How to Be a Bourbon Badass

How to Be a Bourbon Badass


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There is no right or wrong way to drink bourbon—in a cocktail, straight up, on the rocks, or with a splash of soda. You will never know which is your way until you try them all, and How to Be a Bourbon Badass will guide you on the path of your own bourbon adventure.

How to Be a Bourbon Badass, captures the storied history of America's native spirit, explains the process of making liquid gold, and offers top-notch cocktail, dinner, and dessert recipes for the novice and connoisseur alike. From tales of legendary master distillers to stories of how lives were changed through newfound bourbon badass confidence, and from recipes for classics like the bourbon highball to fresh twists like strawberry bourbon lemonade with rosemary. Ruffenach shares behind-the-scenes tales from bourbon industry experts and rock stars. Your journey to becoming a bourbon badass begins here!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684350087
Publisher: Red Lightning Books
Publication date: 03/15/2018
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 835,059
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Linda Ruffenach is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, and the founder of Whisky Chicks. She believes that sharing a glass of bourbon and learning about America's native spirit are great common denominators to bring people together. Ruffenach takes pride in creating experiences that make learning about Kentucky bourbon approachable, fun, and informative. Her sense of community and commitment to paying it forward drive her to empower others to bring out their inner badass.

Read an Excerpt


The Journey Begins

Not until I was older did I realize what an amazing privilege it was to grow up in the heart of bourbon country. Going for a Sunday drive through the winding roads and rolling hills of Kentucky's backcountry is magical. It remains one of my favorite childhood memories. My parents, sister, two brothers, and I would pile into our baby blue 1963 Chevy Nova station wagon and set off for our next big adventure. As the youngest, I had to strain to get a glimpse of the graceful thoroughbreds lazily grazing in fields of bluegrass. I can still smell the scent of tobacco drying in open barns and the sweet aroma of corn mash wafting from the aging warehouses that dotted the countryside. This was home to me. Little did I know that years later I would once again travel those same backroads to discover and explore the magic of Kentucky bourbon.

When I was younger and we were celebrating a birthday or special occasion, my dad's parents, Pepaw and Memaw, would take us to the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky. It was just a few miles outside downtown Louisville, but for a child it was a destination. The Melrose meant fresh-baked yeast rolls, tangy corn relish, and the sweet flavor of spice cake with bourbon caramel frosting or, if we were really lucky, a piece of Kern's Kitchen's famous Derby-Pie®. Of course, on our way out there, we had to stop at a roadside "package shop" to buy a pint of bourbon, since Prospect was in a dry county. We settled into the private family dining room, where set-ups for cocktails awaited us. Well, not for the kids, but for the adults. I watched in fascination as my regal grandfather meticulously measured the shots and carefully balanced the portions of whiskey, soda, and ice for the perfect Bourbon Highball. It's no wonder I developed a taste for that caramel brown elixir and a love for all things Kentucky.

The truth is, my bourbon-tasting days started early. My oldest brother, Rob, loves to tell this story. On a Christmas Eve when I was just a few years old, my parents were entertaining in the basement, and just like every Christmas Eve, they were making frozen Whiskey Sours for the crowd of family, friends, and neighbors. They were too busy to notice the little girl in footie pajamas with a natural curiosity and a knack for getting into trouble. I spotted that bright red maraschino cherry on top of that sweet frozen concoction, and before anyone noticed, I had downed the entire drink. Rob told on me, the family panicked, but I managed to survive. I have no memory of the incident. Perhaps I was too young. Perhaps the bourbon had something to do with it. To this day, bourbon will always be connected with family, friends, and celebration.

Everyone's journey with whiskey and bourbon is different. For me, bourbon conjures up pleasant memories from my childhood: Making bourbon balls with my favorite aunt. My mother soothing our scratchy throats with a shot of Yukon Jack. From the basement steps, watching my parents prepare for the party I was not invited to attend but so wanted to be a part of. For others, it brings back not-so-nice flashbacks of a night of overindulgence in college. Still others may see whiskey and bourbon as too intimidating to even consider as a drink option. When I created the Whisky Chicks, I simply wanted to meet other women over a topic other than job, spouse, or kids. It has evolved into a warm and welcoming place where women of drinking age, from their early twenties to their nineties and from diverse backgrounds and experiences, can come together to savor the depth and complexity that a good glass of bourbon can contain. It's where the novice, the enthusiast, and the connoisseur can learn from each other and enjoy the pleasures of life.

