A couple weeks ago I received an email from a nice fellow at Diageo asking if I’d like to write about one of their featured cocktails and one in particular caught my eye; The Harper’s Bet. This cocktail was developed by Mark Corley at The Silver Dollar in Louisville, Kentucky. It features my favorite category of fruit, citrus, and one of my favorite flavors, grapefruit, so I felt compelled to make this tasty sounding concoction.
However, I didn’t want to just make the cocktail and leave it at that. I decided to do an experiment and see how much the type of bourbon used would change the flavor of the cocktail. I always have Bulleit on hand for mixing and the rep was kind enough to send me samples of the others so I could set about this ultra scientific endeavor. The bourbons being used are all, as you’d expect, from the Diageo portfolio but they also all have a distinctly different character to them because they come from different distilleries.
- I.W. Harper, the recommended whiskey for the Harper’s Bet, is a soft fruity caramel whiskey with some underlying grain notes which makes it an easy canvas to paint on (build a cocktail).
- Gifted Horse is a blend of three different whiskeys that has an oak heavy character.
- Bulleit Bourbon is a spicy high-rye bourbon that used to be made by Four Roses, but tastes an awful lot like Old Grand-Dad these days.
- Blade and Bow is a bourbon made using a Solera system and has a soft fruity character to it.
So even though they’re all Diageo, they’re all a bit different.
Harper’s Bet Cocktail
· 1.5 oz. I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
· .5 oz. Grenadine
· .5 oz. Lemon juice
· .5 oz. Grapefruit juice
· 3 Dashes Orange bitters
Shake with ice and Strain over fresh ice in an old fashioned glass.
This is Harper’s Bet the way it was meant to be made. It has a “bourbon candy” quality with a a citrus bite and it would be quite nice on a hot summer day. Using the I.W. Harper it’s tasty and balanced, but the Orange Bitters are completely masked by the citrus and sweets. I get none of that spicy herbal pop bitters deliver so I may just need to use more than 3 dashes, but it an all around lovely cocktail and I’ll definitely be making it again.
Blade & Bow
There was a dryness to it that reminded me more of a citrus peel than anything else and despite it being the softest of all the cocktails it still managed to retain a little bit of the bourbon characteristic. If someone ordered me a Harper’s Bet made with Blade & Bow at the bar I’d still drink it without a qualm.
Grapefruit and citrus pop and gets balanced well against a noticeable oak character, this one ended up being my favorite execution. That heavy oaken characteristic is conjuring up something interesting in this version of the Harper’s Bet. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but I like it and I also like that the orange bitters are popping a bit more. Maybe I’m liking it the most because it feels the most cohesive.
The bourbon is almost completely masked here andI can taste a lot more than citrus and bitters. I don’t find any remnants of the bourbon or it’s signature rye spice. This was definitely the weakest execution of the Harper’s Bet.
There you have it, four different versions of the Harper’s Bet with only the bourbon changing. I used the same shaker, bitters, grenadine, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and even the ice cubes came from the same tray. The only way to make them any more identical would involve creating worm holes into alternate universes. Though no matter what brand of bourbon you use, the Harper’s Bet is a great summertime cocktail and I’ll definitely be making a few in the coming months.