Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Features and More

Looking for our national spirit? Bourbon bars abound in Tampa Bay

If you ever find yourself searching for physical evidence of America's cultural significance, I suggest picking up a John Coltrane LP and a bottle of Maker's Mark. Sure, American culture has deeper roots than jazz and whiskey, but if those two don't instill some sort of national pride in you, nothing will.

While Scotch has long enjoyed a reputation as bourbon's sophisticated overseas relative, our humble, homegrown whiskey has enjoyed a renaissance among discerning drinkers in recent years, with the number of American craft whiskey distilleries increasing tenfold over the last 15 years alone.

By definition, bourbon is a uniquely American product. Although it can be produced anywhere in the country, the overwhelming majority of bourbon produced nationwide comes from Kentucky. Nearly all American whiskey falls into the bourbon category, with rye and Tennessee whiskey the runnersup. What's the difference? Bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn, while rye must contain at least 51 percent rye. Tennessee whiskey can be considered bourbon, but its sugar-maple charcoal filtering process gives it a unique distinction. All three are aged in freshly charred American white oak barrels, giving them an amber hue and mild smokiness.

With boutique distilleries opening all over the country, it's easier than ever to find interesting bourbons, ryes and Tennessee whiskeys at your local bar. St Pete's Bar Milo has quite a selection to choose from, with entries demonstrating just how far from Bourbon County, Ky., our national spirit has grown. Here you'll find small-batch bourbons from as far away as Colorado (Colorado Straight Bourbon) and San Francisco (Hirsch Selection Small Batch Reserve — distilled by the same folks who make Anchor beers).

Although quality bourbon is great served neat, it goes just as well in cocktails. Bar Milo happens to specialize in such a thing, so feel free to order an Old Fashioned — the traditional bourbon cocktail, made from sugar, bitters, bourbon and water, garnished with an orange slice and a Maraschino cherry.

Another quintessential whiskey cocktail is the manhattan, unsurprisingly found right at the top of the menu at Tampa's Manhattan Dolce Bar & Bistro. Although any whiskey can be used, the two standard options here are Hudson rye and Gentleman Jack, mixed with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and garnished with a Maraschino cherry. I prefer rye myself. Make sure to order it with a dash of Angostura bitters to accentuate the spiciness of the rye, or to provide a counter to the sweetness of the bourbon, if you'd prefer. For something different, try the Bourbon Ball — Maker's Mark with Frangelico and DeKuyper White Crème de Cacao, served with a large sphere of ice.

No discussion of bourbon would be complete without mention of the mint julep, a cocktail as iconic as they come. The best julep in town has to go to Beachwood BBQ at the Postcard Inn on the Beach in St. Pete Beach. Beachwood went so far as to purchase its own barrel of bourbon from Kentucky's Four Roses Distillery, bypassing the usual blending process to obtain a product comparable to single-malt Scotch (this is what the "single barrel" distinction refers to). Beachwood Bourbon, as they call it, is wonderful served neat, with a subtle smokiness and smooth oak notes, but it's absolutely phenomenal in the PCI Julep, mixed with fresh mint and powdered sugar in a tin julep cup.

Beachwood's rustic, natural wood interior is an ideal environment for some American whiskey sampling, and in that regard you'll find many options. Two uncommon selections include the small batch Temptation Bourbon (hand-numbered by batch and bottle) and its cousin, Redemption Rye. The latter is a powerhouse, made up of a staggering 95 percent rye content. That one's gonna burn a bit.

If you find that rye suits your tastes, try Bulleit Rye at The Bungalow, a historic South Tampa house that's been converted into a bar and restaurant. Bulleit made quite a name for itself during the initial small-batch bourbon explosion a decade or so ago, and this whiskey easily lives up to the brand's standard. This is also your chance to try another American classic: George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey. It's a fairly straightforward but surprisingly smooth whiskey that's perfect for sipping on the Bungalow's old Florida-style outdoor patio.