I have been very fortunate to accompany many women on their journey with bourbon and whiskey. Watching others take their first sip of bourbon has taught me several things, the first of which is don't start with a straight shot of bourbon or it may be your last. If you are a red wine drinker, chances are you did not start out drinking a heavy zinfandel. You probably started with something much sweeter and lighter. Over time you probably began to venture into bigger, bolder flavors. Even if you like cabernet, you probably don't like every cabernet you taste. Your palate may prefer a sweet wine over a dry wine. Your tastes and preferences about wine will also change over time and can be influenced by what you are eating, the time of the year, or the occasion. Your journey with bourbon will be similar. That is part of the adventure.

As you might have done with wine, I suggest you try lots of different bourbons until you find the characteristics you like. Spirits with almost the exact same ingredients can taste dramatically different, sometimes in bold ways, sometimes in subtle ways. The great news for whiskey novices and explorers is that an increasing number of boutique and chain liquor stores have tasting rooms, not just for wine but also for bourbons and whiskies. A good bourbon purveyor will guide you beyond the old standards, like Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, or Jack Daniels (which technically is not bourbon but Tennessee whiskey instead). In most metropolitan areas, a Google search will lead you to at least a few restaurants that offer extensive whiskey selections. Some may even offer bourbon "flights," which are a way to taste a variety of small samples for a nominal cost. Your best bet is a good bartender who already knows his or her bourbon and will walk you through your first pioneering steps into bourbon country.

Living in Louisville, Kentucky, I'm fortunate to have a wide variety of distilleries within driving distance — a good reason to visit the Derby City. Much of my passion and knowledge about bourbon can be attributed to Chris Zaborowski, the owner and proprietor of the Louisville-based Westport Whiskey & Wine. Chris has been a tour guide for many on their whiskey journey. Perhaps the reason he is so good at his craft is that, like many of us, he started with wine. He dedicated many years to learning and teaching about the wine industry. It all started when he was working for a liquor store and asked to take a class on wine. Two years later Chris was teaching the class. He was the first in Kentucky to be recognized as a certified wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators.

Chris has spent most of his career in the wholesale spirits business. He began his bourbon journey in the late '90s. The distribution company where he worked as vice president of sales and marketing had just acquired Jim Beam as a client. He was asked to visit the distillery and get to know their products. That is where he met and toured with master distiller Jerry Dalton, assistant distiller Pam Heilmann, and the infamous Booker Noe. Chris was awed by the many steps it took to make a single bottle of bourbon. The attention to detail required at every stage, from milling the grains to getting the label exactly right on a completed bottle of Booker Noe, was fascinating. The distillers were seeing, doing, and tasting at all stages. Chris was hooked.

In 2008, he and a group of business partners decided to open their own liquor store. The bourbon boom had not yet hit. They purposely named their new venture Westport Whiskey & Wine because they felt that both the whiskey and the wine markets were underserved. They wanted Westport to be recognized for having the best selection in Kentucky, and they were willing to span the globe to make that happen. Chris personally researched products from other areas and made alliances with distributors to find selections that were not available in Kentucky. Sometimes Westport Whiskey & Wine was the only place in the state to buy a specific bottle, even if they only carried a case or two.

When Chris and his partners designed their store, they included a tasting room, because in Chris's opinion, the best way to learn about a product is to try it. Their current tasting room has over 250 bourbons and whiskies from all over the world. Westport has opened the eyes of many to the complexities and enjoyment of whiskies and wines. Chris's wife, Robin Zaborowski, is one of the many.

