The invasion of Asian flavors with Bourbon

Americans have fallen in love with cultural cuisine 

Written by: Peggy Noe Stevens

Stop being skeptical. That’s the look I sometimes receive from guests during a food pairing when I tell them we are pairing Asian food with our Bourbon selection. They will immediately say Asian flavors are too strong, or too much heat. Too strong? Have you not met Bourbon? It’s quite the opposite when you do it correctly and the fascination of those delectable flavors is nothing in comparison to the wild fascination we now have with Asian cuisine. It’s an invasion of Asian flavors and your palate will say, “thank you, I feel exotic.” It’s why Americans have fallen in love with global and cultural cuisine.

There is such a range of Asian flavors and a comprehensive variety of ingredients, so to simplify with pairings, focus on the classic sauces and additions of flavors added to make your dish what it is. The core of the meat, fish, chicken, rice or noodles is secondary in comparison to the pronounced effect these sauces or pastes establish. We will focus on four distinctive and diverse ingredients to your everyday Asian condiments: soy sauce, teriyaki, chili sauce and wasabi.

Just like Bourbon, when conducting a food pairing, begin with the lighter side of the spectrum and work your way to the ‘takeover’ heavier flavors so your palate has a chance to graduate. The rest speaks for itself.


It is more heavily flavored and blends sweet and salty. To taste Teriyaki in pure form, I can delineate garlic and ginger and sesame. Some Teriyaki can even have touches of citrus notes. Many a marinade is used with Teriyaki because it does not overpower the meat, but instead glazes and fine tunes bringing out a raised kaleidoscope of tastes.


Savory and salty. Soy sauce is used as a condiment in most instances, like adding bitters to your cocktail, or salt to your soup; yet has its own distinguishable taste. It is made from fermented soybeans, salt, water and sometimes roasted grains (I like that connection of grains with the grains of the whiskey). Always highlighted on the palate is earthy, umami flavor (umami is known as the fifth flavor sense). I consider it an all-purpose seasoning. It is a flavor-enhancer and really amplifies the cuisine.


You can see the hot red chilis that are blended in a great Asian chili sauce and have varying levels of heat intensity. Here we have the sweet and spicy combo, as sugar, garlic and herbs may be blended with the peppers to provide a nice balance. Dipping sauces galore have chili sauce on the side of dishes.


Put on your seatbelt because when wasabi is in pure form, it is just like a truly souped up Japanese horseradish. It’s hard to believe it is a relative to the watercress family, as watercress is light. Sometimes blended in soy sauce to add the sing to your sushi or blended with mayonnaise for a racier sandwich. Wasabi is a root and can be shaved, but many people may just mix horseradish, mustard and soy sauce to mimic the flavor.

So, what is our end game with Asian food and Bourbon? I was taught a very long time ago that the end game with tasting and sampling Bourbon was to create complexity with pronounced individual flavors, yet establish ‘harmony’, so the flavors all play nice. The very same applies to this Asian application. With this wide variety of bold and intense to savory and subtle, pull out the Bourbons that will play nice with these international flavors. Always taste the Bourbon first and profile for its distinctive characteristics and then the food flavors. The intricate puzzle pieces begin to reveal themselves. What do I want from the myriad of Asian flavors and Bourbon? Complexity and harmony are the goal, so rate the intensity and go for the big caramel and sweet, yet complex Bourbons to envelop and tame the Asian flavors to produce a unique and desirably deep taste.

Quickly you establish a pairing that will lay the foundation to the Asian dish. When the meat, fish, or chicken is added, umami abounds and brings the earthy goodness that plays nicely to the umami essence of the Asian condiments. 

Go extra with the basil, lemongrass, coriander and sesame based on how you wish to punctuate and accentuate the herbaceous notes of the Bourbon.

Pairing Asian food with Bourbon is not like learning Chinese math (no pun intended). It is truly straightforward when you focus on the flavors and develop the breakdown of profiles to heighten the harmony. Enjoy the virtual trip around the world with your senses and explore the truly exotic flavors that Bourbon can bring to Asian cuisine. 

This, by the way, is also the fun part.

