Three Bourbons

I’m usually in the vicinity of the alcohol super center Total Wine about once a month.  I like to pick up something new that is small and cheap-ish just to give my tastebuds a workout.

Bourbon is America’s champagne, it’s used in whiskey sours, and there are a bunch of makers at a bunch of different price points.  I did a little research online when I was doing the whiskey sour article so I had an idea of what I wanted to try.  To me there is almost no point in getting an expensive or exclusive brand.  Sure, I’ll try a snootful if you’re serving it up but I’d rather spend my time finding the best value or the best tasting product that I’m likely to purchase again.

I’ve tried two different kinds of the same brand of brandy.  They were within about $2 price of each other.  It was amazing the difference in flavor – like comparing a red wine to a white wine.  I wanted to see if the same held true for bourbon.  It doesn’t.  All three of these taste similar.  It is obvious that the Jim Beam is the least nice but you have to start splitting hairs to tell much of a difference between the two better ones.  It reminds me of comparing a $20 and a $50 bottle of wine.  When you taste one against the other you can tell a difference but you’d probably not notice if you were served one or the other straight.

With that in mind, we have three bourbons to compare at three different price points.  All are commonly available and affordable.

Jim Beam Black Label
Jason:  Sharp and peppery.  No bad aftertaste though.  Fine for a mixed drink.
Mel:  Not good

Maker’s Mark
Jason:  A little sweeter than the other two.  Nice.  Smooth.  Very good.
Mel:  Best of the three.  Bourbon is not my favorite drink.

Knob Creek
Jason:  Most complex flavor with no bad aftertaste.  My favorite. Probably not worth paying any extra if you are just going to use it for mixed drinks but wonderful for sippin’.
Mel:  Most flavor.  Second best of the three.  I can stand it.  Did I mention bourbon isn’t my favorite drink?


TotW: Whiskey Sour

UPDATE:  Jump to the end of the article if you just want my best recipe for a Whiskey Sour.

Those of you that know me personally know that I’m not a big drinker – even less now that I’ve developed an allergic reaction to some kinds of beer.  However, I love learning new stuff and when I saw this post by Brad Guigar my curiosity about the Whiskey Sour was piqued.  I am no bartender and have only set foot in a bar a handful of times so I hit up the internet for some drinks knowledge.

A Whiskey Sour comes from one of the oldest families of cocktails known as the sours.  They are made from a base liquor, lemon or lime juice and a sweetener.  Other examples include Kamikazes, Daiquiris, Sidecars and Margaritas.  Wikibooks describes the taste this way:  “The flavour of a sour, especially a whiskey sour, has been likened to that of sour sweets that leaves the mouth watering and the tongue tingling but always wanting more.”

After fumbling around for a while I determined that probably the most “official” Whiskey Sour recipe comes from the International Bartenders Association.  If I’m going to do it, I might as well do it right.

WHISKEY SOUR Pre dinner (old fashioned or cobbler glass)
4.5 cl Bourbon whiskey
3.0 cl Fresh lemon juice
1.5 cl Gomme syrup
1 Dash egg white
Pour all ingredients into cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain in old fashioned or cobbler glass. If served “On the rocks”, strain ingredients into old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with half orange slice and maraschino cherry.

So a Whiskey Sour is basically tart bourbon lemonade.  The name makes me think of an old western tough guy drink, but when you describe what’s in it, it loses some of its masculinity.  Testosterone points are deducted for the cherry and orange wedge too.

Reviewing the recipe, first I had to determine how many cl’s were in a tablespoon so I could see how big a single serving is officially supposed to be.  I had already cleverly deciphered their code and realized that the ratio was three parts to two parts to one part.  It turns out that 1.5cl is quite close to one tablespoon.

Second I had to figure out what the heck gomme syrup is.  You can read about that adventure in this post.

Below is the photo-packed process of making a Whiskey Sour with additional notes.

Step 0.  Collect ingredients:  bourbon, lemon, gomme syrup, maraschino cherries and orange.

Ok, I didn’t photograph everything.  You need to juice the lemon and cut the orange into thin half slices.  Strain the lemon if you don’t want pulp.

Step 1.  Pour three tablespoons of whiskey in an old fashioned glass (or shaker).

Since the bulk of this drink is whiskey, I thought getting an affordable but tasty one made sense.  I probably spent the most time on this project researching what the gourmands and drunkards like best.  Suggestions were all over the place with some folks demanding high-end micro brew super dupers and other proclaiming the merits of Wild Turkey.  Eventually three brands bubbled to the top:  Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, and Jim Beam.  Woodford and Maker’s were deemed to be the richest flavored but still priced for mere mortals.  Jim Beam and Jim Beam Black Label were said to be inoffensive.  No bad flavors in them and good for mixed drinks.

Side Note:  For champagne-like naming reasons, Jack Daniel’s cannot be considered a true bourbon, but I bet it would be tasty in a Whiskey Sour nonetheless.

Step 2.  Add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

It really does make a noticeable difference using fresh lemon juice or lime juice rather than bottled when called for in recipes.

Step 3.  Add one tablespoon of gomme syrup.

I tried the recipe this way but I guess I’m just I’m too much of a sugar lover.  I think two tablespoons works better.

Step 4.  Add ice.  Shake.  Pour through strainer into glass.

D’oh!  Didn’t photograph this either.  Also, I left out the egg white as some places list it as optional.

Step 5.  Add orange half slice and maraschino cherry.  Drinkitup!

I used a whole slice of orange.  I thought it would be easier to fish out of the glass.


A.  If I had used less flavorful bourbon I think the gomme syrup would have been more important.  If it was a blind taste test, I don’t know if I’d be able to tell the difference between a Whiskey Sour using gomme and one using standard rich simple syrup (2 sugar : 1 water).  For you taste testers out there, I do think gomme is worth a try.  You might love it.

