Rich Report Recommends: Kentucky Buck Cocktail
There's no denying that it's a crowd pleaser.
It is a sea of noise when a woman steps into a restaurant during the opening scene. Glasses clinking in a sea of clatter among a cluttered roar of a hundred voices conversing all at once. She politely waved away a menu as the bartender approached with it. "Bourbon," she replied, "neat."
Now it is your turn to tell me about this woman. What do you know about her?
My point is that whiskey differs from other spirits not just in the way it is made, but also in many other ways. There is something cool about this liquor that spirits simply cannot match; it's been cool for at least 200 years, from cowboys to Humphrey Bogart to Matthew McConaughey starring in Wild Turkey commercials for six minutes at a time, and it has been cool for at least 200 years. In films and television, it is portrayed as a symbol of independence, self-confidence, etc.
As a result, it is used as a trope. Because it is used in films and television, it also serves as a practical aspiration. It is possible that the person doesn't really like rum or pisco, but I have found that at the end of the day, people who don't like whiskey tend to want to like whiskey.
In the heart of the Financial District, Rickhouse is a whiskey-focused cocktail bar where a bartender named Erick Castro was hired as beverage director by the Kentucky Buck. In the Financial District of San Francisco, Rickhouse was a highly anticipated opening event. It was the sister bar of Bourbon & Branch, a game-changing bar for whiskey drinkers. It wasn't surprising that there would be a lot of people coming here.
As it was a whiskey bar, the decor made you feel as though you were drinking in an enormous barrel. Castro knew that Rickhouse needed a quick whiskey-based crowd-pleaser to attract those who didn’t necessarily love whiskey but wanted to order it anyway, so he created a drink that he had been brewing for the past winter.
A strawberry was muddled with some bourbon, lemon juice was added to make it refreshing, and ginger beer and bitters were added to give it a warm earthiness.
If it sounds like a Moscow Mule with bourbon and strawberries it’s because that’s exactly what it is, but the mule was passé by that point in San Francisco, so Castro reached deeper into history for the name. A “Buck” is a style of cocktail that dates back to the 1890s, long before the Mule or the Dark ‘n Stormy, and was composed of just a spirit and ginger beer, so named because the ginger and alcohol together would give quite a kick, the Moscow Mule is named similarly, for the kick. Plus, it sounds better, it’s not too generic like “Strawberry Bourbon Mule” or too esoteric like “Erick’s Excellent Elixir,” it’s foundational. It’s a Kentucky Buck.
A classic cocktail was born almost immediately as a result of the cocktail. In my opinion, the genius of this particular cocktail has to do with the fact that, in addition to the fact that it is delicious and easy enough for anyone to make, it is also because strawberries and ginger combine so seamlessly that you can use any spirit and it will taste great no matter what spirit you choose.
You could give a Kentucky Buck to someone who absolutely hates bourbon and they would probably like it because there is no moment in the drinking experience where you are not being charmed by the strawberry or spiced by the ginger or both at the same time, and you can do this because it contains no alcohol. In short, this is a whiskey conversion drink, something that makes people take notice of a menu, a drink that couches the harsher tones of whiskey in flavors that are familiar and overwhelmingly delicious, something that makes them want to buy it. Basically, it is just something one can give to someone who hasn't had a chance to try whiskey but would really like to, for whatever reason.
Kentucky Buck (fresh version)
- 2 oz. bourbon
- 0.75 oz. lemon juice
- 0.75 oz. ginger syrup
- 1 strawberry
- 1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- About 2 oz. soda
Add the strawberries to the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Shake with the bourbon, the lemon, the ginger syrup, and the bitters for six to eight seconds and strain over fresh ice in a tall glass and top with soda water. You can garnish it with a half strawberry, a lemon wheel, a mint sprig, or all three of the above items.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
It doesn't matter much what bourbon you use in this cocktail; it's not that you won't be able to get different experiences from different brands, but rather that they'll all be quite good, so it doesn't matter what bourbon you use. The cocktail bourbon that I use most often is Buffalo Trace, which is rich, well aged, and slightly sweet, and Elijah Craig is also a great match, as would Four Roses Small Batch. In my opinion, I would steer clear of the spicier bourbons simply because ginger is already infused with a lot of spices, but again, ginger and strawberry are such show stoppers that I would not worry about the bourbon brand.
The strawberry infusion can be made by adding about a half pint of strawberries per bottle of bourbon and letting it sit for three days before straining out the solids. You can do this using about a half pint of strawberries per bottle. That is what Castro did at least briefly back in 2009, but I am guessing that was more for expediency than for flavor.
With a strawberry infusion and ginger beer, you can mix it right in the glass without shaking the glass. Having said that, it's always a good idea to use fresh ingredients, as they will always taste better than syrups or infusions. For instance, you can cut off the top of a strawberry and toss it in the tin. Then you should smash it with something blunt.
The best way to prepare ginger is to make a fresh ginger syrup, which is, annoyingly, the most difficult way to prepare it. Ginger: There are a lot of ways you can use this. You will need either a good juicer or a blender to make this, and if you use a juicer, you literally juice your ginger, and then measure what juice you have, add the sugar in equal amounts, and stir until the sugar dissolves, the yield for this recipe is terrible, but if you enjoy ginger spice, this is the best way to prepare it.
There is something almost as good about blending it. Add equal amounts of white sugar, boiling water, and roughly chopped ginger to a blender, and blend it on high for about 30 to 60 seconds, then strain out any solids and refrigerate the mixture. Note: The cocktail might need 1 ounce of the syrup if you make it in a blender. You should be able to store the syrup in your refrigerator for about a month if you make it either way.
You don’t have to make a fresh syrup for this drink if you don’t feel like it. After all, this drink was originally designed to be made with ginger beer. I will provide you with the recipe for a ginger beer Kentucky Buck below. For the brands, try something spicy. My favorite brands are Cock ‘n Bull or Blenheim, but any brand that has a good amount of spice is fine.
Kentucky Buck (ginger beer version)
- 2 oz. bourbon
- 0.5 oz. lemon juice
- 1 strawberry
- 1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 4-5 oz. ginger beer
A half strawberry can also be garnished with the stem cut off. Add the strawberry to a cocktail shaker and muddle it for several seconds. Add the bourbon, lemon juice, and bitters to the shaker, and shake for 4-6 seconds. Strain over ice and pour ginger beer over it.