Robin, like many women, was not at all interested in drinking bourbon. She had tried it and just did not like it. She liked her vodka tonics and the occasional glass of wine, especially if it was a good robust wine. One evening, Chris needed Robin to help out at the store hosting a new product introduction and tasting by Maker's Mark. There, Robin met Kevin Smith, who convinced her to try a lab sample of their new bourbon. One sip and she fell in love. It was not what she expected at all. She kept texting Chris about her new discovery. She couldn't get over her amazement that she actually liked bourbon! That product was Maker's 46. And these days there is always a bottle handy in the Zaborowskis' liquor cabinet. To this day, Maker's Mark owner Bill Samuels credits Robin's enthusiasm for helping boost sales of Maker's 46.

When I talk about Whisky Chicks, people naturally want to know my favorite bourbon. I have two boys, and it's just like asking someone to pick their favorite child: it's impossible to pick a favorite bourbon. I enjoy different bourbons for different reasons, seasons, and occasions. Your own individual taste preferences and where you are in your exploration will influence your selection. I asked my bourbon mentor, Chris, to help me put together a few suggestions. He reminded me that your current preferences can be a guide to determining which bourbons you prefer.

A white wine drinker is probably not going to appreciate big, bold, robust flavors the same way a red wine drinker would. They may prefer a less potent entry point like 86 proof Old Forester, which is sweet, soft, and easy to drink. Red wine drinkers may like a 100 proof with a higher rye content like Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon. If you prefer an even sweeter wine or cocktail, Basil Hayden's is another a great place to start.

The well-informed beginner and connoisseur bourbon drinkers both know one thing: no one can tell you what you like or don't like. You are empowered to drink bourbon the way that you want to drink bourbon. As Colleen Thomas, a good friend and bourbon ambassador for the Kentucky Distillers' Association, puts it, "If you like Pappy's and Dr. Pepper, then drink Pappy's and Dr. Pepper." More about Pappy's later (see page 78). Let's just say it would be like drinking Dom Perignon champagne with nachos. Hey, I'm not judging. It just depends on what you like.

The Melrose Inn is not only a place full of family memories; it is also home to the famous Kern's Kitchen Derby-Pie. Created over half a century ago, the chocolate, bourbon-infused walnut pie was developed by George Kern with the help of his parents, Walter and Leaudra. By 1968, Derby-Pie had become so successful that the name was registered with the US Patent Office and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Since then it has been baked and distributed solely by Kern's Kitchen, a small family operation owned by the Kerns' grandson, Alan Rupp. The recipe is a secret, known only to a small group of Kern family members and a single Kern's Kitchen employee (who actually mixes the recipe today).

There is nothing quite like the original Derby-Pie, but the recipe is top secret and not something you can repeat at home. When we cannot find the original at the store, the following recipe is a variation we serve at family gatherings. The simplicity of the recipe makes it easy to pull together at the last minute for an impressive dessert at your next gathering.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie



1 stick softened butter
Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs, flour, salt, bourbon, and vanilla. Mix until combined. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans. Pour into a partially baked pie shell, and bake at 350° for 30–40 minutes until center is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Bourbon Basics

When you think of a bourbon drinker, what pictures come to mind? A captain of industry lounging in a smoky drawing room, sipping his brown drink out of heavy lead crystal? Perhaps it's a John Wayne–type bellying up to the bar and asking for a shot of whiskey neat. How many imagine a ninety-four-year-old great-grandmother or a stay-at-home mom? Honestly, it could be any of them because all that is required to be a bourbon drinker is a passion for bourbon. Admittedly, I have not always had that passion. In fact, it was my husband, Fred, a native of Philadelphia, who brought me back home to my Kentucky bourbon roots. When he moved to Louisville, he insisted on finding out why this caramel elixir appealed to so many. I still laugh at his reaction the first time he tried bourbon. He took a big swig and nearly spit it out across the room. For this classic gin-and-tonic guy, the heavy oak flavor and high alcohol content overwhelmed his senses. It was not a pleasant experience. But as a transplant now living in the heart of bourbon country, he felt it was his duty to learn more about this native spirit and better understand its widespread popularity. His natural curiosity and his love of food, wine, and spirits reignited my own passion for this Kentucky favorite.

