A Bourbon Review:

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Article by Elizabeth Roach

“Every once in a while, you meet a person who embodies everything you want to know about a subject,” says Kathleen Purvis, food editor of TheCharlotte Observer. She is referring to Freddie Johnson, a “bourbon expert” whose family has worked for three generations at Buffalo Trace Distillery.  However, her new book, Bourbon, plays a similar role.

A SAVOR THE SOUTH cookbook from the University of North Carolina Press, Bourbon shares a trove of delectable recipes, of the sweet, savory, and liquid persuasion.  It also provides a basic introduction to the beverage and its storied history.

The book’s opening section acts as a primer on the fundamentals of bourbon: what it is and how it’s made, along with its characteristics and origins.

Following the informative and engaging introduction, the book is divided into sections with cocktails, appetizers, main dishes/sides, and desserts.

Requisites such as the Mint Julep and Manhattan are included, along with original concoctions like the “Smoked Bourbon.”  The latter involves ingeniously heating bourbon over a charcoal grill with hickory chips. This is a simple but delicious parlor trick for your next cook-out or dinner party.

Refreshingly, most of the recipes are quite doable for the average home cook.  Scrumptious dishes such as the Bourbon Benedict, a take on the traditional Eggs Benedict, and Bourbon Pimento Cheese, reflect the “balancing act” of using bourbon in the kitchen.  The desserts section features highlights such as James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock’s recipe for Bourbon-Apple Stack Cake, as well as several variations on bourbon balls.  

In addition to sharing tips tailored to each recipe, the book relates Purvis’ strategies on choosing a “kitchen bourbon.”  It also includes helpful sidebars with bartending tips and explanations of terms such as “angel’s share” and “tailbox.”

Bourbon’s ties to the American South are indelible, and the recipe for Lane Cake, which is featured in Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, provides a whiff of nostalgia with a modern spin.  As Purvis points out in the book, bourbon is “uniquely American and essentially Southern.”

It deserves to be experienced properly and given due deference.

This brings us back to Freddie Johnson’s story.  

Purvis shares a moment when Freddie and his father partake “from a special anniversary batch his father helped to make” not long before the elder’s passing. “I was so moved by what he was expressing, the eternal nature of it,” she says. “His family history and connection to the facility…embody so much about what makes the creation of bourbon special, that combination of manufacture, craft and art.”

That is the essential message of Bourbon: the relation of the drink to people, and how their heritage is tied to its own.  If you pick up a copy, you’ll find more than just practical advice and mouthwatering recipes; you’ll uncover the character of a timeless, inspiring subject.  

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