemon peel. The kicked-up sip has earthy spice and gingerbread notes with hints of berry and citrus peel.
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After having black sesame ice cream for dessert while out one night, Mikala Brennan thought the seeds would lend an earthy sweetness to a whiskey cocktail. She infuses Maker’s Mark bourbon with roasted black sesame seeds for three days, fat-washes the combination with sesame oil and strains out the seeds. The drink is stirred with honey and ponzu sauce, poured over an extra large ice cube and garnished with a flamed orange twist. “Bourbon can be very pliable; it takes on flavors really easily,” says Brennan. “The trick is finding the particular one that works with the ingredient.”
Influenced by the bar’s namesake Hershel Burgess, a prominent running back for the Texas Aggies on the 1927 national champion team, this drink combines two of his favorite things: bourbon and a bite of apple. Texas honey crisp apples are added to a jar of bourbon along with a cinnamon stick and whole clove, which are removed after three days, though the bourbon and apples macerate for three more weeks. It’s served on the rocks and garnished with an apple wedge.
Warm days, cool nights and gorgeous sunsets define late summer and early fall in southern Louisiana. The serrano peppers infused into Buffalo Trace bourbon along with the black pepper and coriander syrup represent the heat of the day, while the ojen (licorice liqueur) spritzed on top and charred tarragon garnish evoke the coolness of the evening. They’re mixed with lime juice and muddled tarragon and double-strained into a coupe. “With bourbon, begin by thinking how your particular spirit tastes and what ingredients will complement the flavor rather than mask it,” says beverage director Norton Christopher.
His two-year-old son Miles’ penchant for bananas and blueberries, the Miles Davis song and a banana-infused-rum Old Fashioned he tried in London all stirred Monaco Hotel lead bartender Kyle Darrow to create this fruity, funky drink. He macerates sugar-coated brûléed banana slices and cinnamon sticks in bourbon for at least a week. For the drink, he flambés blueberries, brown sugar and overproof rum in a Julep tin, sprinkles it with cinnamon, crushes the mixture into a slurry and extinguishes the flame. He adds the infused bourbon and crushed ice and swizzles it, garnishing the drink with skewered blueberries and banana chips. “If you would throw it on your oatmeal at breakfast, it’ll probably taste good infused with bourbon,” he says.
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Bartender Alyson Levy is always looking for ways to merge Peruvian and American cuisine at this bustling Portland, Ore., tapas bar. She found it in chancaca, a syrup made with unrefined sugar cane, orange peel, cinnamon and clove that usually tops the doughnut-like dessert picarones. She knew immediately that it would also be amazing in a spirit-forward stirred libation. She starts by soaking whole Selva Andina coffee beans in Buffalo Trace bourbon. It’s then stirred with the chancaca syrup and garnished with an orange peel. “Chancaca adds the sweet and citrus notes that every Old Fashioned needs,” she says, and coffee beans give it the bitter element to the riff whose name translates to “The Outdated.”