National Bourbon Month

New York Bartenders on Their Favorite Bourbon Drinks

Bourbon is the new bacon. As National Bourbon Heritage Month comes to a close, we found New York City's best bartenders tell us their favorites. By Brandy Zadrozny.

Shaminder Dulai/The Daily Beast

Shaminder Dulai/The Daily Beast

Bourbon is the new bacon, the Old Fashioned is the new Cosmopolitan, and love for the American whiskey is so universal that even the U.S. Senate gave us 30 days to celebrate. So as National Bourbon Heritage Month comes to a close, we found New York City's best bartenders--in hipster dens, speakeasies, and upscale lounges--and asked them to explain why bourbon is having such a moment, tell us their favorites, and share the cocktail recipes that take our native spirit to the next level.

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Jeff Bell, PDT


To those in the know, PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell), is the ultimate destination for all things shaken and stirred. The cocktails here are legendary, but it’s what head bartender Jeff Bell does with the American whiskey that got us really excited: Bacon. Infused. Bourbon.


Favorite: “Bourbon has such strict standards that they’re really good across the board. So it’s hard to pick a favorite. Bulleit, Knob Creek, Four Roses, are my top three.”


How he drinks it: “I like it neat, I like it on a cube, but I’ve also been enjoying bourbon Manhattans.”


Advice: “I like how ice stretches out the ABV and you can start tasting other flavors. ... If you’re drinking bourbon with ice, drink it swiftly, within a couple of minutes. It can turn to water pretty quickly and it’s not going to have the proper taste.”

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From Jeff Bell, PDT

 

Benton’s Old Fashioned

2 oz Benton’s bacon fat-infused Four Roses Bourbon

.25 oz Deep Mountain Grade B Maple Syrup

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

 

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with one large cube. Garnish with an orange twist. - Don Lee

 

 

Benton’s Bacon Fat-Infused Bulleit Bourbon

1.5 oz Benton’s Bacon Fat

1 750-ml bottle Bulleit Bourbon

 

On low heat, warm the bacon fat in a small saucepan until it melts, about 5 min. Combine liquid fat and bourbon in a large, non-reactive container and stir. Infuse for 4 hours, then place container in freezer for 2 hours. Remove solid fat, fine-strain bourbon through a cheesecloth, and bottle.

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Tonia Guffey, DRAM


Local watering hole DRAM is a favorite in Brooklyn, and is headed by Tonia Guffey, part of the small percentage of women that make up the cocktail profession. She says the important thing with a good cocktail is not to overwhelm the bourbon. “A lot of places skip the classics and go straight to weird infusions. ... You’ve got to learn the classics and make sure you’re not covering up the base of that spirit.”



Favorite: Evan Williams Single Barrel and Elijah Craig 12 Year.


How she drinks it: “I don’t drink cocktails. A lot of us don’t because we make them so much. I drink it straight. I like a big ol’ chunk of ice with a nice bourbon.”


Advice: “You can get good bourbon for really cheap. A lot of the other spirits don’t work that way. Our staff shot is Old Heaven Hill, and it’s awesome. It’s the best kept secret ever.”

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From Tonia Guffey, DRAM

 

“Cocktails are so trendy now, but if you can’t make them at home, it’s kind of a bummer. People without a cocktail bars should be able to enjoy these drinks, too.”

 

Gold Rush

 

2 oz bourbon

1 oz lemon

3/4 oz honey syrup

 

 

Shake. Double strain. Double rocks glass on a big ice rock or Guffey prefers it up in a coupe. No garnish.

 

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Jan Levi Warren, Dutch Kills

 

Head bartender Jan Levi Warren at Dutch Kills, Long Island City’s contribution to the cocktail craze, noticed a resurgence of interest in bourbon around the same time AMC’s Mad Men got popular. “Everything old is new again…Everyone wants to drink what their grandfather drank.”

 

Favorite: “None, really. We have Buffalo Trace in the well. It’s versatile.”

 

Advice: “The quintessential bourbon drink is the Old Fashioned. Put it in a glass with some bitters, a little bit of sugar and a citrus twist, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

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From Jan Levi Warren, Dutch Kills

 

New York Sour

(Adaptation of a recipe by Stan Jones)

 

.75 oz fresh lemon juice

.75 simple syrup

2 oz bourbon

One egg white

 

Combine in a shaker and seal. Shake without ice to emulsify egg white.

Open shaker, add ice, and shake again.

Strain into rocks glass over ice.

Float red wine on top and garnish with an orange.

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Theo Lieberman, Milk & Honey


There’s no menu at the celebrated speakeasy, Milk & Honey. Instead, thirsty patrons of the Flatiron cocktail mecca are asked, “What are your favorite spirits?” and a drink is specifically made to suit their tastes.  More and more patrons are offering “bourbon” as the answer, according to Head bartender Theo Lieberman. Versatility, Lieberman says, is the key to its recent success. “It’s not overly aggressive.”


Favorite: “Four Roses Secretariat is gorgeous, but I also love Buffalo Trace. You’d be hard pressed to find something as good for under $30.”


Advice: “I wouldn’t take a bourbon that costs a lot and mask it with coke.”

