Peggy Noe Stevens, the first female master taster in the bourbon industry and founder of the Bourbon Women, put together a special dinner for the Bourbon Women Siposium and asked yours truly to create a couple of cocktails for the gathering.
The theme of the gathering was "Noe Boundaries" and Peggy wanted to highlight bourbon and entertaining. Bourbon women love to entertain and share their love of the whiskey spirits, so I wanted to create two different cocktails. One that would be approachable for non-bourbon drinkers and one that whiskey lovers would enjoy.
For the first one, I wanted to create a cocktail that wasn't too difficult to put together, but one that was beautiful when served. I love the summer flavor of blackberries and wanted to pair that with the aromatics of basil, which is getting to the end of its growing season right now.
I put together a blackberry basil simple syrup, added some lovely Michter's bourbon (the sponsor of the dinner and one of my favorite distilleries ever), a little lemonade and topped it off with peach and black walnut bitters. Since we're doing this for a party, I've put together the cocktail recipe as a batch for 8 servings. This is not a strong drink, and isn't bourbon-forward, but it's an easy sipper and low enough in alcohol to be a session cocktail.
Berry Fine (Batched for 8)
1.5 cups of Michter’s bourbon
½ cup of blackberry simple syrup (add basil for aromatics)
16 dashes black walnut bitters (2 tsp)
24 dashes peach bitters (3 tsp)
½ to ¾ cup water
32 oz lemonade
Combine ingredients in a large pitcher, punch bowl or urn (at least 1.75 quarts or 54 ounces). Float large decorative ice cubes to keep it chilled and serve over ice. Garnish with fresh basil and fresh or frozen blackberries.
I'll talk about the second cocktail in the next post!
Blackberry-Basil Simple Syrup
1.5 cup sugar
3 cups frozen blackberries
2 sprigs of basil
1/4 cup water
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and cook until the blackberries until thawed, soft and very juicy. Simmer once it starts to boil for 10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and let the syrup cool for 20 minutes. Strain the blackberries out, pressing on them to get as much juice out of them as possible. Let cool and store in a bottle in the fridge for one to two weeks. If you add a bit of vodka to it you'll extend the shelf life considerably.
***** Save the strained out blackberries! Use them to top vanilla ice cream and it'll taste like you're eating blackberry cobbler! *****
Today I discovered that the official drink of Thurby is the old fashioned. How appropriate, since Thurby is billed as Louisville's Day at the Races and the old fashioned is the official drink of the city of Louisville.
(As an aside I should note for those of you not in the know that Thurby has become the designated day for Louisvillians and those native to the area to go to the track. Oaks Day, the day before the Kentucky Derby, used to be the day we would all head to Churchill Downs, but that's become just as busy and overrun with out-of-towners as Derby, so we moved our day back by one and gave the day a funny name. Holiday invented. I suppose now we all have to take Thursday off as well as Friday and Saturday.)
And I have this lovely jar of violet blackberry simple syrup that's just begging to be used. So let's mix up a blackberry old fashioned (AKA the Purple Thurby). As a nod to my being raised on the Indiana side of things, I've added in a little of Huber's Starlight Blackberry Whiskey.
1 1/2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz blackberry simple syrup
1/2 oz Huber's Starlight Blackberry Flavored Whiskey
3 dashes Fee Brothers walnut bitters
Garnish: Fresh basil and blackberries
Add the bourbon, blackberry simple, blackberry whiskey and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube and garnish with fresh basil and blackberries.
Blackberry Simple Syrup
2 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Add ingredients to a saucepan and on medium-high until the sugar has dissolved and the it starts to simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat down for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, let it cool completely and double strain into a container. Keep refrigerated. Use within a few weeks. If you add a little vodka, it will keep much longer.
I love blackberries. In summer, picking them right off the bush and eating them while still warm from the sun, they explode with flavor. You get a hit of the tartness from them, then their blackberry sweetness weighs in and it's a lovely combination on the tongue. It's too early for blackberries, but this time of year, I crave blackberries and peaches and all the things I can only get in July and August.
But I'm smart.
I freeze local blackberries and peaches for just this time of year, and right now, the purple-red hue of the blackberry simple syrup begs to be added into a cocktail. Saturday is the Kentucky Derby, so in keeping with julep week, here's a Blackberry Julep recipe. Traditionally, the garnish is mint for a julep, but I've got fresh Thai basil and lemon verbena in the garden, so I'll try those out instead. You could even go for a rosemary garnish.
2 oz bourbon
3/4 oz blackberry simple syrup
5-7 mint leaves (or basil, or lemon verbena)
Garnish: sprig of mint (or basil or lemon verbena)
In a mixing glass, combine bourbon, blackberry syrup and the mint (or basil or verbena) leaves and muddle just a bit. Add ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into an ice-filled julep cup and garnish with whatever herb you used for muddling. Put the straw right next to the garnish and enjoy a little taste of summer.
Heather Wibbels is a cocktail enthusiast who spends her time thinking about cocktails, researching cocktails and making cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location.