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Your Guide to Bourbon: Origins, Classic Cocktails, Pairings & More

Posted by Rogue Crew on Sep 2nd 2021


Favorite of hard-boiled detectives, you don’t have to get beaten up by goons to enjoy a good bourbon.

This uniquely American spirit is more than just a smoky, sweet whiskey that dulls the pain after a brass-knuckle facial. It’s the stuff of legendary cocktails served in fabled saloons. It’ll kick your meals in the butt, as a pairing or ingredient. It’s also enjoying a renaissance in clubs and bars as mixologists all over the world craft new confections.


Whiskey can’t be called “Bourbon” unless made in the U.S, just as sparkling wine can only be called “Champagne” if it’s from that region. This is due to its corn-heavy recipe and a Congressional resolution.

Scottish settlers brought whiskey distillation to America in the 18th century after being driven underground by taxes and a failed rebellion. The origins of whiskey’s evolution to bourbon are about as realistic as that show – myths and claims still abound.

Whether it’s named after Bourbon County in Kentucky (its Mecca) or the street in New Orleans (its shipping port), its distillate “mash” must contain 51% corn (the other 49%: malted barley and wheat or rye). Corn sweetens bourbon, was abundant to early distillers, and is an American agricultural staple.

U.S. Federal regulation defines “bourbon” as bourbon whiskey that is only made in the States, thanks to a Congressional resolution in 1964. It directs “appropriate agencies” to prevent import of any whiskey labeled “bourbon”. There’s even a “Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits”, stipulating:

  • Produced in the US and its territories
  • Formulated from a grain mix of at least 51% corn
  • Aged in new charred-oak barrels
  • Entered into barrels at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume)
  • No more than 160 proof (80% a.b.v.)
  • Bottled at 80 proof (40% a.b.v.)

Good governance, after all, is all about priorities.


Dozens of legendary bourbon cocktail recipes exist. For the newbie, we’ll focus on some famous ones that have made it into the pop culture zeitgeist.

The Mint Julep

Signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, it’s a refreshing mix of bourbon, crushed ice, sugar and mint, served in a copper cup with mint garnish. James Bond – Mr. Vodka Martini – not only enjoyed one but also knew how to order it: “Sour mash – but not too sweet, please.” 

The Manhattan

Though it can be replaced with rye in a pinch, bourbon works better with the sweet vermouth and bitters as it complements the smooth sweetness while giving it a real bite. Traditionally shaken in a glass shaker, not Marilyn Monroe’s rubber water bottle from “Some Like It Hot”.

The Old Fashioned

A sugar cube saturated with bitters, a dash of water, then ice cubes and bourbon (or poured over the ice), an orange peel and a cocktail cherry. It’s a silky drink, trust us on this one.

The Mississippi Punch

A flavorful fruity mix of cognac, bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and rum this is the Long Island Iced Tea of bourbon drinks – goes down easy, but not for driving or speaking complete sentences.


Today’s mixologists who take pride in their work not only master the classic cocktail but use the smoky, vanilla notes of bourbon and make it their own.

The Bardstown Bubbler

This is a heady concoction of bourbon, Campari, simple syrup, a dash of peach bitters and topped with champagne.

The Smoky Seed Maple Hot Toddy

It’s a comforting, warm, yet super-tangy end of day mix of bourbon, mustard seed maple spirit lemon juice and hot water.

My Kentucky Aperitif

This is a delicious mix of bourbon and vermouth but dashed with orange and chocolate bitters which bring out the sweeter notes of the spirit.


Syrupy, flavorful bourbon adds a new dimension to everything from snack foods to gourmet meals. Have it neat (no ice, water or mixer) to maximize its full bodied, smokiness.

There are three different types of bourbons, and each one works better with different flavors.

Traditional: Sweeter and full bodied, it is great with richer, sweeter profiles found in fruits, desserts and candied nuts. Alternatively, pair your favorite traditional bourbon with the Rogue product of your choice. To kick things off, we’ll suggest Rogue’s mango or apple nicotine pouch flavors.

High-Rye: Kickier than Traditional bourbon with more rye and notes of fruit and spices, high-rye bourbon enhances strong flavors. Southern barbecue staples like ribs, Cajun recipes like jambalaya, or even a classic New York peppercorn steak with horseradish.

High Wheat: Higher wheat to rye ratio makes it smoother, with a combination of earthy and vanilla/caramel notes. Balance is important - the bourbon shouldn’t overpower or be overpowered. Savory, slightly sweet dishes work best. Try it with a casserole or even chicken and waffles.

A 300-year-old liquor is bound to evolve, and bourbon has seen its share of experimentation. However, its basic body, flavor notes and distilling traditions make today’s bourbon no different than that imbibed by the Colonial army, trigger-happy gumshoes and discerning spies. You’re not just in good company with a bourbon, you’re carrying centuries of epicurean perfection into the future (without having to beat anyone up for it).

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