It’s no secret that I love bourbon. In fact, a quick search on social media for the hashtag #BourbonJoziStyle will prove just how much a fan I am of this amber-hued Kentucky spirit. I may be a bourbon enthusiast but I’m certainly no aficionado so I jumped at the opportunity to speak to Dina Bird, owner of the Baker-Bird Distillery in Kentucky (USA).
The Baker-Bird Distillery enjoys a proud legacy of being the most historic winery in the U.S.A. B Bird is a young bourbon based on original recipes dating back to 1805 and 1808. Dina explains that the original Baker-Bird Winery and Vineyard was established in the 1850s by Abraham Baker. After she bought the winery she learnt that Abraham Baker’s grandfather, John Baker, was a prosperous distiller who had fought in the American Revolution. He also distilled whisky during the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) in defiance of George Washington’s first taxes imposed on domestic products.
When you drink a B Bird bourbon you are drinking a part of American history that dates back to its first president George Washington. Dina loves talking about history as much as she loves talking about bourbon, so I was even more intrigued to interview her via Zoom about why American bourbon appeals to South Africans and how well it pairs with our local cuisine.
“Firstly, Dina says, “Americans don’t have any one way to enjoy bourbon. They enjoy it in a casual cocktail or as a drink on its own.”
Why does Kentucky bourbon appeal to the South African palate?
Dina highlights the similar eating habits between Americans and South Africans. Both countries enjoy their meat whether farmed or wild (venison). Americans love their barbeque as much as South Africans love their braai.
We agree that the American barbeque is not the same as the South Africans braai. And, we leave it at that.
Dina also notices that South Africans are very cosmopolitan. Our cultural heritage includes African, Asian, and European influences which contributed to a variety of South African cuisines that pair well with bourbon. Dina says that traditional South African dishes such as babootie, boerewors, and koeksisters pair well with bourbon.
What is the best way to enjoy bourbon?
Dina says it’s not complicated to enjoy bourbon. Kentucky produces approximately 90% of the world’s bourbon and they enjoy it neat, on ice, or in a cocktail. In Kentucky, they will leave a bottle at the bar or buffet for guests to enjoy on its own or mix it in a cocktail.
In the summer, Dina enjoys a Mint Julep- which I happen to know is also the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in horse racing circles. It’s a mix of spring water, sugar syrup, 2 or three jiggers of bourbon, poured over crushed ice with a sprig of mint. Dina says they don’t think of it as a classic cocktail but more of a spritzer. She recommends a Mint Julep with chicken or fish. I would even recommend one on its own!
Which foods pair well with bourbon?
Desserts, especially chocolate, is Dina’s immediate choice for a food pairing with bourbon. Bourbon cuts through the creaminess of chocolate while complementing it with vanilla, toffee, caramel, or coffee flavours. Dina also enjoys chocolate liqueurs or bourbon filled bonbons.
Bourbon and red meat (especially venison or game) have a natural affinity with each other because Bourbon can stand up to strong meaty flavours. In addition to pairing your proteins with bourbon, you can cook your proteins with bourbon, flambé with bourbon, and even add bourbon to your sauces and gravies. The natural smokiness of bourbon makes it an ideal choice with anything that is braaied or grilled.
If you’re hesitant to pair bourbon with more delicate seafood, Dina recommends enjoying it in a mixer or a cocktail. Bourbon can also infuse flavour into a marinade, glaze or rub.
The future of bourbon is a modern one that includes creating a bourbon experience that you can call your own.
You can even #BourbonJoziStyle if you like.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), as part of its “Cheers! Spirits from the U.S.A” campaign; has been introducing South African adult spirits consumers to the diverse range of American spirits, including Bourbons, for several years now. The local market is growing as South Africans discover the variety, quality and versatility of Bourbons available. Whether you sip it neat, on the rocks, with a simple mixer or at the heart of a cocktail, Bourbon delivers complex, satisfying flavours rich with history.