Fifty: Maple Union

This project is on the home stretch and after forty-nine drinks, it's time to look at the elephant in the room. Over the past twelve or so months, we've seen rum drinks and Scotch drinks and vodka and gin and good God, we've even seen Genever a couple of times. What we haven't seen is bourbon.

Elephant Room by S.A. Young on Flickr

Bourbon was declared as a "distinctive product of the United States" in 1964, but it's stood as the flagship of American spirit production for long before that. There are a couple of key distinctions between bourbon and European (Scottish and Irish) whiskies, not least the sour mash process. Arguably, given that pretty fundamental difference in production combined with the different grain base (at least 51% corn for bourbon versus the traditional malted barley for Scotch), comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Maybe not so much apples and oranges - oranges and grapefruits might be more appropriate.

Lunch at the Pendennis Club by Southern Foodways Alliance on Flickr.

The natural question at this point is why has it taken me fifty weeks to feature one of the major spirits? Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. For one, dark spirits are not as popular as white spirits in the UK market, and bourbon is somewhere behind rum and Scotch in that category. As such, it doesn't feature in my thinking all that often and while it would be unfair to say that brands don't support their products with competitions and the like - Maker's Mark recently held took their UK finalists to the States and held the final in the Pendennis Club - but these are often a rarity among a calendar filled with events sponsored by vodka, gin and rum producers.

However, even on these distant shores, bourbon is deserving of more than a tip of the hat. Bourbon is the whiskey on which the cocktail tradition is built which makes it impossible to ignore. When talking about it in cocktails, the obvious point of reference is the Manhattan - I'm hearing an imaginary chorus of people shouting about proper Manhattans being made with rye, but if I put my hands just here over my ears, we'll be ok - and the overwhelming urge is to go old school. And if we're thinking old school, the obvious point of reference is the Sazerac and yes, the rye chorus has a point here. It's the aromatic rinse that makes the Sazerac great, and although absinthe pairs well with rye, it tends to overpower the more delicate flavours in most bourbons. It'd be incredibly opportunistic to claim that adding a rinse to a Manhattan constitutes a whole new recipe, so I've opted to add a couple of complimentary flavours from the great American tastebook in the form of maple syrup and Fee Brothers' Aztec Chocolate Bitters. Still incredibly opportunistic, though.

Maple Union

40ml bourbon (I used Maker's Mark)
20ml sweet vermouth (Cinzano Rosso)
1 barspoon maple syrup
1 dash Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate Bitters
10ml Yellow Chartreuse

Rinse a chilled martini glass with the Chartreuse. Stir all other ingredients with ice and strain into the chilled, rinsed glass. Garnish with an orange zest twist.