Fred is a researcher, so when he is passionate about something, you better believe he is going to learn every nuance and detail of it. Initially, Fred soaked up all he could discover about bourbon, from how it is made to the fascinating history of the founding families. Over time, he has familiarized himself with the major players in the industry, touring distilleries and joining a local organization called the Bourbon Society. I rode his coattails right into my first Bourbon Society event. It was a pivotal experience. The event was held at the Pendennis Club, an old private gentlemen's club in Louisville, renowned as the home of the Old Fashioned cocktail. The Bourbon Society was celebrating the anniversary of Repeal Day.

Like most of the women at the event, I was there with my husband. I knew little about bourbon and proceeded to blindly taste and sample the selections available. At home, Fred was gathering quite a collection of bourbons. It was becoming a hot topic in town, and through osmosis, I was becoming more aware of the number of distilleries and the amount of bourbon produced in my home state. People from around the world were becoming fascinated with bourbon and the rock stars who were producing it. All I knew about bourbon was that once a year, my parents would buy a bottle of Very Old Barton. It was so big it required its own handle to pour at our family events. In more recent years, it has been replaced by a bottle of Woodford Reserve. That night at the Pendennis Club, I was about to get my first real lesson in bourbon.

At the party, I struck up a conversation with a very nice older couple from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. We talked about their hometown. I learned they had been together since they were teenagers. You could see that they had an amazing love and admiration for each other. Even in casual conversation they flirted and teased. The wife blushed with delight every time her husband shared a special memory about their life together, which he delivered with a mischievous sparkle in his eye. He was witty, telling funny stories about living in a small town. He apparently had been part of a family-owned business and spoke with pride about working alongside his children.

When our conversation fell into a lull, I politely excused myself. I couldn't wait to tell Fred about this fascinating couple I had met. Fred quickly asked me if I knew who I had been talking to. "Of course," I replied, "Jimmy and his wife, Joretta." My husband proceeded to inform me that Jimmy was Jimmy Russell. Okay ... I asked, "Who is that?" Turned out, Jimmy Russell is the master distiller for Wild Turkey. An icon in the world of bourbon, he is considered by many to be one of the industry's leading pioneers and experts on all things bourbon. To quote Kentucky Distillers' Association president Eric Gregory, "If there was a Mount Rushmore of Bourbon, Jimmy Russell would be one of the first faces on it." I was smitten by his humble demeanor, his unassuming character, and his warmth. That describes many of the prominent figures in this industry. The people are genuine, collaborative, and approachable. It doesn't matter if they are meeting you for the first time or the fiftieth. They treat you like a long-lost relative, welcoming you with open arms. Kind of like bourbon itself.

That same evening, I met another incredible woman who was also a member of the Bourbon Society and fairly new to the bourbon industry. Kelly Ramsey would soon become a dear friend. Kelly, along with her husband, Forest, is the founder and creator of Art Eatables, Kentucky's premier bourbon chocolatier. Bourbon and chocolate — need I say more? They produce an astonishing array of bourbon-infused chocolate truffles. Each one pairs a popular bourbon with a chocolate specially selected to complement it in an explosion of rich flavor and depth. Kelly and Forest like to say, "These are not your grandma's bourbon balls." The delightful chocolates have enticed many men and women to take their first foray into bourbon country. Kelly has guided me personally through the subtleties of different types of bourbon and how they can be influenced and enhanced by other flavors.


Excerpted from "How to be a Bourbon Badass"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Linda Ruffenach.
Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Pam HeilmannIntroduction1. Bourbon Memories2. What Is Bourbon?3. The Bourbon Difference4. The Importance of the Cocktail5. Bourbon Suppa Club6. How Bourbon Can Change a LifeAcknowledgments

What People are Saying About This

Colin Blake

How to Be a Bourbon Badass is one of the most fun, easy, and approachable books about how to enjoy bourbon. It strips away all the pomp and gets to what matters, telling you to enjoy bourbon the way it should be enjoyed . . . however you like to enjoy it.

Albert W. A. Schmid

Kentucky native Linda Ruffenach leads her readers on their own personal journey of How to be a Bourbon Badass. Her book offers sage advice from master distillers and leading bourbon experts, as well as homespun recipes for cocktails and food so that you can drink and eat your bourbon. Linda uses the best kind of power – woman power – to inspire everyone to shine up their inner bourbon badass!

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