All things Bourbon with Kathleen Purvis and the Whiskey Women of Charlotte

By Jennifer Brantley

September 23, 2015

September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and The Whiskey Women of Charlotte appreciate a good bottle of this fine spirit more than anyone. The group is going all out at this month’s drink up (their term for meet up) tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Dogwood Southern Table and Bar with a Sip and Signing event with special guest Kathleen Purvis. Purvis is a food writer and cook who is actually THE Whiskey Woman of Charlotte herself and food editor of The Charlotte Observer. She will be on hand for the evening to discuss and sign copies of her book, Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook, which takes a solid look at the history of bourbon, the mystery behind it and its many uses from cooking to cocktails. Dogwood plans to feature a special cocktail from the book, a barrel aged cocktail flight and their signature Old Fashioned. Purvis took a few minutes recently to chat with us about her inspiration for her book, tips on cooking with bourbon and what kinds she drinks at home. Surprisingly it’s not the top shelf  brands you’d expect, either.

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Author Kathleen Purvis

CLTure: What inspired you to write the book?

KP: I had written Pecans, one of the first books in the “Savor the South” series for UNC Press. Elaine Maisner, the editor, liked what I did and wanted me to write a second book for the series. She proposed that I do greens, but my husband hates greens. So I offered the idea of doing a cookbook on bourbon. I really wanted to answer a key question for myself: Why are so many corn-based whiskeys from the South? Corn grows almost everywhere in the country, after all, so it was a question that had always intrigued me.

CLTure:  What are some of the easier dishes to cook with bourbon at home?

KP: Cooking with bourbon can be tricky. If you use too much, it can take on peppery flavors. But if you heat it, you also lose the essential bourbon flavor. I found that stirring a little bourbon back into a dish brings out the bourbon flavor nicely. My favorite easy one is the Tipsy Jezebel Sauce, a variation on the old Southern classic of putting pepper jelly over cream cheese. The Bleu-Bourbon Spread is always a hit at parties. And I love the bourbon barbecue sauce. It works on anything you can grill.

CLTure: Are there any funny stories that come to mind from your experience during the writing process?

KP: Where to start? Okay, here’s one: When we were doing the research, my husband and I made a trip through Kentucky, visiting distilleries and picking up bourbons you can’t find in the Carolinas. Our son was a freshman in college at UNC-Asheville and the end of term was coming up. On the way back to Charlotte, we made a very fast stop at his dorm to load up some of his boxes before his move back. He has a favorite memory of me, dashing through his residence hall and calling back over my shoulder, “You’ll have to put the boxes in the back seat– the trunk is full of bourbon!” Needless to say, in a freshman-male dorm, that attracted a bit of attention and raised his social profile considerably. All his friends thought his mother was very cool.

CLTure: What is one major myth about whiskey and bourbon?

KP: The burned-barrel myth: The legends claim that Elijah Craig invented the method of adding flavor and color to bourbon by aging it in charred oak barrels. At the tasting rooms, they usually claim there was a fire in his barn and Elijah was a cheapskate who wanted to use the barrels anyway. Or they’ll tell you that Elijah was cheap and he wanted to reuse barrels that had held fish by burning their insides. But think about it: What fire burns the inside of a barrel and not the outside? What farmer is going to risk an entire year’s corn crop on barrels that held fish? More likely: The first big market for Kentucky-style bourbon was New Orleans, where there were many French merchants. Charring barrels to age cognac was already well-known in France. That’s a much more logical explanation.

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CLTure: What kind of bourbons are you currently enjoying?

KP: We keep a variety of bourbons on hand. Two of our favorites: Wathen’s, which has lovely notes of dark chocolate and makes a great mint julep, and Very Old Barton’s, a bargain-priced bourbon that’s actually very, very good. When I have it in a flask at an event, most people think it’s something much higher-priced. We also have a lot of single-barrel and small-batch bourbons, but I usually suggest not using those for cocktails. They’re best appreciated in a snifter with a single cube of ice.

The Whiskey Women of Charlotte: September Sip & Signing

Tonight, Wednesday, 9/23, 6-8PM at Dogwood Southern Table & Bar

Purchase the book Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook

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