Posted April 1, 2020

Bourbon: America’s Native Spirit

Eat + Drink

Eeach year we host our lead bartenders and bar managers from across the country for our annual Kimpton Bar Summit to learn from each other about current trends and new spirits. A recent trip was to Louisville, which is the hub for Kentucky Bourbon country. When we toured Bourbon Country we met some of the master distillers who have been making this beautiful spirit for decades—the passion they pour into their products is infectious.

Bourbon is a type of whiskey and is, by act of Congress, a “distinctive product of the United States.” This means that it can only be made in the USA, just like tequila or mezcal can only be made in Mexico. Bourbon can be, and is, made in any state—not just Kentucky—but it is mostly still made there, for both historical and geological reasons.

Bourbon is tightly regulated—it must be made from a minimum of 51% corn; aged in new, charred oak barrels; and bottled at no less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). Here’s a tip: the word straight on a label means that no additional flavoring or coloring has been added, and if the spirit is not at least four years old, it must declare the age on the label.

While you can enjoy your favorite Bourbon neat or on the rocks, we hope you’ll visit your friendly neighborhood Kimpton bartender to try a bourbon cocktail down the line. Or try your hand at one of these three recipes. One is incredibly simple, one is somewhat difficult and the third? We’ll call it aspirational.

Easy: Manhattan

The devil is in the details here. Look for a bourbon that’s at least 45% alcohol by volume, or 90 proof (the term “proof” is just ABV doubled—so an 80-proof bourbon is 40% alcohol). Too much water will cause 80-proof bourbons to fall apart in the glass. Use a good and fresh sweet vermouth, like Carpano Antica Formula or Noilly Prat. Buy a small bottle and keep it in the fridge, since vermouth goes bad.

For the cocktail:

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters


  1. Stir and strain.
  2. Serve up or on the rocks. If you can use a big piece of ice, do so. It helps the flavors hold together better.

Moderate: Brown Derby

Fresh, fresh, fresh. Use grapefruit juice from actual grapefruits. Look for a good, flavorful honey as well. Use the same 90 proof or higher bourbon that you used in your Manhattan.

For the cocktail:

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 0.75 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • 0.75 oz. honey syrup


  1. Shake, strain and serve up.
  2. Garnish with a nice swath of grapefruit peel.

Aspirational: Fedora Cocktail

Yes, this is a bit harder. But we think you’re up for it. Try making the grenadine yourself, which is equal parts good pomegranate juice and sugar, lightly heated on the stove. Or at least buy the good stuff—don’t get stuck with that bright-red, cherry-flavored syrup. Also, remember lemon juice comes from real lemons.

For the cocktail:

  • 2 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
  • 0.75 oz. homemade grenadine
  • 0.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme


  1. Shake, strain through a fine mesh strainer and serve up.
  2. Garnish with a sprig of thyme clipped on to the edge of the glass.




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  1. Nix says:

    Using grapefruit is a good innovation. However, many people take medications that interact badly with grapefruit. You may want to keep that in mind when you are promoting a drink that contains it as it may be less popular for this reason. FYI

  2. Gail Packer says:

    This is such fun preview of my upcoming road trip.
    Heading to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky with friends and family next week!
    You have wet my palate for sure!