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Bourbon and Food. Explore the Flavor Wheel and Special Recipes for Mother’s Day — or Any Day

Woodford Reserve Distillers Select

April 30, 2015 – Recently we had the opportunity to interview Chef Ouita Michel, Chef in Residence at Kentucky’s award-winning Woodford Reserve distillery.  A native Kentuckian, Ouita is committed to using locally grown products in her five restaurants, among them Glenn’s Creek Café at the Woodford distillery, and exploring pairings with Kentucky’s famous bourbon.

We’re delighted to share three special recipes plus her own drink concoction for a perfect Mother’s Day celebration.  Truth is, you’ll enjoy them all summer long. Plus we have three easy cocktail recipes courtesy of Woodford Reserve that Mom will enjoy and which will make your summer entertaining a stunning success!

Ouita mug (iron chef pose)The busy chef wants to change the perception of most drinkers that bourbon kills the flavor of food.  On the contrary, many foods actually enhance the flavor of bourbon.  Being Chef in Residence at Woodford Reserve, Ouita’s challenge is to serve foods at Glenn’s Creek Café that can be successfully paired with what is often considered a rather potent, harsh, and intimidating liquor.

To this end, she created a flavor wheel of foods paired with bourbons.  As wine lovers know, various parts of the palate react differently to different wines.  With bourbon, certain food flavors accentuate flavors in the bourbon.  The flavor wheel includes Parmesan cheese, toasted hazelnuts, fresh orange with rind on, dried cherry, sliced apple, sorghum and dark chocolate.  In the case of the orange, Chef Ouita likes customers to pair the fruit part first followed by the zest.

In many parts of the country sorghum is unfamiliar.  Similar to molasses it is lighter with a “green” taste.  Suitable substitutes would be local honey especially with orange blossom flavors, salted caramel or even maple syrup, although it tends to be a bit one dimensionally sweet.  Sorghum features in many dishes in her restaurants.  It is used in salad dressings, butters and, of course, cocktails.  It brings out bourbon’s orange caramel notes.

rye flavor wheelWe wanted to know if these foods work with all bourbons.  Ouita suggested a fun experiment you can do with friends.  Using the foods in the wheel described above (a nearby photo shows how to set it up) pair four or five different bourbons such as Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark 86, Larceny from Heaven Hill Distilleries, Bulleit and Wild Turkey.  The goal of the pairing, whether it is with one bourbon or five, is to identify different flavors that are accentuated by tasting the bourbon with food.  The surprise is that instead of killing a flavor, cranberries and hazelnuts for example, force all the nut flavors in the bourbon to the top of the palate.

We wondered if rye posed a bigger challenge.  Since it is super dry, its flavor wheel is a bit different featuring pecan praline, fresh apple or apple butter, salted caramel and aged Gouda cheese.  To help you in your enterprise, we have drawings of three flavor wheels that show the components in Woodford’s Double Oaked, Rye Whiskey and Distiller’s Select.  Download them and have them on hand for a tasting or just for yourself.  They are helpful in identifying tastes that can be hard to describe.

Woodford Double Oaked


Woodford Rye Wheel


Woodford Distillers Select

Bourbon has long been considered a man’s drink and although it is becoming wildly popular, appreciation for its finer points has been lacking.  It is either served over ice or drowned in overly sweet cocktails.  Chef Ouita is changing this perception particularly for women who suddenly find it approachable and sophisticated as well as very pleasant.

Of course it can be amazing when incorporated into cooking.  Chef Ouita put together a Mother’s Day Celebration with bourbon.  Below are the recipes for steak and salmon, a killer dessert made with white chocolate and bourbon, and a refreshing drink that is Ouita’s version of a Pimm’s Cup.  Mom will love it.  And scroll on down for three more cocktail recipes including two juleps and a punch.  With the Kentucky Derby scheduled for May 2, your hankering for a julep will be satisfied.

Pan Seared NY Strip Steak with Woodford Reserve

Chef In Residence Woodford Reserve Distillery — Ouita Michel

Serves 4


4- 10-12 ounce New York Strip Steaks

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

1/2 cup Early Times Bourbon

1 cast iron skillet

1Tbsp. Duck fat, or clarified butter or olive oil

1 Tbsp. Green Peppercorns

½ cup demi-glace

2 ounces red wine

2 ounces Woodford Reserve

2 ounces cream

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. Butter


  1. Mix the Early Times Bourbon, 1 shallot and the 2 cloves of garlic in a blender until smooth. Pour over the steaks and work the bourbon into the meat. Let sit at least an hour- for larger roasts you can increase the amounts and let sit overnight.
  2. Heat the cast iron skillet over high heat, season the steaks with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the duck fat. Sear the steaks on each side- about 5 minutes per side for medium rare, and remove to a platter in a low oven to keep warm.
  4. Pour off any excessive duck fat, add the minced shallot. Add the red wine, reduce to almost dry, add the demi-glace and cream. Bring to a simmer, add the green peppercorns, Woodford Reserve, and bring to a boil. Swirl in the butter and finish with a little taste of salt.
  5. Spoon over steaks.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Woodford, Sorghum* and Soy Glaze

Chef in Residence Woodford Reserve Distillery — Ouita Michel

Serves 4


4 5-6 ounce filets of salmon

1Tbsp. Canola oil

2 ounces Woodford Reserve

1 ounce Soy sauce

1 ounce sorghum

Juice from one lemon

Optional: 1 tsp. sesame oil

Salt and White pepper to taste

¼ cup julienned scallion

Sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds for garnish


  1. Season the Salmon with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet. Add Canola Oil. Sear salmon skin side up- for 3- 4 minutes.
  3. Flip the salmon, add the Woodford, flame. Add the soy and sorghum and squeeze the lemon over the fish. Swirl the pan, and glaze the fish with the reduction. Add the sesame oil if desired.
  4. Once the sauce is the viscosity of caramel.
  5. Garnish with the green onion and sesame seeds.

