Bourbon Derby Kiss

Photos By Shannon Ross

Recipe & Food Styling, Chantal Payette & Katrina Johns

bourbon derby kiss

Are your kisses sweet or sour?  Grapefruit juice, paired with a rich bourbon, and topped with a sweet syrup makes your evening cocktail dynamic affair.

There are five things that make Bourbon what it is according to The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits.

All bourbon must be:

  • Made with at least 51% corn grain. More can be used, but anything less is whiskey, not bourbon.
  • Aged for no less than two years.
  • Aged in a brand new oak cooperage (barrel or bucket).
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.

Bourbon is fermented almost entirely in column stills that were traditionally made from cypress wood. When cypress was just no longer available in the quantities needed to build the big tanks, master distillers determined — happily — that steel tanks would make the same whiskey. Some distillers still use cypress — that’s their tradition.

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Do as the French Do

The most common explanation you’ll hear on why oak barrels used for aging bourbon were charred is that it was done so they could be reused; the charring, the explanation goes, would take the smell of the previous contents out of the wood.  There is evidence, though, that the barrels were deliberately charred to affect the flavor of the whiskey, emulating the aging process used for French brandy and cognac. The popularity of these two imports in New Orleans may have been what led Kentucky whiskey makers to adopt the practice.

The Barrel’s the Thing

Unlike Scotch, very little of bourbon’s flavor and character comes from the size and shape of the still. Instead, bourbon gets at least 50 percent of its flavor from the barrel. The longer the bourbon spends in the barrel, the more oak flavor it has. Charring begins the process of breaking down lignin — a natural polymer in the wood — and, as alcohol continues the breakdown, it creates flavor compounds that give the whiskey familiar characteristics, such as vanillin, the source of bourbon’s creamy vanilla notes.

The higher the heat, the bigger the spice

Equally important as the barrel to bourbon’s flavor is how and where the bourbon is stored.


(Serves 1)


  • 1 oz. bourbon
  • ⅓ cup grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1 can of soda water
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 1 grapefruit, sliced and cut into quarters


  1. In a rocks glass, add bourbon, grapefruit juice and simple syrup.
  2. Top with ice cubes, and fill with soda water.
  3. Garnish with thyme and grapefruit slice.

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Are your kisses sweet or sour? Grapefruit juice, paired with a rich bourbon, and topped with a sweet syrup makes your evening cocktail dynamic affair.