Bourbons and corn bread - perfect! In the week in which I have declared my personal “independence” it is a happy coincidence to find whisky lovers across the Pond celebrating their own style of the spirit. Bourbon is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, possibly because it is generally rather sweeter and more accessible than Scotch and other whiskies - and our tastes are sweetening in everything from cheese to cakes.
I first wrote a corn bread recipe for a high fibre cookery book aimed jointly at the UK and US markets. It’s a ‘quick’ bread - once you are organised - and a great lunch time snack with soup, cheeses or cold meats. I had quite forgotten the recipe until a young chef at the London Irish rugby (OK, and Reading football) stadium told me how he had scaled the recipe up and how popular it was. Time to revisit and update - I have made it less sweet and used yogurt instead of cream. Click the picture for the recipe.
The three American spirits that I tasted were all soft and easy on the nose and the palette. These are my thoughts on them and which went best with my cornbread.
Willett’s Pot Still Reserve (around £47 for the small batch, or £98 for the single barrel) strikes me as a finely crafted bourbon at 47% abv. You have to go beyond the pot still-shaped bottle (which would usually put me off but a very handsome young man sold it to me!) which did make me smile when I first poured from it as it made an entertaining little burp. The big bottom takes up a lot of shelf space! It is rich, fruity and spicy, it’s not deep in flavour but it is big. It is gentler with a few drops of water and there’s something orange-y about it with a follow through of candied citrus peel. It would go with anything from BBQ’d meats to pancakes and waffles.
My 100% New York corn Hudson Baby Bourbon (around £41) was a little less potent - but only slightly - at 46.1% above and was just soft, spicy and easy. Corn gives a really distinctive flavour and texture and I find the slight almost oiliness in the mouth sets the spirit up for being good with food. On tasting it became more complex with spice, dried chilli and a touch of seaweed flavours challenging the vanilla notes. With water I found most of the complexity became hidden by the spice and the pepper became more dominant. It was dry and slightly tannic which also suggested the ability to match with curries, Thai flavours, pumpkin pie and then sweet UK dishes like Black Bun and Sussex Pond Pudding. My friend Olly from the Bottle Bunker has several Hudson Baby bottles and I am looking forward to trying some more examples from this distillery.
Michter’s Small Batch Unblended American Whiskey (around £51) at 41.7% abv completed my Cornbread tasting. I find this distillery really exciting as they are pushing the boundaries of distillation in all sorts of ways. Soft, easy and rich on the nose, this spirit is a whiskey as opposed to a bourbon and had a more complex profile. With a drop or two of water it remained easy but fudge and vanilla were challenged by rich, deep spice and molasses, as well as almost banana notes. This whiskey cried out for chicken dishes with a creamy sauce, some fried foods - Chicken Maryland springs to mind - and puddings: steamed or baked sponges or fruit tarts.
Any of these fine drinks would go well with my corn bread. The Michter’s was possibly a little too sweet now that I have made the cornbread less typically American and taken the sugar out of the recipe. The Willett’s Pot Still just married with it beautifully but for a total Cornfest the Hudson Baby Bourbon added to my baking with its spice and pepper finish - it almost needed some cheese to mitigate the flavour explosion! This was a really fun tasting.