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When you ask for a stiff glass of bourbon, it only means one thing – you are a serious drinker. There might be an endless way to examine what exactly makes up a perfectly distilled, barrel aged bourbon – but for as much as we can tell, only those that drink this sweet whiskey know what makes a great glass. So we asked expert, restaurateur and owner of one of Florida’s most well-known bourbon pourers John Kunkel to pick his favorites from Yardbird Southern Table & Bar’s line-up. Among the Miami Beach restaurant’s 50-plus signature bourbons, Kunkel picked his favorites to sip along with Exec Digital:
Pappy Van Winkle
15 Years. 45.2% ABV.
The Pappy Van Winkle Family is one of my favorites because they offer such a wide variety of products – from bourbon whiskey to an excellent rye whiskey, as well as three other products in the upper echelons of aging, their maturity hasn’t limited their output. The Van Winkle family has been in the bourbon business for four generations, but standouts for me include the 10 and 12 year aged offerings (while the 20 year was rated number one bourbon whiskey in the world at World’s Spirits Championships). They are extremely exclusive and only release their full line of products twice a year - once in the fall and another in the spring. Yardbird Southern Table & Bar is honored to have the allocation in the restaurant because their products are extremely hard to find.
125 Proof. White Oak Barrel.
Blanton’s is the bourbon of choice for those who are not bourbon drinkers, as it is sweeter and softer than others. Blanton’s was created by Master Distiller Emeritus, Elmer T. Lee. This is actually the first single barrel bourbon ever made so not only did he create a wonderful bourbon, but he also started a new category of single barrel in which the Master Distiller selects one barrel and then ladles it by hand, bottle by bottle. While there are many other bourbons in this category, Blanton’s is the original.
45.2% ABV. 4+ Years.
Woodford Reserve is one of the fastest growing spirits. It is extremely smooth, blends really well and is also great by itself. My new favorite product from Woodford is the special Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish. This product is unique in that it is the first time anyone has been able to use sugar maple wood for staves on a barrel. At the maple wood cooperage, they strip down the sugar maple wood and toast it, sealing in the sweetness of the sap. True to form, Woodford Reserve is aged in new charred American White Oak Barrels and then finished for months in the maple wood barrels, giving it a spicy yet sweet and nutty flavor.
45% ABV. 90 Proof.
Buffalo Trace’s name comes from the bend in the Kentucky River where the Buffalos formerly crossed; it is also the place where quite a few distilleries used to pull their water, which, as it turns out, is perfect for making bourbon. The distillery itself has earned itself loads of fame, picking up Whiskey Magazine’s Distiller of the Year in 2005 and 2007, and Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Distiller of the Year in 2006. Buffalo Trace bourbon is very smooth and excellent in classic cocktails or simply imbibed on its own.
John Kunkel is the CEO and Founder of 50 Eggs Restaurant Group, with restaurants that include Lime Fresh Mexican Grill and Yardbird Southern Table and Bar. The latter was hailed by the Miami Herald as the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2011 and offers Southern comfort cuisine from chef Jeff McInnis of ‘Top Chef’ fame. The South Beach, Miami menu not only mixes Southern hospitality with trendy fusion, but also boasts an astounding 51 different varieties of bourbon by the glass.