LIFESTYLE: Making History (and a Custom Cocktail) with Jim Beam Bourbons

It’s official, winter is around the corner. I can feel it in my loins and I don’t like it. But there are a few things in life that cheer me up faster than a triple layer red velvet cheesecake, and that’s bourbon and a deliciously messy barbecue. So when I was invited to “Make History” with Jim Beam at Aft Bar in Toronto, it was a no brainer.

For those of you who aren’t bourbon connoisseurs (like myself), bourbon is a type of whiskey that’s produced in the USA, made of a grain mix of at least 51% corn, distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV), without any additives (except water to reduce proof where necessary) and aged in new, charred white oak barrels (and to be called “straight bourbon” it must be aged for a minimum of two years). We started the evening with a bourbon tasting led by Matt Jones, Bartender and Whisky Ambassador, and then followed it by pairing menu items with cocktails.

Style Empire - Make History with Jim Beam x Aft Bar, Bourbon Tasting

During the bourbon tasting, we tasted four different bourbons: Basil Hayden’s ($51.95/750mL bottle), Devil’s Cut ($29.95/750mL bottle), Knob Creek Straight Bourbon ($46.95/750mL bottle) and Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($54.90/750mL bottle). With each bourbon we looked at the colour, nose/aroma, taste and finish. Some of the bourbons are fruity while others are smokey and sweet. My favourite from the tasting was Basil Hayden’s. This bourbon dates back to 1796, when Master Distiller Basil Hayden Sr. created a recipe using a traditional corn base, but mixed in small grains in his mash to capture the spicy flavour of rye and complement the sweet smoothness of corn. It is aged for 8 years and offers a spicy aroma, light-bodied and peppery taste, with a dry, clean finish. What I love about Basil Hayden’s is that it can be enjoyed alone or easily used to mix into cocktails.

Style Empire - Make History Jim Beam Bourbon x Aft Bar

Dinner consisted of incredibly mouth-watering combinations. We started with Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeños Stuffed with Aged Cheddar, paired with an Old Fashioned with Knob Creek Bourbon. Then followed by Sous Vide Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Peach & Basil Hayden mopped Baby Back Ribs with Cheddar Corn Bread and Stewed Collard Greens, paired with your very own Devil’s Cut or Knob Creek Bourbon cocktail. And if that wasn’t enough, we finished with a delectable dessert that was so light and delicious. Aft Bar created a Knob Creek Smoked Maple and Vanilla-infused Pudding Topped with Candied Pecans and paired it with Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon. The pairings were perfect as each cocktail complemented each dish wonderfully.

Style Empire - Make History Jim Beam Bourbon x Aft Bar, barbecueStyle Empire - Make History Jim Beam Bourbon x Aft Bar, Dessert

Just as we thought we were done, we had one last task: create our own cocktail (with a little help from Matt Jones). We picked out specific a specific bourbon, added the accents, bitters and garnishes. I went for the Devil’s Cut Bourbon for something rich and flavourful with notes of vanilla and wood pulled from the extracted liquid of the barrel. I wanted something light to cut the richness so I opted for citrus bitters and garnishes, and just a dash of mint. I went behind the bar and did some stirring, shaking, mixing and voila, the Citrus Splash was created. The result was a fresh yet flavourful cocktail. Matt Jones also mentioned that mixing bourbon into cocktails is actually quite easy and they would be great for social gatherings or even a holiday party – after all, the holidays are right around the corner!

Style Empire - Make History Jim Beam Bourbon x Aft Bar, Chenessa LamStyle Empire - Make History with Jim Beam x Aft Bar, CocktailStyle Empire - Make History Jim Beam Bourbon x Aft Bar, Matt Jones

It was a fabulous evening with great people and quite the educational experience. If Mr. Jones taught me anything, it’s that A) the original Whiskey Sour included egg whites, B) to stir with the back of your spoon along the glass (to allow it to flow with the natural inertia), C) you can use bourbon in your cocktails as they can be substituted for almost anything (bourbon and Coke anyone?), and D) there’s no such thing as too much whiskey.

– Chenessa Lam

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