How to be a Bourbon Badass

How to be a Bourbon Badass
with Linda Ruffenach, founder of Whiskey Chicks

LadyDrinks and our badass community of South Asian women execs and business leaders sat down for a bourbon tasting with Linda Ruffenach, founder of Whiskey Chicks. Attendees to this virtual chat received a few delectable goodies by mail prior to Linda’s masterclass: “How to be a Bourbon Badass.”

With a 100-proof bottle of bourbon in hand, Linda taught us the evolution of good whiskey, how to experiment with your bourbon, and one of the sexiest things a woman can be: Herself

Linda’s Lessons: Whiskey 101

  1. Good whiskey takes time. “The reality is you can’t get really good whiskey fast… It has to sit in a barrel.” Like tea, it must steep in the barrel for that aromatic, full-bodied goodness. “The longer you leave it in there, steeping,” says Linda, the stronger it will be and the different flavors you’ll get. “That’s how bourbon works.”
  2. Whiskey & bourbon have come a long way. Back in the 1800s, when it was sold in jugs and barrels, in order to flavor the whiskey some distillers got “so creative,” says Linda, that they put in things like Sargassum, iodine, tobacco spit, and other surprises. “As you can imagine, that did not make the best tasting whiskey.”
  3. Look for a Bottled-in-Bond label. The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 created a label for American-made Distilled Spirits that guarantees what’s in it and confirms “every bottle in bond will be at least 100 proof.” It also assures it comes from a single distillery, in one season, and that it’s been aged at least four years.
  4. The grain difference between Whiskey and Bourbon. For a whiskey to qualify as a bourbon, it must contain a mixture of grains, of which at least 51% of the grains are corn. Often made in Kentucky, U.S.A.

Befriending Your Bourbon

  1. Beware the bourbon. Bourbon is far stronger than wine. So don’t sniff, swirl. “Swirl it around a little bit and kind of let it up to your nose,” says Linda. “Don’t stick your nose all the way in or you’ll burn out your senses.”
  2. Coat generously. With those first sips, “You want it to coat your whole tongue,” says Linda. “Pay attention to where and how you feel it,” she informs. “Just like your tongue has different segments that will pick up different flavors, every bourbon has a different finish, and a different way of hitting your palette.”
  3. Observe each flavor. In Linda’s book, How to Be a Bourbon Badass, on pg. 55 is a wheel of flavors and aromas that contribute to crafting bourbons. Just remember: When doing tastings, work your way up in proof!
  4. A hug for that burn. While most of us already knew bourbon and whiskey aren’t for the faint of drink, we didn’t know the term for the burning chest. “That little bit of burn, if you’re feeling it,” explains Linda between sips, “We call it the Kentucky hug. When you get that little warm feeling inside, it’s the Kentucky hug.”

Playing with Your Bourbon

  1. Take one finger and a single drop of water. “You’re going to take literally a drop of water and drop it in your bourbon,” Linda showed. “No more than just a drop, and you’re going to swirl it around.” This will reduce any burning ‘hugs,’ and allow your smooth, neat bourbon to “open up” with even more distinct flavors.
  2. From neat to Old Fashioned. “An Old Fashioned cocktail,” explains Linda, “has something sweet and it has something bitter… Spirits back in the 1800s were not very good. They weren’t that tasty,” explains Linda. “It took a while to perfect the process.” To improve the flavors a bit, the Old Fashioned cocktail was born.
  3. Adding a dollop of sweet. Dilute a bit of raw sugar, use simple syrup, maple or honey. Each will open up its own set flavors. Or refer to Linda’s recipes in her book to make your own syrups, like Blackberry syrup.
  4. Get creative. While the classic method adds sugar and bitter together, Linda recommends trying flavors one at a time. “It’s just like making any kind of dish,” says Linda. “Every component is going to add a different flavor to it.” With the Bitters, notice the herbs and spices—cinnamon, cloves, nuts, even fruit peels.
  5. Pro-tip: Be open to new flavors. Linda says if you squeeze a bit of oil from the peel of an orange onto your glass rim, it will blow your palette’s mind. Or visit Whisky Chicks for virtual events, held once per month.

How to Be a Badass

“My whole philosophy is there’s no right or wrong way to drink bourbon. The only way to drink bourbon is your way,” Linda states. If you want to dilute it with water or add Dr. Pepper, do it. “It’s my bourbon. Don’t tell me how to drink it,” she says. Much more important: Know what you like and make it your own.

“I’ve realized over the years that this concept transfers into everything we do as women and individuals,” she says. As female executives, entrepreneurs and leaders, we all know that fear and insecurity can kill dreams.

Linda’s best advice: Woman, know thyself. “That was probably one of the biggest lessons of going through this journey,” says Linda. “Know what you want, how you want it, where you want it, when you want it… knowledge and experience will empower you. That’s what being a Bourbon Badass is all about.”