This July, we’re hitting the road to explore the regional cuisine of the United States. I’ll share a few Nebraska favorites and recipes from my travels across the U.S. I also have some guest posts lined up for when I’m actually on the road. M and I will be heading out in mid-July on an epic road trip through the southeast, Nashville, and eventually bourbon country in and around Louisville, Kentucky. I thought today was the perfect day to debut this Blueberry Bourbon Smash.
No spirit is more American in my mind than the corn-based bourbon whiskey. Though whiskey has been distilled since the 18th century, the first reference to “bourbon” didn’t appear until the 1820s. The origins of bourbon are dubious, but many people credit Elijah Craig with its invention as the first distiller to age corn whiskey in charred oak barrels.
The name itself may derive from Bourbon County, the region where the majority of the liquor is produced. Now part of Kentucky, Bourbon County, which was originally comprised of a large area of Virginia and Kentucky, was named after the French kingdom in 1785. The name has also been attributed to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where Kentucky whiskey was popular as a cheaper alternative to French cognac.
The U.S. Congress adopted a resolution in 1964 that declared bourbon to be a “distinctive product of the United States,” and prevented the importation of any whiskey labeled as “bourbon.” To meet the legal requirements for bourbon, a spirit must be produced in the U.S. from a mixture that is at least 51% corn; aged in new, charred oak barrels; distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% abv); and bottled at 80 proof or more (40% abv.) This differs from Tennessee whiskies, such as Jack Daniels, which are often made of corn but aren’t required to adhere to the strict distillation requirements of bourbon.
I first tried bourbon on a road trip with my parents when I was 22. They picked me up after a summer internship in Washington, DC and we drove back west to Nebraska. Along the drive, we stopped at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. I’d had my share of Jack Daniels as a young adult, so I was surprised by the smoothness, spice and complexity of the Buffalo Trace bourbon.
Today’s cocktail, inspired by the Suzy Q bourbon lemonade from Schiller’s Liquor Bar, would be perfect for your July 4th get-together. It’s light and tangy from the lemon and fresh fruit, with a comforting sweetness from the honey. But it’s packed with a big punch of boozy bourbon—which we know is essential whenever family is involved. In a cocktail shaker, muddle a handful of blueberries, bourbon, fresh lemon juice, honey and simple syrup and shake until chilled. Pour into a mason jar or highball glass with ice, garnish with fresh strawberries and top with some club soda.
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 1 ounce honey syrup (1:1 honey and water mixture)
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice (juice from about 1 lemon)
- ¼ cup blueberries
- 2 strawberries sliced
- 1 strawberry and lemon slice, for garnish
- To make simple syrup, heat ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature and store in refrigerator.
- To make honey syrup, mix 2 tablespoons warm water with 2 tablespoons honey. Stir to dissolve.
- In a cocktail shaker, muddle blueberries. Top with ice, bourbon, honey syrup, simple syrup and lemon juice. Shake until chilled. Taste for sweetness and then strain into a mason jar or highball glass filled with ice. Top with sliced strawberries.
- Garnish rim with strawberry and lemon slice and serve immediately.
Since it’s Friday, and we have a long holiday weekend ahead of us, I’ve also included five more bourbon cocktails curated from around the web.