Look, I love gin. I love it in a multitude of ways – on the rocks, with tonic, with lime or cucumber, in martinis, pink (in and out); I especially love entire menus based around it. It’s been the drink of the moment for a while now, and that’s made me very happy. But while I don’t want gin to go anywhere soon, there’s a new spirit in town – bourbon.
For those not familiar with it, bourbon is an American whiskey made from three different grains – corn, rye and malted barley, with wheat sometimes making an appearance. Compared with other whiskys/whiskeys, it tends to have stronger caramel flavours, with notes of vanilla, coconut and sweet tobacco. (Thanks, Cask Strength, for your expert help with this!)
This (predominantly) Kentucky spirit is popping up all over London. Yesterday saw Byron launch a bourbon menu across its restaurants, starting with an event at the Rathbone Place branch. In addition to a list of ten cherry-picked whiskeys, you’ll find a bourbon hamburger complete with Bourbon BBQ sauce.
Pitt Cue Co, who recently opened in Soho after operating out of a van on Southbank throughout the summer, have long been bourbon fans. The Kentucky spirit – along with meaty barbecued goodness, obviously – is one of the highlights of their new permanent Soho home, with an extensive bourbon menu at the bar and a salted caramel bourbon pudding (oh my) on the dessert menu.
Finally, Hawksmoor, purveyors of some of the best bits of meat in London, have been running ‘Bourbon and Burgers’ night with Four Roses, talking guests through the history of the spirit, and tastings of a range of spirits.
From what, we can take two important lessons: firstly,that Bourbon and meat – burgers, ribs, grills in general – are a match made in heaven. Secondly, that bourbon gives rise to brilliant drinks combinations, with even more brilliant names.
Byron, for example, are riffing on the ‘boilermaker’ – a traditional Deep South combo that matches a shot of bourbon with a beer. The beer is drunk either as a chaser, or you can mix the shot into your beer directly. The Byron Boilermaker adds a third element – a burger – to create the perfect alliterative trio.
Pitt Cue Co have brought the equally exquisitely named ‘pickleback’ to London – a shot of bourbon chased with a shot of pickle brine. Opt for your pickleback ‘with skin’ and you get a pot of perfect pork scratchings to follow, too.
As London’s restaurant scene moves more and more in the direction of simple, unfussy eating and drinking, it’s perhaps no surprise that bourbon just feels right, right now. It’s strong, it’s unpretentious, and it’s straight up – although I am partial to a Manhattan or two…
However, there is one serious issue with this bourbon hypothesis. It means admitting, in at least some small way, that these muppets were right.