Below we have chosen the following Bourbons:

Old Forester 86 proof

• Caramel
• Pecan
• Vanilla
• Chocolate
• Soft black pepper
• Banana
• Slight licorice

Rowans Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey 100 proof

• Marshmallow
• Subtle Ginger
• Honey
• Citrus
• Chocolate
• Leather
• Raisin
• Apple

Now, dare to compare.  Allow the Asian flavors to rear their head and create spikes, then take a sip of perfectly paired Bourbon to tame. 

Treaty Oak – Full of firsts

The fourth Texas distillery that’s leading the way 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

Having a home like this helps to bring you into the fold of other distilleries,” says Treaty Oak Distilling founder, Daniel Barnes. “It gives it that realness. That, and actually making good Bourbon.”

Back in 2006, Barnes opened the first iteration of Treaty Oak in an industrial area of North Austin, Texas. His father-in-law built his first still, which was open-fired like a turkey fryer.

“We only caught it on fire twice,” he laughs.

Today there are Vendome copper pot stills, and a column still on the way, in addition to brewery equipment. While the primary focus of Treaty Oak today is Bourbon and rye, they also make several gins, beer, and more.

IMGP5010 Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Barnes had been drinking Bourbon since the 90s, and his favorite back then was Basil Hayden’s. He had been in charge of food and beverage for a large hotel chain starting when he was in his early twenties, and had a great appreciation for foodways and food and beverage education. Then he began to realize there was a way to tie his love of food and beverage into a distillery.

“I see our economy as being upside down – food and education makes the least and it should really be the other way around,” says Barnes. “I saw the distillery as the perfect agricultural opportunity.”

Getting in on the ground floor of post-Prohibition spirits in Texas

Treaty Oak was the fourth distillery in Texas since Prohibition, but they were full of firsts. They were the first to ferment and distil, first using molasses and later using grains. They were the first distillery in Texas to distil rum and gin and the first distillery in Austin to distill whiskey, though Barnes points out they were not the first to sell their whiskey because he didn’t see those early batches fit to sell, an admirable and rare thing to see among craft distillers.

There were two locations in industrial areas of North Austin before Barnes bought the current ranch property in nearby Dripping Springs in 2013. The distillery building was built first, followed by the rick house and then the restaurant. Today there are buildings dotting the property, from the food truck to the cocktail bar, to the cocktail lab. Weekends are particularly busy at the distillery because there is live music and they bring in nearby vendors, like Smoky’s Mobile Cigar Lounge. The distillery becomes a weekend destination for the young professionals living in Austin and in fact the locals have nicknamed Dripping Springs ‘Drinking Springs’ for the mass of distilleries and breweries that have popped up in the area. Alice’s, the on-site restaurant named for the founder’s mother, is a culinary destination in its own right.

IMGP4994 courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Today this one time one man operation has grown to include over a dozen employees, including his business partner and longtime friend Nate Powell. Powell’s current title is VP of Sales, but as with many folks who work in small businesses he wears many hats.

I wanted to get back into a hands-on artisnal crafting job working with a team

“I wanted to get back into a hands-on artisanal crafting job working with a team that was passionate about what they do,” says Powell. “It took 12 years to finally have all the pieces in place, that was phase one. Phase two is going to be harder, but it’s going to be a lot more rewarding. The next three to five years it’s going to be about, how do I get every single person I meet to walk away with the same feeling about our product and story that I have.”

Powell’s job takes him on the road opening up new markets to Treaty Oak’s products.

Many of the spirits selling under Treaty Oak’s labels are sourced, but the team has always done their best to be transparent about that. The Red-Handed line of products are sourced, but the Ghost Hill line of products are made right there at Treaty Oak. There’s always room for experimentation, and there’s even an upcoming series called the Graveyard Series that has been buried underground to age for a couple of years in an attempt to learn how underground aging is different.

Entering the next phase of growth, no looking back

Because of the emphasis on foodways and agriculture, Barnes has made some good friends and allies within the local community. One such ally is James Brown, who Barnes and Powell lovingly refer to as the “Godfather of Corn.” Brown runs the local mill and is heavily involved in farming within the community. He recently brought back Oaxacan Green corn from the brink of extinction by purchasing the last few pounds of seed available and planting it in the middle of a large plot, so as to keep open pollination at bay. 

Next, he’s going to be opening a gristmill on Treaty Oak’s property to ensure a steady supply of ground grains for the distillery.

IMGP4978 Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Production kinks are running smoothly, and there’s now a steady supply of aged whiskey to sell, which means Treaty Oak is moving into its next growth phase. 

