Bourbon gets a bad press in the UK; naturally we’re very attached to our single malts – we produce some of the best in the world, so why wouldn’t we be? (Best in the world title currently belongs to Japan).
Not to dismiss our heritage; but give a good bourbon a chance and it can give you something different; there’s a sweetly, syrupy, smokiness it brings to the palate that’s great for night out rather than nights in front of the fire and which reminds you of maple syrup pancakes and marshmallows from the fire. Plus I wouldn’t want to dash my prized malts in to a glass with anything other than a smidgen of water to release the natural oils in the drink. Bourbon? I’ll slap it anywhere, figuratively speaking.
Bourbon is the great American spirit – mainly made from corn; sometimes with wheat or rye or a mix of the two. To be classed as bourbon the distillate has to be matured in brand new, charred oak barrels (where the colour, smokiness and sweetness come from); the grain mixtures must contain at least 51% corn and it must be made in the States. Cynics say that the rules relating to the heavy percentage of corn and always using a brand new oak cask for each batch are there to prop up America’s corn and oak trades; but that’s an argument for another day.
Bourbon can be made all over the United States; but its spiritual home is Kentucky – there’s a Bourbon festival each September, a bourbon tourism trail and where it’s reported that over 90% of bourbon is made. Tennessee is another large producer; however three of their main producers (including Jack Daniels) don’t label their product as Bourbon; even though their distilling process mirrors that of traditional bourbon.
Luckily for Mancunians, there’s a new kid in town for those who want to search out a decent bourbon, rather than the stuff that reminds us of 18th birthday presents and sweaty discos – well, when I say new kid, it’s more like old kid, new tricks. Trof is a Manchester institution – starting in the heart of student land, they have slowly been taking over Manchester, venue by venue – their city centre bar, Trof NQ, has had a re-jig and have turned their upstairs bar into a dedicated bourbon bar with the largest selection of bourbons on offer in the UK; including a 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve - which is incredibly old for a bourbon (many are sold around the four year mark).
Trof NQ~the place for Bourbon in Manchester (Photo by North West Nosh)
Regulars needn’t be alarmed (or non-bourbon drinkers for that matter); you can still order their usual array of craft beers, real ales and mind-blowing ciders upstairs – but why would you when they’re stocked to the rafters with good quality versions of this much maligned spirit? I challenge non-bourbon drinkers not to come away from there liking at least one drink; even if it is just one expertly mixed bourbon cocktail. (Bend the ear of a barman; they’ll pick out something that suits you exactly).
Talking of cocktails - the mint julep is a great place to start and wake up the taste buds. This concoction really shows the extra mile Trof NQ goes to produce excellent drinks – they infuse their bourbon with mint for 30 days; it’s sweet, it’s refreshing and brilliant for those balmy nights that we get so much of in the North West.
Next up opt for a Hickory Flip; not only does the name feel good in the mouth, the drink does too – smoked bourbon with calvados and hickory smoked Benedictine; a big mouthful of smooth smokiness with a hint of fruitiness to keep it lively on the tongue.
Out of all the cocktails, the winner at Trof NQ is the Old Fashioned; they add cherry bitters as well as the usual orange peel. This cocktail takes a little while to make and it’s one you should take a little while to drink; savouring the layers of flavours and when it was still acceptable to drink these at lunch time and then return to your smoke filled office. Ah those good old days…
If you fancy trying something different, delicious and a little bit cool - check out these small batch bourbons (just don't drink these with much more than the glass you're drinking out of);
Booker's Photo by Taste of Bourbon