Not only that, but the elixir has to be made in the U.S.A. in order to bear the name bourbon The rules that govern its production are strict, too, which Albert W.A. Schmid spells out in the introduction to his collection, “The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook” (The University Press of Kentucky, $24.95):
- “Bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn mixed with barley and with rye or wheat or both. Many times bourbon has an even higher percentage of corn, but it never exceeds 79 percent of the mash. (When the percentage of mash reaches 80 percent, the beverage becomes corn whiskey.)
- “Bourbon must be aged for at least two years in charred new oak barrels. If it is aged less than four years, a statement of age must be placed on the label.
- “Only pure water may be added to bourbon.
- “Bourbon must not exceed 160 proof off the still or 125 proof going into the barrel.”
What all this means is that the standards for bourbon are high, and that’s probably why so many top producers, such as Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, and Booker’s, command top dollar for their bottlings. Tradition has been that bourbon comes from Kentucky, but a number of distillers have sprung up elsewhere in recent years. Garrison Brothers Distillery in the Hill Country town of Hye is set to release Texas’ first small batch bourbon today.
But bourbon isn’t just for sipping or stirring into a mint julep. As Schmid shows in his collection, it can be a perfect ingredient in food, whether you’re cooking Pork Kebabs with Mustard-Bourbon Glaze or Wilted Spinach Salad with bourbon in the Hot Sweet and Sour Orange Dressing.
Schmid, a culinary professor with Sullivan University in Kentucky, has organized his book by the seasons, so that each section features ingredients that you’re more likely to find fresh and at fullest flavor. That said, I think you can enjoy Seared Scallops with Bourbon Vanilla Beurre Blanc or Bourbon Baked Ham at any time of year. He’s also gotten a fellow Kentucky native, Dean Fearing, now of Dallas, to provide the foreword.
When you cook with bourbon, recipes invariably edge toward a sweet side. That said, I still wanted to make just about every recipe I read, including Kentucky Bourbon Acorn Squash, Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pumpkin Pie and Woodford Pudding, which gets its name from a county in Kentucky, not Woodford Reserve.
Schmid offers a series of cocktails, including the New Orleans favorite, Bourbon Milk Punch, but I found myself more drawn to more original ideas, such as Hot Buttered Kentucky Bourbon Oatmeal, a perfect holiday breakfast treat, and hot dogs topped with a sauce made from Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and, of course, bourbon. There’s even a version of that Kentucky stew, burgoo, which mixes pork, veal, beef, lamb and chicken with vegetables to create a real warmer. (The bourbon’s in the sauce, of course, but where’s the squirrel meat?)
But whether you’re interested in tradition or temptation, “The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook” is a heady cocktail that’s sure to please.