You know what they say is the number one rule in real estate:
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
That's certainly the case with my house, which is just a couple of blocks away from a short trail through the woods that takes you to a nearby stream. When the kids were young, we spent many a sunny weekend afternoon playing along -- and splashing in -- the water.
Those memories come back whenever I think of this recipe. Why, you ask? Because the name of the stream is Northwest Branch.
Surprise! The name "Bourbon and Branch" doesn't refer to a piece of a tree, it's actually "branch" as in "a tributary stream or any stream that is not a large river or a bayou." Thank you, Dictionary.com!
I know what you're thinking: What do tributary streams have to do with bourbon? A lot, as it turns out. See, "Bourbon and Branch" is really short for "Bourbon and Branch Water," and "branch water" is simply a Southern term for fresh water from your local stream. Isn't that charming!
WHAT IF I DON'T HAVE A LOCAL STREAM?
Now, before you say, "Gosh, do I have to move near a stream just to make this recipe?" let me assure you the answer is NO. I don't know if Nineteenth Century Kentucky gentlemen would approve, but you don't have to use actual branch water when you make this drink. Bottled spring water works just fine -- that's the kind of water I usually use, and it's what the ingredient below calls for.
I'm no doctor, so this doesn't constitute medical advice. But if you do have a local stream, please make sure the water from it is safe to drink before using it in a Bourbon and Branch. The National Park Service, which ought to know a thing or two about the topic, has this to say about drinking from a stream:
Never drink water from a natural source that you haven’t purified, even if the water looks clean. Water in a stream, river or lake may look clean, but it can still be filled with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can result in waterborne diseases, such as cryptosporidiosis or giardiasis. It is essential that you purify natural water. Purifying water involves filtering to remove large particles and treating by boiling or with chemicals to kill organisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.
As delicious as a well made Bourbon and Branch is, it's not worth the risk of -- yuck! -- parasites. Diarrhea, stomach aches or pain, dehydration (ironic, right?), nausea and vomiting, and gas as not Good Things, with apologies to Martha Stewart.
Now, you might think, oh, the alcohol in the bourbon will sterilize the water. But as we've learned from the pandemic (boo!), an effective sanitizer needs to be at least 70% alcohol, and even using the strongest cask strength bourbon you can buy, with the added water the result won't be potent enough to guarantee your safety. Better safe than sorry!
True, I usually follow the given recipe and use spring water. But not always. Sometimes I use a reverse osmosis product like Dasani (sponsored link) -- and don't worry, despite the chemical process involved, the result is still delicious, I promise!
Once I used distilled water, which is kind of meta, when you think about it. Distilled spirit + distilled water = yummy!
And please don't think my life is perfect, with fancy bottled water on hand at all times. Things can get pretty crazy at Casa Weekend Whiskey, I assure you, and I'm not always on top of my shopping list. I'm the first to admit that I'm not above using plain old tap water for those times when I get a hankering for a Bourbon and Branch, only to find there's no bottled water in the house. And guess what? The results taste just as good!
TO ICE OR NOT TO ICE
Now that's a touchy question! Newbies might be surprised at how -- let's say, passionate some people are about whether a Bourbon and Branch comes with ice. I'm not going to get into the whole back and forth here. I'll just say that the research I've done suggests the traditional recipe is without ice.
Now, when you say "traditional recipe" that's usually a promising thing! It means something was good enough to be done the same way long enough to become a tradition.
But "traditional" doesn't mean "the only way a thing can ever be done." You might even say people have been putting ice in Bourbon and Branches long enough to make that traditional, too.
Here are my thoughts: I admit I usually don't use ice. But sometimes -- usually on a hot summer afternoon, but other times too -- I just feel like adding ice, and I do, and I like it just as much that way.
So, should you use ice? I say, try it with and without ice, and see what you think. Make it the way you like! And if a Nineteenth Century Kentucky gentleman drops by for a visit on a hot August day, he just might like it with ice too!
- Spring water
- Ice (optional)