B.  The standard recipe doesn’t give you much of a drink.  Either put this thing on the rocks or make it a double.

C.  The orange is a waste and a hassle.  It just gets in the way when you are drinking.  It doesn’t add any flavor unless it is served perched on the side of the glass where it can be squeezed into the drink.

D.  There is no need to mix this drink in a separate shaker unless you want the theatrics.

E.  The egg white is optional.  Like the orange, this seems like an unnecessary hassle to me.

F.  Stick with the lower alcohol content bourbons.  It is almost half the drink.  If you use Wild Turkey 101, I don’t think you’ll taste much else.

3 Tablespoons Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons gomme syrup -or- 2 Tablespoons simple syrup*
2 maraschino cherries

Combine bourbon, lemon juice and gomme syrup in an old fashioned glass.
Stir well.  Add ice.  Stir again.
Garnish with maraschino cherries.

*Granulated sugar dissolved in water – 1:1 ratio

TotW: Gomme Syrup

I decided that I was going to learn how to make a Whiskey Sour and one of the ingredients is gomme syrup.  I’d never heard of it before.  Hooray!  A chance to learn something else new.

I think the reason most people don’t use gomme syrup and it is not more widely carried in grocery or liquor stores is that you can buy mix kits for whiskey sours that combine most of the ingredients for you.

It turns out that gomme (French for gum and eraser (yum)) syrup is just rich simple syrup with gum arabic added as a stabilizer.  Many people know that simple syrup is just one part sugar dissolved in one part water.  Rich simple syrup is two parts sugar in one part water.  The problem with this solution is that the sugar wants to recrystallize.  Enter the gum arabic.  It keeps the sugar in solution and thickens it.

For the purpose of mixed drinks, gomme syrup has the added benefit of imparting a light but complementary flavor to the drink.  The added viscosity gives the drink a more silky feel and it takes the edge off high-alcohol drinks.

All of this sounded great to me so I thought I’d track some down.  I looked at Publix, Whole Foods, Native Sun and The Grassroots Market.  I tried three different liquor stores and none of them had heard of it either.

The next step was to try and make it myself.  I had to find the gum arabic and it needed to be food-grade quality (it is also used in inks, photography supplies, etc).  Gum arabic is actually dried and powdered tree sap from two different species of the acacia tree.  For this reason it is sometimes known as acacia powder or arabic powder.  It is harvested in West Asia, Africa and Arabia.

Whole Foods and The Grassroots Market told me over the phone that they had it but ended up they did not.  They had a soluble fiber for irregularity that had a similar sounding name.  I ended up purchasing it at the same place several folks on cocktail websites recommended called Frontier Co-op.

I wanted to see what the raw powder tasted like so I sampled the tiny bit that spilled when I was measuring it out.  Nothing.  I poured a little more on my hand (1/4 teaspoon?) and ate it.  Again, it almost tastes like nothing.  At first it made my tongue a little sticky then it felt thick and silky in my mouth.  It has a slight aftertaste of some sort of spice.  Maybe a little like cumin?  Maybe if un-malt was a flavor that would be it.  It is hard to place, but I can see how it would be a nice compliment to most mixed drink flavors.

Sifting through the few recipes I found online, they were all very similar and very simple.  If you can make Jello or instant pudding, you can make gomme syrup.  All of the recipes used ounces for their measurements.  They never clarified if this was weight or volume and I remembered that there was some difference between the two.  A quick internet check reminded me that a dry ounce is a measurement of weight (use a scale).  A fluid ounce is a measurement of volume (use a measuring cup).  One of the recipes that was more precise used grams for the gum arabic.  This lead me to believe that the dry ingredients were probably measured on a scale so that is what I tried first.  You can see from the picture below that this didn’t work out too well.

On the left we have the gomme syrup made with weighed ingredients.  On the right we have the one made using measuring cups.  I wish I had made a video of the one on the left.  It was very close to the consistency of taffy.  I think I could have set a spoon on it and it wouldn’t have sunk in.  The one on the right has the color and clarity of cream soda.  The one on the left is much more opaque.  They both tasted about the same.  Candy!

Here is the recipe I used with photos showing how I made it.

¼ cup gum arabic
¼ cup water

Bring water to boil in microwave.  While still hot add gum arabic and mix until smooth.

1 cup granulated sugar (not confectioner’s sugar)
½ cup water

Bring water to boil on stove.  Stir in sugar until completely dissolved.
Add gum arabic mixture.  Boil for two minutes stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Scoop off foam.
Bottle and let rest for a day before using (for clarity).

It's Lump. It's Lump. It's in my Bowl.
Electric Mixer to the Rescue. Schmoove!

Step 1.  Combined hot water and gum arabic.

You can see that I tried to mix this together with a whisk first but that would have taken forever.  The electric mixer took care of the remaining lumps.

Heating Water. Sugar ret to Dump.

Step 2.  Boil water on stove.

All the Sugar will Dissolve. See?

Step 3.  Dissolve sugar in boiling water.

Granulated sugar will dissolve quickly and easily.  Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar contains about 3% cornstarch so don’t use that.

Step 4.  Add gum arabic mixture to sugar water and cook for two minutes (not pictured).

Right After the Pour. Still Mostly Opaque.

Step 5.  Let mixture cool.

I poured it in a glass to concentrate the foam and make it easy to remove.

Step 6.  Bottle and save for use (not pictured).

Overall, I think it is an improvement over simple syrup and I’m glad I made it.  The gum arabic is a little pricey (but will probably be a lifetime supply) so it is hard to say if it is worthwhile for everyone.  It is easy to make and store and one batch will make a lot of drinks so it is very convenient.