Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Bourbon's Back

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

As if you needed an additional reason for having a drink or two this month, by official decree of the U.S. Senate, September is National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Bourbon was first declared "America's Native Spirit" in 1964, and the spirit certainly inspires thoughts of handsome old Colonels rocking on the porch while sipping mint juleps and sniffing the fragrance of the magnolia trees on summer afternoons (we'll ignore the whole doing-shots-of-Jim-Beam-in-a-frat-bar thing for now). And what could be more all-American than a whiskey that claims the rolling hills of Kentucky as its birthplace, and lists names such as Elijah Craig, Jim Beam and Pappy Van Winkle among the giants of its long history? (Okay, we'll ignore rye whiskey for now, too.)

Last month's Senate recognition comes on the heels of the announcement by Beam Global -- the massive liquor conglomerate that produces Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, Booker's and many other bourbons and assorted liquors -- that 2007 is "The Year of Bourbon." After the industry was crippled by Prohibition and hobbled by dwindling consumer interest in the 1960s and '70s, bourbon sales eventually recovered and are now booming both domestically and globally, helped by the popularity of super-premium bourbons and single-barrel whiskies such as those mentioned by Camper English last week in the San Francisco Chronicle. With assistance from events such as the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (taking place this week) and attractions such as the American Whiskey Trail, bourbon distillers are appealing to dedicated connoisseurs and curious tourists alike.

Vodka may still be king of the back bar, but it comes as good news to spirits aficionados that Kentucky's home-grown spirit is gradually catching up. Are you a part of bourbon's renewal? Are you a single-barrel sipper during the cool of the evening or a die-hard Beam-and-Coke kind of drinker? Or do you equate bourbon with Snuffy Smith's corn squeezin's and steer clear of the sector altogether? Let's hear it.