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Joy Perrine — “The Bad Girl of Bourbon” Her Fascinating Background and Her New Book

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By Rich Warren

November 15, 2016 — She still calls herself “The Bad Girl of Bourbon,” but maybe she’s not so naughty anymore. Joy Perrine of Louisville, Kentucky, created this moniker for herself many years ago at a time before today’s cocktail craze got started and when such unconventional flavor pairings as Celery Peppercorn Vodka and Raspberry Basil Mojitos seemed unusual.

In the state where 95 percent of  “America’s Native Spirit” is produced and a place where consuming bourbon in any way other than neat or with a splash of water is considered “gilding the lily,” Perrine started experimenting with bourbon. She found that the natural sweetness of bourbon lent itself well to pairings with other sweet flavors, such as maple, orange, and even chocolate. She took standard bourbon cocktails and shook them up a little, throwing peach into Manhattans, pineapple into Mint Juleps, brown sugar into Old Fashioneds.

In 2000, when Equus Ranch and Jack’s Lounge opened in Louisville, Perrine took the helm at the bar, and patrons started taking notice of her flavorful cocktails with infusions such as fruits, herbs and spices, even candy canes. By the following year, she was winning awards for drinks such as the Bourbonball, using crème de cacao and Tuaca. And in 2009, she and fellow writer Susan Reigler compiled many of her recipes into The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, making it a cinch for readers to make many of Joy’s inspired creations such as “The Dark and Bloody Bourbon Mary” and “The Kentucky Jellybean” in their own homes.

more-kentucky-bourbon-cocktailsThis year, Perrine and Reigler have issued a sequel to this 2009 volume entitled simply More Kentucky Bourbon Cocktails. More of Perrine’s by-now famous bourbon concoctions like the Ginger Snap and Devil in a Blue Dress (using blueberry juice and Triple Sec) were included, but new in this volume are other bourbon cocktails from bars on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail as well as cocktails that won in contests where Perrine and Reigler served as judges. There’s even a chapter with recipes for bourbon-inspired cuisine, making it possible to snack on Bourbon Bacon Bites while imbibing a Blackberry Cordial or Hoo Doo Cocktail.

Needless to say “The Bad Girl of Bourbon” is somewhat of a celebrity in the Bluegrass State, where she was inducted this year into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Her mixology classes at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival held in Bardstown each September are always popular — In less than an hour, she shows how to mix 13 of her favorite cocktails with participants tasting small samples along the way. “By the time folks leave my event, they’re pretty happy,” Perrine says.

boardwalk-empirePerrine claims she’s come by her vocation naturally, since both of her parents and her grandmother were rum runners during Prohibition years in the Atlantic City, New Jersey, area, where they had business dealings with Enoch Johnson, who served as inspiration for the racketeer Nucky Thompson in HBO’s popular series Boardwalk Empire. As a child, Perrine heard stories about how her father removed a bullet from his leg with a fishing knife and remembers noticing the bullet holes in the boat her parents had used picking up their offshore illicit cargoes that they had since converted into a flower planter in their yard.

When she grew up, Perrine moved to the Virgin Islands and began her bartending career. Like bourbon, the rum that’s endemic throughout the Caribbean has a natural sweet quality, and Perrine quickly began infusing it with fruit and other sweet flavors, a skill that naturally transferred itself to bourbon when Perrine moved to Kentucky in 1978. By now, she’s fearless with her experimenting and even has developed expertise in which brands of bourbon taste best in her cocktails — a fact she frequently makes note of in the recipes in both of her books. Like a wine aficionado, Perrine has developed the ability to pick up the flavor notes in different kinds of bourbon. Whether it be traces of caramel, vanilla, honey, or even banana, chocolate, coffee or tobacco — few flavor profiles escape her discriminating palate.

Perrine proclaims that bourbon mixes magnificently with the flavors associated with fall and the upcoming holiday season, whether it’s pumpkin or pecans, or coconut and pineapple. Both volumes of her bourbon cocktail books contain recipes for several kinds of eggnogs, and her personal holiday favorite, her famous Spiceberry, uses cranberry juice. Even apple cider is a tasty combo with bourbon, she says. “Just thinking of holiday cocktails makes visions of sugarplums start dancing in my head,” she laughs.

“More Kentucky Bourbon Recipes” published by University Press of Kentucky is available on Amazon for $16.95 or from University of Kentucky Press where there’s a 20% holiday promotion discount.  It is a compact size (6” x 6”) 124 pages with 16 color photos so it is a great Christmas gift or stocking stuffer.  Below are two recipes from the book:

HOLIDAY COCKTAIL

Cranberries and oranges are the flavors of Christmas and make a great cocktail combination. Any one of the premium bourbons in this section will work well in this drink. Experiment to find your favorite!

2 ounces Kentucky bourbon
½ ounce brown sugar syrup
3 dashes Fee Brothers West Indian orange bitters
3 dashes Fee Brothers cranberry bitters
1 ounce Grand Marnier
2 ounces Kentucky cranberry wine

Combine and shake over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange wedge on the rim.

WILLETT HOLIDAY EGGNOG—THE WILLETT DISTILLERY (BARDSTOWN)

Willett is a small, family-owned distillery located just outside Bardstown. This recipe was provided by one of the owners, Britt Chavanne. You can find more recipes and information about the historic distillery at http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com.

½ cup Willett Pot Still Reserve
4 cups whole milk
1⅓ cups fine granulated sugar
12 large egg yolks
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

In a medium saucepan, whisk milk and sugar over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks. Whisking constantly, pour hot mixture into yolks in a slow and steady stream. Return mixture to pan; cook over medium low heat, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Strain into a bowl. Stir in the Willett Pot Still Reserve and cream. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with a dash of nutmeg, cinnamon, a candy cane (hanging off the rim of the glass), and a cinnamon stick.

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