Things That Are Better With Bourbon: An Essay on Booze and Love

Drink Features Bourbon
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In honor of National Bourbon Day (which is every day for some people, but apparently June 14th for the rest of us) here is a short but crucial list of things that I will pretty much always be associated with the South’s heritage beverage.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is one of those desserts you almost kind of can’t believe they’re trying to sell you in a restaurant – it has “kill the leftovers by any means necessary” written all over it and is one of those foods that was intended by nature to be made at home. Game changer: this recipe for bread pudding with enough bourbon to make you wonder if driving home from the restaurant is okay. Bourbon justifies raisins, nuts, stone fruits and even figs should they happen to be hiding in there.


Pork belly ranks with foie gras in the pantheon of ingredients that chefs fetishize. Chigacoans take note: ROCKS Northcenter suggests you amble in for a taste of their currently-featured pork belly with bourbon glaze. It’s served with fried eggs, so you know it’s a complete breakfast. San Franciscans, Hog & Rocks can treat you to something splendid in the pork and bourbon pairing department; so can Bar Agricole.


The bartender asked what I wanted in my Manhattan and I was too distracted to care and said, “I trust you.” You muttered, “You should never say that,” and at the time I thought you only meant I should never say it to bartenders. “You choose then,” I said, though it honestly all would have tasted the same at that moment because the secret ingredient was that luscious bit of lasciviousness you have the nerve to call a lower lip. Angel’s Envy, neat. Seductive burnt sugar, orange zest, wood esters, long antigravity finish. “You look drunk,” I said, after the third one, though what I was really experiencing was an almost psychedelic sense of looking at myself in a mirror. “Nah, that’s love,” you replied.

Ice Cream

Bourbon ice cream, people. Recipes abound for a reason. The accords of cream and vanilla work for bourbon. Don’t use the $150 bottle for this application – anything decent will do. Summer just got interesting.

Music and a Warm Patio

One thing bourbon does not improve is a road trip, but I have it on local authority that car-lovin’ Open Road Bar & Grill in Falls Church, Virginia has locals covered for bourbon-palooza as well. American comfort food, a huge array of whiskeys, and lots and lots of live music. Non-Virginians, check your neck of the woods for places where bourbon-devotion, sultry evening weather and good bands come together. It’s not just for brooding songwriters hunched over dark bars at 2 pm any more!

A Bitter and Single Night with Old Friends

Your friend’s “hit-the-Jackpot-Boyfriend” turned out to be “Mister Flight Risk” and she’s pretty disenchanted with that job, and a lot of other stuff. At 40 didn’t we all believe we would have accomplished so much more? Whiskey sour, emphasis on the sour. Bourbon can’t un-break a heart, but it can make it seem like it for a few hours. Another friend freaked out because the only women he has any chemistry with are crazy and the only ones he feels like he could settle down with – well there’s no spark. He’s pretty sure parenthood has passed him by and you don’t know how to feel about it but “okay” isn’t on the menu. Rocks. Because the truth is cold and hard, dude. Bourbon can’t slow time, but it can make it feel like it for a few hours. Me? Committed myself to art. Got uncommitted to a marriage. Now flat-ass-busted because stayed home and raised kids like a psychotic June Cleaver/Dorothy Parker hybrid and now my CV is… well, artsy. Old-Fashioned. Because that’s what got me here. Bourbon can’t make time speed up either. But it tastes good.

Pecans and Peaches

Aren’t regional flavor profile affinities interesting? Three iconic Southern staples, and they all love each other. Make a pie. Or your own infusion.

Saying Goodbye Forever

Radiator Whiskey, Seattle. Writer’s conference, where the tensions are high all around. They’re pouring a Buffalo Trace-based cocktail called “The Renegade.” I am waiting for you. I know you’re not going to show up. I know you’re going to call tomorrow with an exorbitant exotic excuse. You’re so good at apologizing. I order one more round just in case I’m wrong, but I’m not wrong. This is, really, honey, the last time.

Taking It Back

I’m in a bar in Massachusetts. Four Roses, ice. Initially a shocking alcohol burn, but it mutes to a long, sweet vanilla finish. It was like that with you, that shock of recognition, then the lingering longing. Funny how distillation both preserves and clarifies. Grains, and ingrained memories too. This will never be over. I pull the phone from my pocket. I’m not texting you because I’ve had one too many. I’m doing it because the taste in my mouth is you. You are my familiar spirit.