This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
Some moments you never forget and, for me, one of those is the night I fell in love with bourbon.
(Not to be confused with the night I met bourbon. Although equally memorable, this is a publication for gentlemen after all, so let’s just say that evening was some years earlier and overshadowed by the vices of youthful ignorance.)
On this unremarkable winter night in 2010, the wind blew through the streets of Boston like water through a sieve; you could feel the cold in your bones and no matter how many layers you wore, you couldn’t wait to get where you were going.
For my group of twenty-something millennials, that was the newly-opened, impeccably-swanky (especially for our recently graduated crew on a budget) and warmly-beckoning Liberty Hotel and, more specifically, the hotel’s speakeasy-esque bar, Alibi.
Nights this cold and bars this cool are bound to create magic and that’s nothing short of what happened.
We were meeting friends for a going away party and the group was cozily tucked away from any risk of draft at Alibi’s dreamy and dimly lit back bar. We can all picture it – the bartenders expertly and effortlessly crafting cocktails we know will be nothing short of delicious, while our joyful, fashionable and attractive friends smile and laugh without a care in the world (as only the young can).
As I made my introductions and went to give the guest of honor a hug, her drink – this amber-hued elixir gently condensating the delicate cocktail glass it was in – crossed my nose and my world stopped. At once, the drink brought memories flooding to the front of my mind (remember, this is not the night I met bourbon) as well as feelings more ambiguous and yet startlingly intense: conviction, empathy, power, purpose, excitement. Magic.
It turned out to be a Maker’s Mark Manhattan. And it was love at first sight (or, rather, first smell). Of course, I had to order one myself.
After a time (good things can’t be rushed), I was served my own: there was the alluring smell again – equal parts past and promise, elegance and excitement.
And then I had my first sip.
It was like I was Picasso painting a Miles Davis solo – an out-of-body abstract experience and yet wholly real, all occurring through my senses. The enticing nose of the cocktail gave way into a symphony of taste and texture – velvety caramels and vanillas with whispers of allspice – enveloped in a warming finish that lingered long after my first sip.
This was an outstanding Manhattan. But, as I would come to learn in the weeks that followed, the true star of this show was the bourbon, a Kentucky-made masterpiece. Ever since that night in Boston, bourbon has been a go-to spirit of mine – tantalizingly straddling the juxtaposition of tradition and innovation, comfort and sophistication, expressing an aura of equal parts freedom and control that’s at once made-in-America and yet worldly all the same; as at home in a Paris cocktail bar as on a ranch in Montana.
Whether neat, on-the-rocks, in an old fashioned (a true classic), in a paper plane (a modern classic), or in an inventive curation from one of today’s bartenders (the best generation to ever tend bar) – if it has bourbon in it, I’m probably enjoying it immensely.
Well, it’s nearly time for a nightcap myself. And I think there’s only one spirit on tonight’s menu.
Stir, strain and sip your way through this Bourbon Masterclass | Cocktail Hour, hosted by Gents Cafe together with Maker’s Mark.
Educational and entertaining, this online experience will take you on a journey into the fascinating world of Bourbon, garnished with inspiring stories around it, as you learn how to make a selection of bourbon-based cocktails to help you expertly serve friends and family – or even just yourself.
This free Masterclass is limited to 50 spots – reserve yours and get ready to be transported into a Private Club with other like-minded gentlemen. All from the comfort of your living room.
P.S. Don’t forget the jigger and the mixing glass.