Whiskey in the Winter is a perfect pairing. The slightly warmer nights of spring also make brown spirits a good fit. But as soon as the weather starts to turn summery hot, I start to crave a cold glass of bubbly. From May on, I make sure my house is always stocked with a case of Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, my favorite, affordable cava. Cava is the perfect drink for summer, as it is light, effervescent, and not too sweet. As far as sparkling wines go, cava is the closest to Champagne in terms of flavor profile and, in many cases, much cheaper. Fortunately for us, bourbon and cava work tremendously together.
Bourbon’s signature sweetness (from the high corn content, and especially in terms of wheated whiskeys, such as Maker’s Mark) plays in well with the drier, citrus (and sometimes floral) notes of the Cava. Bourbon and Cava cocktails are perfect for sharing on the patio, taking a pitcher to the pool, enjoying with an outdoor brunch, or whenever the occasion may strike you. Here are a few of my favorite way to add bubbles to your summer bourbon. Cheers!
The Seelbach is a classic cocktail with a rather storied past. Created at the Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, many patrons have visited the lobby bar of the historic hotel to hear stories of how the cocktail was accidentally crafted by a flustered bartender. According to the legend, the barman mixed up a couple’s order – one ordered a Champagne cocktail, the other, a Manhattan. The unwitting barman then purportedly poured Champagne into the mixed Manhattan and before he could remake it, a server sent it out. And voila! The Seelbach Cocktail was born. This legend floated around for some time until The New York Times decided to do some digging and discovered this story was entirely fiction
The Seelbach Hotel is, in reality, a hotel with a long, rich history. It has been around since 1905 and has always been regarded as a top hotel hosting members of high society, even being featured in The Great Gatsby. Apparently, a former bartender at the lobby bar thought the hotel should have a signature cocktail. Not finding one in any historic records, he did what any of us would: he made one up. Hence, The Seelbach Cocktail was born. It is one of my favorites for summer and is a great way to taste a different side of bourbon.
In a flute, combine (see note):
- 1-ounce bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark for a little extra sweetness)
- 5 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- 5 dashes Angostura Bitters
- ½ ounce Triple Sec
Fill to rim with Cava. (See note.)
Garnish with a lemon twist.
Note: The Seelbach bar uses Korbel sparkling wine (likely as Korbel is owned by famed bourbon producer, Brown-Forman) but I much prefer swapping cava out as it allows the bourbon to be the star of the show. Occasionally, I will swap out flavored bitters (such as Fee Brothers Peach or Blackberry Bitters) in place of the Peychaud’s. The “official” recipe calls for more bitters, but I prefer to dial back on this part of the cocktail but feel free to add 2-3 more dashes of each to taste. Playing with the bitters is a great way to make the cocktail your own.
THE CHAMPAGNE JULEP
The name “julep” immediately recalls images of jockey silks and that first Saturday in May, but juleps aren’t only for Derby. The julep itself originated as a sweet medicinal drink, mostly used to treat stomach ailments: the mint (or other herbs) was used to calm the stomach and the whiskey, well, we all know it cures everything. The Mint Julep itself rose to fame with its introduction by renowned Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay. Clay was particular to the drink and in 1851, during his tenure as a U.S. Senator, he introduced it to the Round Robin bar at The Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington. You can still visit the bar and enjoy their now signature cocktail. They make a mean one!
The Mint Julep has been the signature cocktail of the Kentucky Derby since just after Prohibition. Though the minty variety is lovely, bubbles also make this particular classic cocktail more summery and bright.
Fill a julep cup, copper mug, or rocks glass with crushed ice.
In a separate glass, combine:
- 2 ounces bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark for a little sweetness)
- 1-ounce Elderflower Liqueur (See note 1.)
- 2 tablespoons mint simple syrup (See note 2.)
Gently muddle mint.
Pour bourbon-liqueur mixture over crushed ice.
Fill to rim with Cava.
Garnish with mint sprig or rose petal.
Note 1: I used St. Elder Elderflower Liqueur, which is a cheaper alternative to St. Germain. You may also substitute other liqueurs, such as Domaine Canton for a ginger twist, Chambord for a raspberry flavor, or Maraska (which is my Frank’s Red Hot: I put that shit on everything) for a sour cherry pop. This is a very easy cocktail to play with. Think of trying out different herbs, as well! So do some experimenting! You may just find your next household signature drink.
Note 2: When making any sort of julep, I prefer to use an infused simple syrup. You may use mint and sugar and muddle, but I feel simple syrup blends better (and there are no errant bits of mint floating about). Making a mint syrup is VERY easy: just boil two parts water, add one part sugar, then add a few drops of mint extract OR add fresh mint leaves (to taste). Allow cooling. Simple syrup will store in the fridge for quite awhile and in the freezer even longer. If using fresh mint, it will mold faster so be careful!
PEACH GINGER BOURBON FIZZ
I LOVE bourbon and ginger. So whenever I can find new ways to add ginger to my bourbon, I seize upon it! This cocktail is one of my own creations, combining aspects of some of my favorite drinks with products I particularly like. Consider it a dressed up bourbon and ginger. Enjoy!
In a champagne flute combine:
- 1-ounce bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
- ½ ounce Koval Ginger Liqueur (see note)
- 7 dashes of Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
Give the mix a gentle stir (I use a long plastic chopstick).
Fill to rim with ice cold Cava. (Be sure to chill your bottle VERY well! Otherwise, add a single ice cube on top. Watch out for over-fizzing!)
Garnish with a fresh peel of ginger or slice of fresh peach
Note: I used Koval Ginger Liqueur but other ginger liqueurs will work. I like Koval’s spiciness, and it’s organic. Ginger is also good for the stomach, so you can say this one is medicinal, too!