Some invitations you don't turn down—so I didn't. Jimmy Russell, master distiller of Wild Turkey and a Bourbon titan, visited New York from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, last week to pour some American Honey at Blue Smoke, the Danny Meyers barbecue joint in Murray Hill. You get the picture. This wasn't something I was going to miss.
American Honey is a Wild Turkey-based liqueur that is catching fire right now, and while I'm normally more of a fan of Russell's fuller-proof spirits—Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Rare Breed, the single-barrel Kentucky Spirit and Russells' Reserve—at 71 proof this is a formidable liqueur even with the insistent sweetness of honey.
While the idea of a whiskey-and-honey drink may seem like the latest thing—witness Jack Daniel's also has a popular version—Jimmy explained that his has actually been around since the 1980s when it was first released as Wild Turkey Honey. Not only that, but he traces his inspiration to his childhood when his parents—his father was a stillman himself at the distillery now called Wild Turkey—would rub a mixture of Bourbon and honey on his gums to calm him when he was teething. "These days they'd probably get arrested for doing that," Jimmy laughed. They stopped giving it to him when he started asking for "some of that honey." (Maybe that explains his life-long taste for Bourbon.) As an adult he still touts it's medicinal purposes, however, explaining that if you put some in a shot glass and microwave it, you've got a ready-made hot toddy. "It's good for a cough," he said. "So I always try to have a cough."
When I—sadly—had to leave that soiree of whiskey and barbecue, Jimmy was kind enough to give me a bottle to take home. and this weekend I was inspired to experiment with it. While watching tennis on television I was moved to read up on Pimm's Cup, one of the signature beverages served at Wimbledon.
Pimm's No. 1, a gin-based concoction, is one of my favorite liqueurs, but it seems there have been as many as five other variations of that liqueur that is the alcohol quotient of the mixed drink known as the Pimm's Cups. Brandy, Scotch, rum, vodka and rye whiskey have been among the base spirits for Pimm's versions that, at one point, numbered 1 through 6.
Americans who know the brand have typically only been introduced to No. 1 and most of the others are no longer made. I have no idea of the details of the recipe that Pimm's keeps secret, yet I always detected some honey in there, which—coupled with my recent visit with Jimmy—got me thinking, why not an American Honey-based fruit cup? So after a little experimentation, here is my attempt. I'm still looking for a name, so suggest away.
1 oz. American Honey
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes (or sweet Vermouth)
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. Chartreuse
Place American Honey, Punt e Mes, Cointreau and Chartreuse in a shaker and blend together. Pour over ice in a highball until about half full. Top with equal parts lemonade seltzer. Garnish with fruit (lemon, lime, cherry, cucumber, whatever).
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