Bourbon – the versatile spirit of summer

Bourbon JoziStyle


Bourbon is a versatile option finding favour with an emerging category of whiskey drinkers in South Africa and is a great drink to serve up this summer, says Valentine Maseko, WhiskyBrother Retail Manager and Brand Ambassador.

Maseko was speaking at a Bourbon tasting event hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) this week, as part of the Cheers! Spirits from the U.S.A campaign, to mark US National Bourbon Heritage Month. The month celebrates America’s ‘Native Spirit’, which has roots dating back to the migration of settlers west from the original colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bourbon has remained popular for hundreds of years thanks to its robust flavours, golden colour and smooth mouthfeel, and the fact that it is available in a huge range of releases and expressions.


Bourbon is becoming increasingly popular in South Africa among young men and women looking to explore more sophisticated spirits and is also widely used in cocktails.
Valentine Maseko ~ WhiskyBrother Retail Manager and Brand Ambassador

“Because Bourbon’s mash bill is predominantly corn, it’s generally sweeter than other whiskeys. And because it is aged in new oak barrels, the spirit is infused with notes of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, honey and coconut thanks to the lignins and vanillins in the wood. This makes it a versatile drink to be enjoyed however you prefer it.

Maseko says there is a difference between tasting whiskey and drinking it, however. “To taste it, you need to sample it neat, from a good tasting glass, and move it around your palate to discover the notes, with a few drops of water if desired. Once you’ve found a Bourbon you enjoy, you should drink it any way you prefer – neat, with ice, or in cocktails.”

He says Bourbon and American Rye whiskey work particularly well in cocktails: “They have a fairly high alcohol content and carry their flavour when mixed with other ingredients, so they don’t lose their complexity in cocktails,” he says. “The best Old Fashioned or Whiskey Sour made at home should use Bourbon.” Maseko recommends Bourbon as a good choice to serve at a summer braai, as a late afternoon drink over ice, or in a simple Whiskey Sour enhanced by Demerara or Muscovado sugar.

Robyn Thobois, bar manager and mixologist at Curated Lounge, WhiskyBrother’s latest project, a cocktail bar in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, says cocktail culture is alive and well in South Africa, with locals becoming more discerning and knowledgeable about cocktails. “Many people are revisiting the classics,” she says.

She says many South African bartenders are using Bourbon to add robust complexity to their cocktails. “It packs a lot of punch in the flavour, and we find it balances well and finds favour in a drink that has sweeter ingredients,” she says.

Curated Bar & Lounge features Bourbon in two classic cocktails which have been given a new spin by the bar. Thobois says Curated’s Whiskey Sour includes peach and rooibos-infused Bourbon with basil, a chipotle infusion and lemon juice. It has also reimagined the classic Old Fashioned, using Bourbon, honey syrup and bitters.

Thobois says that at home, she enjoys Bourbon neat, with no ice. “It’s perfect to enjoy as a sundowner, for pre-drinks before going out, or after dinner,” she says. “A good way to impress your friends when entertaining this summer would be to serve Bourbon-based Whiskey Sours, with fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and a foaming agent like egg white or aquafaba.”

Maseko highlighted a number of leading Bourbons during a tasting session:

Maker’s Mark – made with soft red winter wheat for a one-of-a-kind, full-flavored Bourbon that’s easy to drink

Bulleit Bourbon –  with a unique blend of rye, corn, and barley malt, along with special strains of yeast and pure Kentucky limestone filtered water for a bold, spicy character.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – claiming more than 200 detectable flavour notes, from bold grain and wood, to sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit and floral notes.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon  – smooth and refined, thanks to four years of aging in newly charred American white oak barrels.

Whistling Andy Straight Bourbon Whiskey – with a lower corn component to cut the typical Bourbon sweetness and develop a more complex back palate.

Gunfighter American Bourbon – aged in new oak barrels and finished in used French Port barrels to deliver a unique smoothness and complexity.

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