When you’re far from home, there are certain things you miss. As much as my significant other loves Portugal, he really misses bourbon when he’s there. For those of you who haven’t been educated in bourbon like I have (and no, I wasn’t given a choice), Jack Daniel’s – the mostly widely available bourbon in Portugal – isn’t, in fact, a bourbon. It’s a sour mash. Apparently, to palates more refined than mine, this is a very different thing. So I went (again, not given a choice) on a treasure hunt around Lisbon to scout for bars where you can get real bourbon. This proved to be a more challenging endeavor than initially expected.
I previously wrote about gin taking Lisbon by storm and how hundreds of different gins can be found in bars all around town. But if bourbon’s your go-to tipple and you’re looking for something other than Jack Daniel’s or Four Roses, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for disappointment. Bourbon hasn’t become trendy in Portugal… yet.
If all you need is a bourbon fix instead of the experience of drinking bourbon in a cool bar, head over to El Corte Ingles’ “Club del Gourmet” section. They have three or four options, including Blanton’s editions that aren’t sold in the United States. Now, to find these drinks in a bar… much more difficult. We decided to go where it made sense: hotels, especially those frequented by Americans.
The Four Seasons Hotel Lisbon: This was a sure bet, as we’d done some research on the subject and this a popular hotel amongst American travelers. Probably as a result of that fact, we heard about their new cocktail, the “Smoky Oaky Old Fashioned”. Using award-winning Bulleit Frontier Bourbon Whiskey, Luís Mendes, the bar manager at the hotel’s Ritz Bar, added a twist to the cocktail by smoking the glass in which it is served. The full recipe of this cocktail can be found below. Aside from the Bulleit, they also serve Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam. Needless to say, I chose to forgo the Old Fashioned and had a tasty glass of vinho verde. I’d like to add that, even though the cocktail won’t come cheap, the complimentary bar snacks are pretty awesome. The sweet & spicy nut mix, green & black olives, and potato chips are essentially the three musketeers of bar snacks.
Olissipo Lapa Palace Hotel: Alongside the Four Seasons, this is considered one of the top luxury hotels in Lisbon. The menu lists several bourbons, including Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon, Wild Turkey Rye and George Dickel Tennessee No. 12. I had never tried a Portuguese sauvignon blanc before, but the Três Bagos I drank was absolutely lovely. Again, not a place to get a cheap drink… and yet again, I got excited by the complimentary bar snacks: pita chips and some very moreish sweet & spicy nuts. It’s becoming apparent that I don’t go to enough fancy bars where the nibbles are free. If your cup of tea is, in fact, a cup of tea, the bar and terrace also offer an extensive collection of teas.
I’ll write another blog post when bourbon becomes trendy in Lisbon so you know where to go. For now, these three suggestions are your choices. I’ll leave you with Luís Mendes’ Smoky Oaky Old Fashioned recipe:
- Cedar wood chips
- 1 white sugar cube
- 1 dash of orange bitters
- 5 cl Bulleit Frontier Bourbon Whiskey
- A splash of homemade “Luso” soda water
- 2 dehydrated orange slices
- 3 maraschino cherries
- Homemade ice cubes (boiled, shaped and frozen in-house)
Start by burning the a few wood chips and covering them fully with a snifter glass, trapping the smoke inside. Place a few unburnt wood chips inside a siphon and then carefully pour the whiskey inside – this will artificially “age” the whiskey.
Take the sugar cube and wet it with a dash of orange bitters, and place it inside the glass. Carefully pour the whiskey from the siphon through a strainer into the glass, on top of the sugar cube. Take a large ice cube and break it into a few smaller ice cubes, placing them inside the glass. Add a splash of soda water. Place the dehydrated orange slices inside the glass. Puncture the 3 maraschino cherries with a pick and place them inside the glass, gently stirring the whole drink. Serve to the coolest guest in the bar.