Grand Cayman residents love Sunday brunch. Bourbon is one of the hottest spirits on the planet. To capitalize on these popular trends, the Craft Food & Beverage Company restaurant has launched a bourbon-inspired brunch with a special à la carte menu, and it is upping the ante by offering it on Saturdays as well as Sundays.
Like jazz music, the Buffalo wing and chocolate chip cookies, bourbon whiskey is an American icon.
Although the demand for bourbon collapsed in the 1970s, an effort that began in the 1980s to improve quality by producing single-batch and single-barrel bourbons led to a revival of the spirit to such a degree that in 2012, its sales increased more than twice as fast as any other spirit in the United States.
Bourbon cocktails, and even bourbon bars, are commonplace now. To help capture the return to popularity of the once seemingly antiquated spirit, the Craft Food & Beverage Company restaurant, with support from the Cayman Distributors Group, launched a Saturday and Sunday brunch in April that features bourbon cocktails and bourbon as one of the ingredients in several menu items.
In addition, on one Saturday a month, Craft offers a Bourbon and Bacon Brunch, a special edition of its regular brunch menu that highlights the spirit’s pairing ability with bacon, plus features more bourbon cocktail offerings.
Craft’s chef Dylan Benoit said it was an easy decision to focus on bourbon as the featured beverage for the brunch offering.
“Bourbon has become very popular for the last little while; it’s really catching on,” he said. “I like [to use it in cooking] because it has an inherent sweetness and woody quality that lends itself to meats, especially smoked meats like bacon.”
Bourbon, as it is known today, evolved organically in Kentucky through European settlers who brought whiskey-making knowledge with them from the Old World. These immigrants began making whiskey in the 18th century from American grains, including corn, which grew abundantly in the New World.
In the first half of the 19th century, the whiskey being made in Bourbon County – then part of the Commonwealth of Virginia – became known as bourbon. The spirit continued to develop over the next century – which included almost 14 years of American Prohibition – until 1964, when an act of Congress recognized bourbon whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States and the government established regulations that defined what could be called bourbon whiskey. Key elements of those regulations are that bourbon must be made of at least 51 percent corn, with other grains making up the balance, and that it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
About 95 percent of the bourbon produced today comes from Kentucky, but bourbon is also made in many other U.S. states, with Tennessee being the most significant producer.
Jodie Ehrhart of the Cayman Distributors Group said bourbon whiskey has distinctive qualities that set it apart from other whiskeys, and that a lot of it has to do with bourbon’s sense of place.
“I think what makes bourbon bourbon is a bit like terroir really,” she said. “It’s about American corn from the South, which gives it sweetness, and it’s about American oak, which gives it its smokiness. They also use local water, which gives it a different taste.”
Ehrhart believes the bourbon boom mirrors what is happening in the food and beverage industry generally, as consumers have taken more notice of the quality, authenticity and sustainability of the things they eat and drink.
“Bourbon is a natural, all-American product that goes back to the country’s roots; bourbon has been important in American history,” she said.
There has also been a renewed enthusiasm for premium cocktails in recent years, and bourbon in particular has enjoyed a boost in popularity because of its frequent appearances on the television program “Mad Men,” Ehrhart said.
“The growth in bourbon sales has been tremendous,” she said, noting that global sales of most small-batch bourbon brands were all up significantly over the past three years, with Maker’s Mark up 15 percent, Knob Creek up 24 percent and Basil Hayden up 35 percent.
“Even the original Jim Beam bourbon, which is the most popular bourbon brand, experienced 10 percent growth just last year.”
Sunday brunches are very popular on Grand Cayman partially because most people don’t work on Sunday. However, when management at Craft began thinking about launching a brunch service, they didn’t limit themselves to Sunday, Chef Benoit said.
“Saturday is just as good as Sunday for brunch if you have the day off, so we thought, why not do it both days?” he said. “That’s what we like to do here – switch things up to keep people guessing.”
Benoit said that by offering brunch on a Saturday as well as Sunday, it expands the potential consumer base to include restaurant industry workers, who usually have to work Sunday brunches and are therefore unable to actually attend any themselves.
Craft’s brunch items are made to order off a special brunch menu of what could easily be shared plates.
“A buffet-style brunch is not representative of our brand and would be cost prohibitive,” Benoit said. “So you don’t have food sitting under a heat lamp for hours. Everything is made to order. It’s the same as if you order a burger; we’re cooking it fresh.”
Many of the items on brunch menu feature bourbon in some way. The Craft Benedict features bacon-bourbon Hollandaise sauce over two sous-vide poached eggs cradled in corned beef atop grilled sourdough bread; the pumpkin pancakes – which are served in a mason jar – are topped with a jalapeno-maple-bacon relish and Jim Beam syrup; the seafood crepe has a bourbon flambé, and the “Bananas Kentucky” dessert features a bourbon cream and brown-sugar sauce over brûléed bananas.
Not every menu item on the brunch menu involves bourbon, including some stand-out dishes like lobster poutine; bacon pancake dippers; and the baked omelettes.
“The bacon pancake dippers are cool, and the lobster poutine is pretty fantastic,” Benoit said. “It’s a spin on something I used to do in a restaurant in Toronto.”
One menu item that doesn’t feature bourbon but can is the Craft brownie, which is usually topped with bacon caramel sauce, but can go from divine to sublime if also topped with a bit of Jim Beam’s Red Stag Wild Cherry Bourbon.
Several items on the brunch menu are vegetarian, and many of those that aren’t can easily be made vegetarian-friendly if customers ask, Benoit said.
Of course, alcoholic beverages are a traditional element of brunches. In addition to bourbon cocktails, Craft offers Prosecco sparklers and a full line of craft beers and cocktails using other spirits.
One featured bourbon cocktail is the Maker’s Mark Maple Manhattan, which actually contains a piece of bacon. A tasty bourbon cocktail that is available on Craft’s regular menu is the Whiskey Smash, a take on a mojito using Jim Beam Honey Tea Bourbon and fresh lemon juice.
Bourbon dinners that pair a variety of bourbon cocktails with food are becoming popular, and Craft has plans to host one of these starting in May.
“Bourbon cocktails, if prepared well… can pair well with food,” Ehrhart said, noting that bourbons flavored with honey, honey tea and maple are being used to create interesting cocktails that pair extremely well with food, which is helping women learn to like bourbon.
Some small-batch and single-barrel bourbons like Maker’s Mark 46 and Knob Creek Single Barrel aren’t really for tall cocktails.
“Maker’s Mark 46 is definitely for a more concentrated cocktail,” Ehrhart said, adding that it could also be served neat or straight-up after being chilled with ice that is then strained out.