Having undergone an extreme makeover in the last few years, bourbon can be found in a lot more places than the bottom of a tumbler of Coke. Where to look? Head to the Bluegrass State.POP QUIZ: What's the national drink of the United States? If you're like most folks, you either think it's Budweiser - which it most certainly is not - or a baffled look sweeps across your face and you come up with something along the lines of "Beats the heck out of me." The answer, passed by way of an act of Congress in 1964, is bourbon, the Kentucky version of whiskey (as opposed to Scottish, Irish, Canadian, Tennessean, or whoever else might make an attempt).
Now, at this point in the story, you might start hearing a banjo spitting out that familiar tune - you know, the one from Deliverance - as you envision a gaggle of country boys sipping liquid lightning fresh from an improvised still in the backwoods of someplace you don't want to get lost. Bourbon, however, has undergone an extreme makeover during the last few years, emerging from Kentucky Bluegrass Country as the belle of the ball.
Like tequila's long-fought battle against the margarita, bourbon has fought a similar foe in Coca-Cola. "Beam and Coke" has previously been as ubiquitous in bars south of the Mason-Dixon line as "Can I buy you a drink?" These days, however, bourbon is popping up in a lot more places.
Across the country, a bottle of single-barrel bourbon like Blanton's or Booker's has become not only an apt housewarming gift, but a sign of a guest who knows a thing or two about drinking well. At upscale seafooder GW Fins in New Orleans - a town famous for far less sophisticated uses of the spirit - you'll find decadent mashed sweet potatoes laced with bourbon. But nowhere is bourbon's stylish rise more evident than at the newly opened Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge in downtown Louisville.
Here, some 57 premium bourbons are backlit behind an almost-60-foot-long bar spilling over with a crowd so young and trendy, you'd swear this is Hollywood. Bourbon comes by the flight or within a dazzling list of creative cocktails like the Miss Smith (Maker's, Berentzen apple liqueur, and apple juice). A meal here, where upstart chef Anthony Lusiak works Kentucky's liquid gold into ridiculously tasty tapas like pepper-grilled filet tips in a smoky bourbon béarnaise sauce, is the perfect jumping-off point for touring Kentucky's Bourbon Trail.