September is National Bourbon Month. In non-Houston climates, celebrating it means enjoying a snifter of Old Weller with a warm, spicy finish as the leaves outside change colors. But this is Houston. September is still summer. And we prefer our American whiskey in cocktails better suited to our hot, humid weather.
Lucky for us, that’s just what Alba Huerta specializes in at her Washington Ave. cocktail bar, Julep (julephouston.com). “This is definitely a spirit that resonates with the people of Houston,” says Huerta, whose lace-curtained bar is filled with cool marble tabletops and an even cooler trough of ice dotted with fresh oysters and crab legs.
Julep stocks over 70 different bourbons, from classics such as Old Grand Dad 100 to rarer reserves such as Elijah Craig 23-year and an A.H. Hirsch 16-year that runs $250 for a one-ounce serving. “We showcase many other spirits,” says Huerta, who was recently nominated for a high-profile Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award, “but it’s always the bourbon that everyone has a love affair with. It’s the most coveted and everyone is drawn to it.”
Huerta’s favorite bourbon cocktail is “a classic Mint Julep, of course,” and hers has become the platinum standard in Houston, served in a cold silver cup with a fat bundle of mint leaves sticking out of its mountain of crushed ice. But for a summer drink that’s a little different, she recommends a take on the Sazerac that replaces French cognac with American bonded bourbon (i.e., bourbon that’s been aged for at least four years) and ups the herbal ante with Punt e Mes, an Italian vermouth that’s the perfect balance of bitter and sweet—just like those last fading days of Houston’s summer.
- 1 oz. bonded bourbon
- 1 oz. Punt e Mes
- 1 bar spoon (5 ml) absinthe
- 1 bar spoon turbinado sugar
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Stir all ingredients well and serve over ice in a lowball glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.