“Being in a place where we know we have a grain to glass Bourbon and having a steady supply, that’s really nice to see coming to fruition,” says Barnes.

“We talk about Kentucky Bourbon and we drink Kentucky Bourbon. That’s what got us started,” says Powell. “I want people to understand that Treaty Oak has a tremendous amount of respect for what Bourbon is. We want people to have that in mind when they are drinking our products. It’s a tribute to that heritage. This is our expression of Bourbon, but it’s a Bourbon with its own nuances and personality.”

Treaty Oak recently launched its gins in seven new states.

“We strive to strike the perfect balance between heritage and innovation,” said Barnes in a press release. “Our willingness to be different based on knowledge and expertise is what sets us apart.”

There’s collaboration in the future, with a partnership with Mahalo spirits, which also partners with Bardstown Bourbon Company.

Treaty Oak is certainly a distillery to keep your eye on.

The Kentucky Derby – And they’re off!

A look at the fastest two minutes in sports and its ties to the Bourbon industry 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

In Kentucky, horse racing culture and Bourbon culture are almost indistinguishable. The two industries grew up together, side by side, different aspects of the same agricultural traditions from the frontier days of the Commonwealth. Over the decades both traditions have turned into the signature industries of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, all the while maintaining strong ties between the two. Today both industries are more popular than ever and The Kentucky Derby, presented by Woodford Reserve, showcases this relationship internationally as the oldest continually running sporting event in the United States.

“Kentucky has long been known for two things, Bourbon and horses,” says Woodford Reserve assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall. “The limestone filtered water is the link between the two. This water is nutrient rich, full of calcium, magnesium, potassium which contributes to strong bones for thoroughbreds and iron free, flavorful water to make Bourbon. The two industries are a perfect pairing, Woodford Reserve is the most well suited Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for the job. Our distillery is nestled amongst some of the most prestigious breeding farms in the industry and is one of the few distilleries where you can see Bourbon and young foals maturing side by side.”


“Legend has it that the industry kind of starts with the trips to New Orleans when people would buy fast horses for their trips home,” says Bourbon historian, Michael Veach. “The idea was that if your horse was faster than the bandits who were trying to rob you, you had a better chance of getting home alive. Once you got home, then you had a fast horse that you could then start breeding. We’re talking late 1700s to
early 1800s.”

1937 Derby First Turn

Back then the rivers were the main highway system, but before steamboats were invented, the trip to sell your goods, including whiskey, in major markets such as New Orleans was often one-way. In fact, this well-known trade circle is believed by some historians, including Veach, to be the source of Bourbon’s name, having taken it from the street upon which it was most often enjoyed. This trip took a matter of weeks to get there by flat boat, but a matter of months to return. Horses could make that trip much faster and considerably safer.

Over the next several decades, many families in the distilling business also found themselves in the horse racing business.

1924 Winner_s Circle

“As Bourbon and horses are two of Kentucky’s signature industries, the paths do cross,” says Chris Goodlett, director of curatorial & educational affairs for the Kentucky Derby Museum. “The family of Hamilton C. Applegate owned stock in Churchill Downs, as well as a distillery and a horse farm. The name of their signature Bourbon was Old Rosebud, which was also the name of their 1914 Kentucky Derby winner. Wathen Knebelkamp became Churchill Downs president in 1959 after serving in leadership positions in both the Schenley and Bernheim distilleries. Warner
L. Jones, Jr. started Hermitage Farm in 1935, bred 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star and served as board chairman of Churchill Downs from 1984-1992. He descended from the family that started Four Roses.”

Historically you don’t have to look very hard to find distillers and distillery owners who were also horse owners or breeders.

“The most famous was James Pepper,” says Veach. “He had horses both in The Kentucky Derby and in The Kentucky Oaks. His horse Miss Dixie actually won the Kentucky Oaks one year.”

“James E. Pepper and Ella Offutt Pepper owned Meadowthorpe Farm in addition to the distillery,” says James Pepper Distilling Co. visitor center manager, Marjorie Amon. “Pepper raced his horses in all the big races but he never won and he rarely sold. At the turn of the century he was overexposed in both whiskey and horses and wound up bankrupt, both the distillery and horses were seized. That’s when Ella went down to downtown Lexington and bought the horses back at auction, when everyone saw it was colonel pepper’s wife bidding on the horses, no one bid against her. She then took control of the horses, training them, racing them, and she did win the big races. In fact, she was so successful she earned herself the nickname “queen of the turf.” Her success was widely published and she ultimately earned enough money from selling her horses that she was able to stake the colonel to buy back the distillery out of foreclosure.”

