Sidebern's Ham Hock Cannelloni paired well with Knob Creek's Rye Whiskey. Credit: Djamel Ramoul

Knob Creek invited me to one of their Big Flavor Dinners last month. Hesitant since bourbon usually knocks me on my sweet behind, I decided to jump outside my gin, vodka and red wine comfort zone and accept the gracious invitation to the event hosted by Sidebern’s, armed with the number to yellow cab in hand.

The evening was a complete blast. Not only did I get to see Sidebern’s Executive Chef Chad Johnson carve up an entire hog, I learned about Knob Creek’s take on Bourbon, and managed to sip the spirit without falling out of my chair.

What I walked away with was a new appreciation of this truly American spirit and now, I am much more likely to indulge in bourbon the future. Here’s why my interest has been piqued, and dare I say, has made bourbon a bon vivant obsession:

Bourbon Whiskey got its name from a county in Kentucky. In the early the 1800’s, the county where the spirit was made had to be stamped on the barrel, so whiskey from Bourbon County, Kentucky would say “Bourbon Whiskey.” That region started putting out great product and people started requesting Bourbon Whiskey. The name stuck.

I learned that to be considered a true bourbon, the only flavor that can be added in the distillation process is via the oak barrels—you can’t add color or other flavors. Knob Creek in particular makes what’s called a “Super Premium” bourbon, which is aged for nine years in charred, American, white oak barrels, and then bottled at 100 proof.

The extra aging allows more of the sugar in the wood to be absorbed, giving it an almost maple sugar aroma. The resulting flavor is rich and hearty, and a little bit smoky.

Knob Creek Manhattan with Doulin Rouge, Dry Curacao and Angostura Bitters.

During the tasting, my astute and sophisticated dinner companions (see below) explained to me that pork naturally pairs with bourbon because pig shines when smoke is integrated in the cooking process—mesquite, applewood, whatever—and the bourbon’s smokiness complements pork the same way. This is why the lard-poached shrimp and blood custard with candied pork belly served at the dinner were such home runs with the KC bourbons we sampled.

I’m not the only woman interested in bourbon.  Apparently, women are becoming more interested in Whiskey, with one study suggesting that frequency of Bourbon consumption among women has increased 9% from 2011-2012, much of which is attributable to the resurgence of flavored whiskies.

My dinner companions

My suggestion to the ladies, start slow and head to one of Tampa Bay’s establishments that focus on quality hand-crafted cocktails—places like Ciro’s, Anise Global Gastrobar, or Mandarin Hide—and order one of their bourbon cocktails that showcases a super premium bourbon (like the Basil Hayden’s Bourbon that we sampled).

Or, participate in a bourbon tasting (Datz has one of the best bourbon selections in the State of Florida) so you can begin to appreciate the nuances of the different distillation processes.

And, one more thing. Sniff bourbon with your mouth open, otherwise, you’ll be sure to burn your nose and blow out your taste buds.  It would be devastating to miss out on plate-licking good dishes like Sidebern’s Ham Hock Cannelloni with a Liver Sabayon.

I was not compensated for writing this post, however my meal at Sidebern’s was provided gratis.

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