The Story Behind The Bourbon Renewal

In the early heyday of the modern cocktail revival, there was an overarching focus on simplicity, as bartenders dusted off long-forgotten cocktail tomes and got to putting their own spins on the classics. Few drinks captured this moment as well as the Bourbon Renewal, a straightforward, shaken blend of bourbon, crème de cassis, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters.

The year was 2001, and though the guys at Milk & Honey were making serious moves on the East Coast, Jeffrey Morgenthaler was pushing the envelope at Bel Ami Lounge in Eugene, Ore. It was there that he invented this modern classic, naming it after his business partner Tony Figoli’s band that was, in fact, called Bourbon Renewal.

By the early 2010s, Morgenthaler had made the move to Portland to manage the bar at the now shuttered restaurant and market Clyde Common, where he also opened up a basement bar called Pépé le Moko — named after the 1937 French film of the same name. While at Clyde Common, he popularized the concept of barrel-aging cocktails, in which he let batched drinks rest in oak for five to seven weeks, then rebottled them before service. The practice has since been adopted by a number of legendary watering holes, including celebrity chef Grant Achatz’s Chicago bar the Aviary.

Shortly after, Morgenthaler continued to make major waves in the cocktail industry by making revamped versions of ‘80s disco-era cocktails, like his famous riff on the Amaretto Sour. In 2022, he teamed up with Eugene brewery Ninkasi to release a line of canned cocktails including a Paloma, a Gin Rickey, and, of course, a Bourbon Renewal. That same year, Morgenthaler opened a new bar, Pacific Standard, with fellow bartender Benjamin Amberg. Although Morgenthalter’s a co-owner, you can still find him behind the stick most days of the week.

It may seem reductive to compare the Bourbon Renewal to other cocktails, but for reference, many liken it to a Whiskey Sour with a bit of Bramble influence. However, unlike the Bramble, which employs blackberry liqueur, this drink uses black currant liqueur, or crème de cassis. At the time of the Bourbon Renewal’s creation, Morgenthaler became fascinated with the liqueur by way of the El Diablo cocktail and the writings of bartender Paul Harrington.

The lone dash of bitters may seem inconsequential in this drink’s spec, but its spice functions as a bridge between the tart berry flavor of crème de cassis and the oaky sweetness of bourbon. Higher-proof bourbons work nicely in this cocktail, but feel free to use any 40 percenter here. As for the garnish, fresh currants are ideal, but given that they’re only in season for a short period during late spring and early summer, a lemon wheel makes a suitable year-round substitute. All in all, this drink is simple, easy to make, and riffable if that’s to your liking. Make it a highball with some soda water or add some muddled mint for an herbaceous bite.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce crème de cassis
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: lemon wedge, or if available, fresh currants

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Shake until chilled.
  3. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice.
  4. Garnish with a lemon wedge, or fresh currants if available.

Rate This Recipe:

(16 votes)

Yield: 1
Calories: 200
Updated: 2024-05-10

Bourbon Renewal Recipe Video