According to the Virginia Distillers Association, Virginia became the birthplace of American Spirits when colonist George Thorpe distilled the first batch of whiskey made from corn in 1620. This first batch became the ancestor of all corn-made moonshine and bourbon. Roughly 180 years later, our Founding Father, George Washington, began commercial distilling using crops from his Mount Vernon estate. At the time, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the country, churning out almost 11,000 gallons of distilled spirits per year.
Today, Virginia is still a thriving area for craft spirits, with more than 50 small batch distilleries in operation, creating premium distillations ranging from gin, rum and vodka to whiskey and bourbon. In honor of Elijah Craig, a Baptist preacher from Orange County—who is often credited with creating the first bourbon by aging whiskey in charred oak barrels, thus giving it a unique color and flavor—here’s a toast to bourbon and the many ways you can enjoy it.
During the cooler months, a little bourbon mixed with honey and hot water makes a simple Hot Toddy that some claim is remarkable for curing colds and coughs. A little shot of bourbon in your holiday eggnog or hot chocolate is also good for whatever ails you.
But you can also bring this beloved sip to your skillet. Bourbon presents a perfect blend of warm flavors—vanilla, caramel, honey, citrus, rose, black pepper, tobacco leaf, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—that just begs to be put in some of your favorite winter recipes.
Bourbon Butter-Basted Cornish Hens
2 Cornish game hens
Poultry baking herbs
1 large onion, halved
Bourbon Brown Butter (recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
Warm your oven to 400 degrees (for electric oven)/375 degrees (for gas oven).
Wash your Cornish hens well and pat dry with paper towels. Place both hens in a greased baking dish. Place the halved onion inside the cavity of each hen. Within the skin and cavity, incorporate whole stems of the baking herbs. Baste hens well with Bourbon Brown Butter. Top with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes (longer if they are larger in size). Baste throughout the cook time to foster a beautiful brown baking skin on the hen.
Baste with bourbon butter just before serving. If you have any baking herbs left over, garnish your plate next to the hen.
Top Shelf Tip: Ensure your meat is brought to room temperature before cooking. This cooking technique is applicable to poultry or beef.
Bourbon Brown Butter
Melt a stick of butter in a sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. After the butter is melted, it will begin to foam and turn a blond color. After a few minutes the foaming will subside and the milk solids will turn brown. Remove the skillet from the heat, and standing back, carefully add 1/4 cup of bourbon. The mixture will sputter as the bourbon stops the milk solids in the butter from browning.
Bourbon Creamed Corn Casserole
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons bourbon
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 (15.25 ounce) can, whole kernel sweet corn, drained
1 (14.75 ounce) can, cream-style sweet corn
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a saucepan, heat the butter slowly over medium heat until melted. Set aside.
Whisk the flour into the melted and cooled butter and incorporate well. Then whisk in the sugar, eggs, milk and bourbon.
Stir the creamed corn into the butter mixture, along with the drained whole kernel corn. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a shallow 8×8 greased baking dish.
Bake uncovered for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the center is set and the corn casserole is brown and caramelized on top. Broil the top for 1 minute for a more caramelized appearance.
Bourbon Whipped Sweet Potatoes
4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
4 slices thick-cut bacon
2 tablespoons reserved bacon grease
15–20 sage leaves
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons brown or Irish butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Warm oven to 400 degrees. Cook the bacon for 10–14 minutes depending on how thick your sliced bacon is. Set cooked bacon aside, draining off the extra fat.
Add potato chunks to a large pot of boiling water and cook until tender, approximately 20 minutes.
While potatoes are boiling, heat a skillet over medium heat and add unsalted butter. Fry sage until it is crispy, 1–2 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon, and place on paper towels to drain.
Whip potatoes, and add in a smidgen of reserved bacon grease, milk, bourbon and the brown and/or Irish butter. Mix until everything is combined. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
Place potatoes in a dish and top with crispy bacon, crumbled. Crumble the sage on top at the very end.
Top Shelf Tip: Allow your taste buds to be a discriminator for bourbon selection. If it pleases your glass, it will please your recipes.
Bourbon Marinated Hangar Steak
1/2 cup bourbon
6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger (grated or minced)
1 teaspoon fresh garlic (pressed or minced)
1 tablespoon shallots (minced)
1 pound hangar or skirt steak (trimmed)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Combine all ingredients except steak in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer 1 minute. Pour marinade into shallow dish large enough for the steak and let it cool. Add meat to the cooled marinade and coat thoroughly. Refrigerate overnight for no more than 12 hours.
Dry beef with paper towel. Heat a large skillet on high. Sear beef about 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove from pan and let steak rest. Cook down remaining marinade and whisk in cream. Cut meat into strips and drizzle pan sauce over strips.
Top Shelf Tip: Bourbon will break down the enzymes in meat, so it works well as a multitasking tenderizer and marinade.
Bourbon Bananas Foster
1/3 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
3 bananas, halved crosswise then lengthwise
4 sliced pound cake
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
In a large skillet, cook the butter and brown sugar over medium-high heat, stirring until butter melts. Add the banana pieces and gently turn to coat. Once the sauce starts to bubble, add the bourbon and ignite the mixture using a long match or lighter. Cook until the flames extinguish.
Divide the cake among serving dishes and drizzle with bourbon sauce. Top with ice cream, followed by bananas and remaining sauce.
Bourbon Croissant Bread Pudding
6 small stale croissants
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 teaspoons bourbon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, thoroughly whisked
Warm your oven to 350 degrees. Tear croissants into pieces and place into individual greased ramekins. Add sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil. Turn the heat on low and add the heavy cream, bourbon, vanilla and pinch of salt. Remove from heat and let cool. Slowly add the whisked eggs into the caramel. Pour mixture over croissants pieces in the individual ramekins. Bake for 15 minutes.
Top Shelf Tip: Baking under 375 degrees in your oven will incorporate bourbon flavors richly. As the temperature is increased, you’ll need to use a higher proof bourbon.
Tom and Jerry Batter
12 eggs (separated)
1 pound butter (room temperature)
3 pounds confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground gloves
1 teaspoon allspice
Beat chilled egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks to soft peaks. In a third, large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla to the butter mixture and mix. Stir in the nutmeg, cloves, allspice and egg whites and mix until fully blended. Chill batter until ready for use.
To make a Tom and Jerry, add a heaping spoonful of batter to a mug, add boiling hot water and a shot of bourbon. Still and sprinkle the top with fresh nutmeg.