The Bourbon Special, for thebourbon fan who has tried everything

Brian Rung

    What do you serve the bourbon fan who has tried everything?
    You are going to have to dig deep in the recipe book to stump the whiskey cocktail aficionado in your crowd, beyond the Old Fashioned, Sazerac and the Manhattan.
    It's time to step outside of your comfort zone and forget everything that you have learned about what a bourbon cocktail is, and what it is not.
    There's no time like the present to knock back one of the best kept secrets in the whiskey world, the Bourbon Special.
    I said that we were going to forget everything that we know about bourbon cocktails, and that is exactly what we are going to do. The Bourbon Special is a tiki cocktail. Yes, a tiki cocktail. Let that sink in for a minute.  
    The tiki world is dominated by rum, but there were a fair number of bourbon cocktails on menus at famous chain restaurants such as Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber.
    During the mid-century tiki craze Polynesian-themed restaurants made an effort to cover all of the bases on their bar menus, and this included concocting recipes using a wide range of spirits.
    Almost every reputable tiki restaurant/bar had at least one good whiskey drink on their menu. One such establishment was Steve Crane's Kon-Tiki restaurant in the Sheraton Waikiki resort, the birthplace of the Bourbon Special. Crane may or may not have invented the drink, but it was first served at Kon-Tiki. The Kon-Tiki had a reputation for creative cocktails and high-quality bar service.
    In the late 1950s Crane inked a deal to open locations of his Polynesian restaurant in Sheraton hotels across the country, many of which were located in markets already occupied by Hilton hotels which featured Trader Vic's restaurants.
    The two Polynesian-themed chains fought many battles in major US markets throughout the 1960s, but eventually it was Trader Vic's that would win the tiki war. Kon-Tiki was down to one restaurant by the 1980s, the original location inside the Waikiki Sheraton.
    To make a true Bourbon Special, you're going to need bourbon. Avoid the temptation to use whatever whiskey is in your home bar, unless that whiskey happens to be bourbon.
    Some of my favorites of the bourbon world are Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, and Maker's Mark. If you are a casual bourbon drinker or only drink bourbon in cocktails, you can't go wrong with Evan Williams.  
    This recipe also calls for ginger beer, which is more of a non-alcoholic ginger soda than a traditional beer. If you are going to pick up some ginger beer you may as well grab a six pack.
    With the extra ginger beer you can try your hand at other ginger beer cocktails such as the Moscow Mule and the Dark 'N Stormy. Ginger beer will be located in the mixer section of your local spirits retailer or grocery store, my favorites are Gosling's and Fever Tree.
    Falernum is a staple of the tiki bar, and is a must have for this recipe and many other tropical drinks. Falernum is a non-alcoholic ginger-lime syrup from the West Indies, and it can be difficult to find in some pockets of the country.
    Fee Brothers makes the best falernum for cocktail applications, and since it is non-alcoholic it can be ordered online and shipped to all 50 states if you are unable to find it locally.
    The dash of Angostura bitters rounds out the Bourbon Special just as it does in the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. You really only need one, maybe two types of bitters in your home bar.
    Whenever a classic recipe calls for unspecified “bitters” use Angostura bitters.  
    Every home bar must have original Angostura bitters. If you insist on stocking multiple types of bitters in your bar, pick up a bottle orange bitters.
    Orange bitters are the second most used bitters in mixology and will give your Gin and Tonic a new lease on life.
    The Bourbon Special is built in a shaker and served in an old-fashioned glass.
    Fill shaker with ice.
    Add 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
    Add 1/4 ounce simple syrup.
    Add 1/4 ounce falernum.
    Add 3/4 ounce ginger beer, chilled.
    Add 1 1/2 ounces bourbon.
    Dash Angostura bitters.
    Shake and pour unstrained into an old-fashioned glass.
    Garnish with cherry and pineapple wedge.
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.