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From Theo Lieberman, Milk & Honey

 

The Bates

 

2 oz bourbon

2 bar spoons Pedro Ximenez Sherry

1 bar spoon house-made coffee syrup

2 dashes chocolate bitters

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Joel Lee Kulp, The Richardson

 

Kulp is the owner of The Richardson, one of the first cocktail outposts with an emphasis on bourbon to spring up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Kulp buys his bourbon by the barrel and is serious about the spirit—no ‘fruit salad’ sullies their Old Fashioned—but you’ll find no bourbon snobs here. “I just think its nice people know bourbon doesn’t just come from Kentucky,” he says.

 

Favorite: Wild Turkey Rare Breed. For everyday, “Buffalo Trace is my go-to. It lives at my house.”

 

How he drinks it: “I’m an ice man...Rare breed, solo rocks glass, single pour, double ice.”

 

Advice: “I think I’ve served a bourbon and cranberry once. I wouldn’t suggest it, but if that’s what floats your boat.”

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From Joel Lee Kulp, The Richardson

 

The Old Fashioned

 

1.75 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Brown sugar cube

2 dashes bitters Bitters

 

Soak the sugar cube with bitters and muddle.  Add bourbon, add ice, stir, top off with ice. “Don’t fear the ice.”

 

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Steven Spate, The Richardson

 

“Good bourbon never goes out of style,” says Spate, bar manager at The Richardson. Spate says the bourbon love is “beyond a trend. It’s both classic and nouveau. You have people making it in Brooklyn, but it’s also a classic American spirit that appeals to a large range of people. Vodka got people drinking; whiskey got people caring about what they drink.”

 

Favorite: "For home sipping, Eagle Rare 10 and Elijah Craig 18."

 

How he drinks it: ”Usually neat, because I like the pure spirit, but depends on the bourbon.”

 

Advice: “We’re here to sell bourbon and enjoy it with you, not to look down on you. I didn’t make this product. I enjoy the hell out of it. And I like when people enjoy it. And you know what? It actually tastes good with Coca-Cola.”

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From Steven Spate, The Richardson

 

Autumn Equinox (Lina’s drink)

 

2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon

.25 oz All-Spice liqueur

.75 oz Amaro Braulio

 

Stir, pour over fresh ice.

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Branford Hill, Rye

 

The underground bar at Rye in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has all the stuff of fancy cocktail bars without a lick of the pretention. Bartender Branford Hill feels more like a good friend than a gatekeeper and says the neighborhood’s obsession with bourbon is only getting stronger.  “The whole whiskey trend surprisingly isn’t losing momentum. Everyone was saying rum was the next big thing, but people still love bourbon.”

 

Favorite: “I’ve been a big fan of the Jefferson’s lately and Maker’s Mark is always an old friend."

 

How he drinks it: “Neat. I don’t think it needs to be more complicated than whiskey in a glass.”

 

Advice: “There are so many different schools of thought. At the end of the day if you can appreciate the bourbon, then I don’t think it matters much how you like it. Unless you’re injecting it. That’s not ok.”

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From Branford Hill, Rye


Crimson Derby - A Whiskey Sour-Mint Julep hybrid


2 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon

.75 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

.75 oz house-made grenadine

Fresh mint

Dash of Bitterman’s Orange Cream Citrate


Shake and double strain.

 

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Joel Cuellar Flores, Brandy Library

 

Before the native spirit was in vogue, Joel Cuellar Flores says bourbon was something people would drink as a shot, here and there. “They didn’t see it as premium...but the fact is it’s one of the most pure spirits out there, one of the best in the world.” Flores is the head spirits sommelier at the Brandy Library, a Tribeca outpost almost too upscale to be called a bar--where rare and storied spirits make up the “stacks.”

 

Favorite: “I don’t have one. It’s impossible! There are a number of memorable ones but I can’t go to a desert island and pick just one.“

 

How he drinks it: “Neat or with a little bit of room temperature water. If you add ice to anything, you are numbing a little bit of the palate so you are less likely to feel the heat of the alcohol, but you’re also denying a lot of the flavors.”

 

Advice: “People learn to drink, but they don’t learn to sip….At first there might be a little burn; there’s no way around that, but then little by little, you will experience more rich flavors.”

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From Joel Cuellar Flores, Brandy Library

 

Treat Below Canal

 

1.75 oz Bourbon

.5 oz Orange liqueur

.5 oz Dry Vermouth

2 dashes Orange Bitters

 

Stir in ice-filled glass, strain and serve.

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Maxwell Britten, Maison Premiere

 

This restaurant and bar has all the best of an old French Quarter cocktail den right in the belly of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Maison Premiere’s head bartender Maxwell Britten says, “eight years ago people were drinking vodka.” And he credits the wisdom of consumers with the rise of bourbon but moreover, cocktails. “The modern-day drinker has definitely become more sophisticated.”

 

Favorite:”We use Four Roses in our well.” (Fancy.)

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From Maxwell Britten, Maison Premiere

 

Kentucky Electric Company

A swizzle-style summer cocktail where the bourbon and the wine play off of each other, almost like a lemonade.

 

1 oz Four Roses

1.5 oz Chablis

.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

.5 oz Apry

.75 oz Carondolet Syrup

Swizzle

Glass: 15 oz Pilsner

Garnish: 3 Apple Slices, Nutmeg