*Sorghum may be replaced by local honey, salted caramel or maple syrup.


Woodford Reserve White Chocolate Parfait

Chef in Residence Woodford Reserve Distillery — Ouita Michel

Serves 6


8 ounces white chocolate broken into small pieces or white chocolate chips

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

2 Tbsp. (1 ounce shot) Woodford Reserve Distillers Select

1 pint fresh raspberries

1 orange, cut into supremes

½ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts

½ cup of crushed or chopped dark chocolate



  1. Melt the White Chocolate with ½ cup of the heavy cream and the 2 Tbsp. of Woodford Reserve over a double boiler.
  2. Cool the white chocolate mix until it begins to thicken
  3. Whip the remainder 1 cup of the cream to thick peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture.
  4. Refrigerate for an hour or two.
  5. To make the Parfait:

Choose a pretty glass or cup, spoon a little of the mousse into the bottom of the cup, layer in 2 or 3 raspberries, cover with mousse, layer in hazelnuts, cover with mousse, add a layer of the dark chocolate crumbles, repeat to the top of the glass. Just before serving, decorate with 2 slices of orange, a sprinkle of the dark chocolate and serve.

The Mousse can be made a few days ahead of serving and the parfait can be assembled the night before or a few hours before serving. Just wait to garnish with orange, because its citric acid will break down the mousse.

Woodford Cup Cocktail – Ouita Michel

Inspired by the refreshing Pimm’s Cup


¼ cup fresh chopped ginger

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 orange sliced in ½ moons, seeds removed—2 per drink

Marachino cherries- 2 per drink

1 cucumber, washed and sliced into ¼ inch thick slices- 2 per drink

Mint sprigs

1 ½ ounce Woodford Reserve Bourbon per drink

1/3 ounce Dry Vermouth- per drink

2/3 ounce Sweet Vermouth per drink

Dash of orange bitters

Ale 8 One or Ginger Ale




For the Ginger Syrup:

Wash the ginger well – no need to peel it, just roughly chop.

Simmer the sugar, water and ginger together until sugar has dissolved and let steep for about an hour. Strain and reserve. We love using this syrup in many of our cocktails.

Prepare the fruit garnish. On a long stir straw or bamboo skewer- skewer the fruit, using 2 of each orange slice, cherry and cucumber. Reserve the mint for the top of the glass.

Mix the Woodford Reserve base—for 4 cocktails you need to mix in a pitcher:

6 ounces of Woodford Reserve

1 1/3 ounce of Dry Vermouth

2 2/3 ounce of Sweet Vermouth

4 dashes of Orange bitters

4 ounces of the strained ginger syrup


Finish the Drink:

Place a leaf or two of mint in the bottom of a tall slim glass, and fill with ice. Pour in 3 ½ ounces of your Woodford Cup Base. Top off with the Ale 8 One or Ginger Ale. Add your fruit skewer and stir, crown with the mint sprig and stir.



Scroll down for three more cocktail recipes.  Perfect for Mother’s Day. Perfect for summer parties.


Woodford Berry Punch

Woodford Berry Punch

1 ¼ cups Woodford Reserve bourbon

2 ½ cups cranberry juice

2 ½ oz orange juice

6 diced strawberries

10 basil leaves

6 pinches allspice/sugar blend

Muddle strawberries, basil, orange juice and allspice/sugar blend in bottom of a glass. Transfer to large pitcher, add bourbon, ice and top with cranberry juice. Stir well and serve in mason jars.

Basil Strawberry Julep


3 fresh basil leaves

2 diced strawberries

1 tbsp basil simple syrup

Ice (crushed)

2 tbsps Woodford Reserve bourbon

Add basil leaves, strawberries and simple syrup to rocks glass. Muddle. Add ice then top with bourbon. Garnish with fresh basil sprig or strawberry and serve.

Basil Simple Syrup: Combine 1 cup basil leaves, 1 cup water and 1 cup of sugar in a small pot. Bring to a slow simmer, stirring often. Once sugar dissolves, remove from stove and cool. Strain to separate leaves from liquid into container and seal.

Raspberry Julep


2oz Woodford Reserve

Thyme (leaves removed from 1 sprig)

1 oz Monin raspberry syrup

Splash of club soda

Raspberry garnish


Muddle thyme with a splash of bourbon in bottom of glass. Top with crushed ice. Add remaining bourbon, syrup and club soda. Garnish with thyme and raspberry.