Bourbon and horses are two of Kentucky’s signature industries


“The inaugural Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 at the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park Association, later known as Churchill Downs,” says Goodlett. “Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. was the founder and first president. Clark’s grandfather was William Clark, one half of the well-known Lewis and Clark expedition. The land on which to build the track was owned by Clark’s uncles, John and Henry Churchill (hence the name Churchill Downs). Clark was heavily influenced by racing in Europe and was particularly fond of the Epsom Derby, run at Epsom Downs in England. The Epsom Derby is a race for three-year-old thoroughbreds at a distance of 1.5 miles on grass. Clark’s Kentucky Derby was also designated for 

three-year-olds at 1.5 miles, but run on the dirt. The Derby has been run at its current distance of 1.25 miles since 1896. The Derby has never missed a year and will be run for the 145th time in 2019, making it the oldest continuously held major sporting event in the United States.”

Clark was also related to George Rogers Clark, who founded the city of Louisville.

“The inaugural Derby in 1875 had an estimated attendance of 10,000,” continues Goodlett. “The average Derby attendance during the past 10 years has been more than 160,000, and its momentum is not slowing down any time soon.”

At The Kentucky Derby, traditions have been born and have grown stronger during the years. Even the iconic mint julep cocktail has been around since the beginning.

“All evidence points to mint juleps being part of the Kentucky Derby since the inaugural running in 1875,” says Goodlett. “Newspapers of the 19th century reference juleps in regards to thoroughbred racing. There are stories of lore and legend regarding early runnings of the Derby and juleps. One story states that Clark served a julep to actress Helena Modjeska in 1877, and she was quite the fan. Another story states that Clark grew mint for juleps behind the clubhouse in the 19th century. The julep begins to be marketed as the official beverage of the Derby in the 1930s, around the time of the creation of the official glass in 1939.”

Other iconic Kentucky Derby traditions have nothing to do with Bourbon, but they are just as recognizable.

“I’ll start with the Kentucky Derby Gold Cup, first presented in 1924 to the owner of the winning horse,” says Goodlett. “There has been one significant change to the trophy. In 1999, the horseshoe tines were turned up as lore says that tines turned down make the luck run out. I’d also mention the Garland of Roses draped over the horse in the winner’s circle, an annual tradition since 1932. Lastly, I would cite the singing of My Old Kentucky Home during the post parade, a tradition in some form since 1921.”


Last year Woodford Reserve entered into a five year agreement to become the presenting sponsor of The Kentucky Derby, though parent company Brown-Forman has long sponsored and supported other aspects of horse racing, both at Churchill Downs and at other racetracks. 

The history of sponsorship and advertising between the distilled spirits industry and
the horseracing industry goes way back to the beginning.


“Horse Racing has been used in spirits advertising for a long long time,” says Veach. “The Filson [Historical Society] has one that shows them drinking the whiskey as the horses are running to the finish line. And that dates from around the 1880s.”

Veach also points out that in the not-so-distant past, Woodford Reserve actually bought a racehorse and was offering shares in that horse. Ultimately, they decided to put their energy into sponsorships, which propelled both Bourbon and The Kentucky Derby into the international spotlight.

“Making the official toast on national television was definitely one of the most exciting moments of my career,” says McCall. “I spent the weeks leading up to it practicing at home in front of my husband, Matt. He would pretend he was the camera man or someone cheering. I was nervous and excited, it was such a huge honor. I’ll never forget the energy of that moment, surrounded by my colleagues and my husband by my side in the pouring rain to give this toast. Everyone was so pumped for Woodford, the Bourbon industry and Kentucky to have that moment, it was just incredible. I have the toast ingrained in my memory forever!”

“Today we celebrate 144 years of tradition. From the rolling pastures to the limestone rich water that makes our thoroughbreds strong and our Bourbon stronger. This moment we share our Kentucky, and today we are all Kentuckians. Please join Woodford Reserve as we raise a glass to cheers The Best of Kentucky on Kentucky’s best day!”


It may seem like the entire Bourbon industry takes two weeks off to party nonstop, but there is still a lot of work to be done during that time period.

