September might be half over, but one thing sure isn’t — our love for whiskey, bourbon in particular. Bourbon is the one and only spirit that U.S. distillers alone can make, which means, of course, that the U.S. Senate designated a whole month to celebrating it. National Bourbon Heritage Month runs through Sept. 30, plenty of time for you to plan a trip to your favorite local bar and enjoy a whiskey drink.
Not sure where to go? Here are our recommendations.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen. The four restaurants from prolific Austin chef Jack Gilmore now have bourbon you can’t get anywhere else, courtesy of a new single-barrel program not coincidentally introduced this month.
To establish the program, Jack Allen’s co-owners Gilmore and Tom Kamm, beverage director David Toby and chef Chris Ten Eyck went all the way to Kentucky to put their own stamp on two barrels of whiskey, Maker’s Mark Private Select and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. (They also went to Mexico for special Casa Noble reposado and extra añejo tequila, but that’s another story.)
The bourbon is now available neat, on the rocks and in two classic cocktails — the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan — at the restaurants. Head to the Oak Hill location on Sept. 26 for the Barrel Release Party, when you can try the spirits, both the bourbon and tequila, in complimentary tastings on the patio. There will also be food specials meant to pair with the booze.
The Townsend. One of the most popular drinks at the Townsend’s stately Congress Avenue space is the Billionaire Cocktail, with Baker’s 107 Bourbon, lemon, pomegranate grenadine and absinthe bitters. Take one sip and you’ll understand why: It’s rich in sweet, fruity flavor, and it’ll vanish as quickly as a stack of benjamins at the casino.
The Blackheart. This Rainey Street bar has a whole menu just of whiskey cocktails, and chief among them is the Gentleman Caller, a bourbon twist on a classic Manhattan with Baker’s 7 Year, sweet vermouth and walnut bitters. There are more than 100 other kinds of whiskeys available, too, in case you want your bourbon neat.
Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling. The sprawling ranch in Dripping Springs is about to celebrate two years at its location with an anniversary party on Sept. 23. Order the Thai Fighter cocktail with Red Handed Bourbon, tamarind and Thai basil; then, buy a bottle of the distillery’s newest rare whiskey, the First Whiskey Made in Austin, to take home with you.
Vox Table. My favorite whiskey cocktail at this Lamar Union restaurant will forever be Tom Selleck’s Mustache (a smoky tribute to the secondary character of “Magnum P.I.,” those iconic whiskers), but the drink features rye and not bourbon.
For bourbon, go with the also aptly named Southern Hospitality, with Maker's Mark, Rancio Tabacal, Shacksbury Dry Cider, lemon, Texas peach, vanilla, allspice, nutmeg and Bar Keep Baked Apple Bitters. It’ll leave you feeling right at home in Vox Table’s modern space.
Handily, there’s also this Beam Suntory whiskey dinner on Sept. 26 featuring Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek and other top bourbons.
Pitchfork Pretty makes balanced cocktails like the China Grove, a bourbon-and-Irish whisky standout.
Photo: Arianna Auber / American-Statesman
Pitchfork Pretty. Though only open for a short time on East Cesar Chavez Street, this Hill Country-inspired restaurant has already impressed me with its thoughtful cocktail program (not to mention beautiful, Instagram-ready glassware).
One drink in particular, the China Grove with Very Old Barton Bourbon, Knappogue Castle 12 Year Irish Whisky, summer Sichuan spice cordial, ginger honey, mandarin and lemon, stood out for its layering of Asian spice, bright citrus and light floral flavors — it reminded me of a boozy herbal tea.
The signature drink at Mattie's at Green Pastures is a boozy milk punch that features bourbon, cognac and Jamaican rum.
Photo: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman
Mattie’s at Green Pastures. The 1965 Milk Punch — a historical recipe from the original Green Pastures, brought back when the reimagined restaurant reopened this year — is dangerous. Made with house sweet vanilla cream, aged bourbon, VSOP cognac and Jamaican rum and topped with a dash of nutmeg, the milk punch is served in a small glass cup because anything bigger could leave you literally feeling the punch of alcohol.
Frank. Want to try bourbon all by itself, without the hindrance of other ingredients? Downtown restaurant Frank offers a bourbon flight, colorfully called the Brown Water Beginner, with Angel’s Envy Frank Blend, Blanton’s and Buffalo Trace. There are also four other whiskey flights you can work through once you’ve started with that one.
Freedmen’s. You might think barbecue is the main highlight of this campus-area eatery, but the bourbon is a close second. Freedmen’s is growing its collection of more than 160 whiskeys, bourbon among them, and includes them in cocktails like this summer’s August Rain, with Knob Creek 100, Dolin Dry Vermouth, lemon and cherry-tarragon syrup.
Easy Tiger. The downtown beer garden is another place you might forget has a top-notch whiskey selection. Easy Tiger launched an outdoor whiskey bar last year and brings in both hard-to-get bottles (Pappy Van Winkle, anyone?) and more affordable finds like Maker’s Mark. Maker’s, by the way, is in Easy Tiger’s mint julep, that beautiful crushed ice drink popular on Derby Day but delicious enough for any day.