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JBF Award Winner Sean Brock’s DIY Whiskey Bar

Maggie Borden

December 21, 2015

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JBF Award winner Sean Brock has a passion for educating friends and family about the plurality of fine bourbon in our country, but at parties he often found himself playing bartender instead of host. In this excerpt from his Beard Award-winning cookbook Heritage, Brock gives tips for setting up a DIY bar, which allows him to showcase some choice whiskeys while letting guests go wild with cocktail experimentation—and frees him from the role of permanent bartender.

Choose five whiskeys that are different in flavor, age, and proof: 

  • A high-proof bourbon, something above 107 proof
  • A rye whiskey
  • A lower-proof bourbon (between 80 and 90 proof)
  • An older bourbon (at least 10 years old)
  • White corn whiskey 

Fill out your station with glassware, water, ice, and various items like bitters, citrus (to squeeze, muddle, zest), and different sweeteners. Brock suggests: 

  • Agave nectar
  • Honey
  • Simple syrup
  • Raw sugar cubes
  • Cold spring water
  • A bucket of ice
  • Pok Pok drinking vinegars 
  • Assorted bitters
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Preserved cherries 

Have your guests make their own cocktails. Whiskey cocktails are a very personal thing and this station will allow for fun, experimentation, and learning. 

Ask your guests to pick a whiskey and pour 2 ounces of it into a large mixing glass. Have them taste it and consider: is it sweet? Mellow? Hot? What would balance the whiskey to make it taste better?

Remind them: every time they add a component, taste the cocktail. Did they add too much of one thing? If so, they need to balance it with some more whiskey. Then have them stir, chill, strain it with ice, pour the finished drink into a glass, and enjoy.