“During Derby season my duties as assistant master distiller shift to focusing mainly on brand ambassadorship and PR for Woodford Reserve,” says McCall. “[master distiller] Chris Morris and I will divide the duties and do some things together such as host VIP guests at the distillery, attend events in town, head to NYC for media, talk about the $1,000 mint julep as often as possible. All that while still keeping a plus on happenings within production and helping when and where I can. It is a very busy time with a very unconventional work schedule, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I don’t know if I have the right words to describe what The Kentucky Derby means to me,” McCall continues. “I have grown up with a passion for horses. My mom would drop me off at the barn in the morning and pick me up late in the afternoon. There was no place I would rather be but at a barn riding, grooming and cleaning stalls. Horses are very special creatures. I own a thoroughbred and their love to run is impeccable. Racing is truly in their blood, their hearts long to race, they give everything they have not because of the glory winning but because it’s what they were born to do. My horse is an-off-the track thoroughbred, when we would arrive at shows he would turn into a completely different horse. It’s like a switch would flip, he knew what he was there to do, compete. The passion these horses have for what they do makes me tear up everytime.”


Mint Julep Tours in Louisville offers horse farms as part of several of their tour packages. James Pepper Distillery in Lexington also dedicates a significant portion of its tour to the historic ties between the horse industry and the Bourbon industry. In between the two, you can stop by a thoroughbred horse farm for a tour nearly year round that has ties to both industries.

At Sun Valley Farm in Versailles the farm’s original owner was Samuel Pepper, whose father Elijah built the nearby Elijah Pepper Distillery, what today is called Woodford Reserve. (Samuel was also uncle to James E. Pepper.) You can even see many of Woodford Reserve’s rickhouses from the property, making this a great addition to a
Bourbon tour.

But perhaps the best way to learn all about The Kentucky Derby year-round is to visit The Kentucky Derby Museum. There you will find displays relating to jockeys, winners, hats and other traditional attire, and more.

And of course, you can tune in on the first Saturday in May.


Great Lakes – Still & Oak Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Great Lakes 
Still & Oak Straight Bourbon Whiskey 
Great Lakes Distillery

Proof: 86
ABV: 43%
Style: Bourbon
State: WI
Price: $$$

Peggy Noe Stevens – 8.2

Nose: Wood sugar and light brown caramel. Cornmeal. Fruit cake and milk chocolate. Granola bar with honey. Floral lavender, rose water, licorice and anise. 

Palate: Milk chocolate,  corn and simple syrup. Soft Asian spice. Cherry picks it up after a splash of water. Toasty notes.

Finish: Subtle background of apples and herbal notes show some complexity. Fresh leathery finish.

Comment: Approachable and attractive.  Easy going and cocktail ready.

Susan Reigler – 8.0 

Nose: Roasted corn, banana and cinnamon. Caramel that lends heft without overbalancing.

Palate: Crème Brûlée and baking spices with stone fruit and brown sugar. It’s not especially complex, but has all the elements of a good bourbon, balancing vanilla, fruit, and spice.

Finish: The vanilla hangs on, before the spice and oak start to take charge. 

Comment: Very good bourbon on its own, but could certainly play well with others ingredients in a classic cocktail.


St. Augustine Distillery – Port Finished Bourbon

St. Augustine Distillery 
Port Finished Bourbon 
St. Augustine Distillery

Proof: 102
ABV: 51%
Style: Bourbon
State: FL
Price: $$$

Peggy Noe Stevens – 8.4 

Nose: Cherry and dark leather. Caramel reaches out and is surrounded by some herbal tea and woody notes.

Palate: Bready and black walnut on first sip, then subtle white pepper and oregano.  Framed and structured with toasty flavors. 

Finish: Long pepper on the finish that lingers and sweetens on the center of the tongue.

Comment: Flirts with some decadence of the cherry and dark leather. Would make a seriously good Manhattan.

Susan Reigler – 8.2 

Nose: Roasted corn with lots of spicy oak. Stewed fruit and some baking spices follow.  

Palate: Stewed fruit on the palate with saddle leather and pecans. A couple of drops of water releases sweet baking spices but seems to minimize the fruit.

Finish: Oak on the finish, starting at the back of the tongue and drying to a clean ending with no bitterness. 

Comment: On balance, this benefits from a little water and provides some solid sipping pleasure.