Like jazz, baseball, and Humphrey Bogart, bourbon is an authentic all-American creation, a reflection of something inspired and fine in the nation's character that remains decidedly unpretentious. With its seductive way of inflaming senses and loosening inhibitions, it is also very rock 'n' roll. Bourbon scholars trace its origins to the early 19th century, but it may well date back to the years immediately following the American Revolution. The country was young, dumb, and full of cum, certain it could and would do anything: The bold, smoky firewater it produced in the rolling hills of Kentucky reflected the fire in its spirit. Many generations later, the spirit itself has undergone profound refinements and offers an astonishing array of flavor profiles -- as varied as its makers. On one end of the spectrum there's Tom Bulleit, a dapper former lawyer and marine who revived his great-great grandfather's recipe and put smooth, high-proof Bulleit back behind bars around the world. Then there's Fred Noe of Jim Beam, a trucker hat'sporting good ol' boy who oversees the production of some of the most elegant, small-batch bourbons out there -- such as Booker's and Basil Hayden's -- and demonstrates an understanding of the art and science of the distillation process that belies his redneck exterior. The lesson being: Don't judge a book by its cover. Which, of course, is very American.
1. Old-Fashioned 2 ounces bourbon 1-2 cubes of Demerara sugar to taste 3 dashes Angostura bitters 2 orange slices 2 Maraschino or Luxardo Marasca cherries Splash of water or club soda
Muddle sugar, bitters, one orange slice, one cherry, and a splash of water or soda in an old-fashioned glass. Remove fruit. Add bourbon and ice and stir. Garnish with remaining orange slice and cherry. Adapted from The Essential Cocktail by Dale DeGroff
2. Figetaboutit 2 ounces Bulleit Bourbon 3/4 ounce lemon juice 1/4 ounce Luxardo Amaretto 1 barspoon of fig jam 2 dashes of Angostura bitters 1 spiral orange twist 3 cherries
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with the orange twist wrapped around the cherries on a pick. Lindsay Nader, PDT, New York City
3. Rio Grande 1 ounce bourbon (something over 90 proof) 1 ounce reposado tequila 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice 3/4 ounce rich simple syrup (two parts evaporated cane sugar, one part water)
Shake all ingredients and strain into a cocktail glass. For rim, mix equal parts kosher salt and evaporated cane sugar, add chipotle powder, ancho chile powder, and Spanish paprika to taste. Scott Baird, 15 Romolo, San Francisco