For some creative mixology and a classic, Prohibition-era vibe to go with your whiskey, take a trip to Mandarin Hide, St. Pete's most popular classic cocktail spot. The bourbon menu is bursting at the seams, with selections such as Hudson's 4-Grain and Baby bourbons; small-batch favorites Basil Hayden's, Baker's and Blanton's; Eagle Rare 10-year; and even the rare Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 12-year. Alas, the latter is on backorder — I anxiously await its return.

Mandarin Hide is known for mixology, so take a look at the cocktail list to see if anything strikes your fancy. Manny's Bulleit & Ginger is simple and effective, as is the Sazerac, New Orleans' classic cocktail. That one features Sazerac rye, Peychaud's bitters and simple syrup, served in an absinthe-rinsed glass. If those don't seem elaborate enough, dig a little deeper; you'll find a truth already discovered by the Mandarin Hide and other bars with a keen eye for the whiskeys of America — bourbon, rye, and Tennessee whiskeys are about as versatile and satisfying as a spirit can hope to be.

Comments
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18
From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

When I first made this soup, Florida was in the grips of a cold weather snap, the likes of which rarely happens in this part of the state. We’re talking a whole week of lows in the 30s. The 30s! It was everything I ever wanted and more — the rare win...
Published: 01/16/18
Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

TAMPASeldom have I paid such close attention to a restaurant closure, remodeling and reopening. Byblos Cafe began a major renovation last year, keeping the restaurant open as long as possible during the summer with some nifty temporary walls to shiel...
Published: 01/16/18

Hometown Pasco for Jan. 19

Hometown PascoHIGH FIVESPhoto A was deleted because we ran the same information in a religion story.Church presents Walk through Bethlehem: Photo: pashometown011918-B Courtesy of Brenda WelcherCLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONSWomen’s club donates to CARES: Pho...
Published: 01/16/18

Hometown Hernando for Jan. 19

Hometown HernandoHIGH FIVESBicyclist rides 100,000 miles: Photo: herhometown011918-A Courtesy of Jennifer HoustonCLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONSPledge leads to donation for Arc Nature Coast: Photo: herhometown011918-B Courtesy of Nancy Stubbs• • •People Help...
Published: 01/16/18
A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

MIAMI — The idea seemed outlandish, maybe even impossible at the time: a one-man play about Miami’s infamous Cocaine Cowboys of the 1980s. Some 15 years ago, the Miami-raised Billy Corben was deep into research for what would become Coca...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

HUDSON —If you saw the musical Pippin when it first hit Broadway in 1972, or a high school drama club version, or even a touring company rendition a decade ago, it’s not exactly the Pippin you’ll see if you’re wise enough to go see the spectacular mo...
Published: 01/15/18
Baseball coach Billy Reed lived a life of courage, integrity

Baseball coach Billy Reed lived a life of courage, integrity

TAMPAAs a teenager in the late 1940s, when Jim Crow remained the South’s two most notorious syllables, Billy Reed had to walk past Hillsborough High’s baseball field to get to all-black Middleton."Those (Hillsborough) students would hurl racial slurs...
Published: 01/13/18
Restaurant review: Ichicoro Ane brings ramen, Japanese small plates and a whole lot of fun to St. Petersburg

Restaurant review: Ichicoro Ane brings ramen, Japanese small plates and a whole lot of fun to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURGWhen Station House restaurant opened on Christmas Eve 2014 it was a totally reinvented space, Steve Gianfilippo’s vision for the basement level of a 104-year-old, five-story, 30,000-square-foot building he’d bought for $3 million. For y...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18
With Zev Buffman at the creative end, Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to the stage

With Zev Buffman at the creative end, Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to the stage

An actor famous for playing a radio station manager will star this week in the world premiere of a radio play.Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder brings Gary Sandy, who played Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati, to Ruth Eckerd Hall. And the star power was ...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18