Follow the fruit

Exploring the joy of mixing
By Peggy Noe Stevens
Detecting fruit notes in a Bourbon is second nature. Ranging from luscious cherry and juicy orange to deep, dark dates and banana, there are a plethora of fabulous fruit notes to taste in any style of Bourbon. In fact, I purposefully tease the Bourbon during a tasting by adding a few drops of water to bring out those beautiful fruit notes. Production of Bourbon is a sneaky thing when identifying where the fruit notes begin, because it can happen in countless places during the process. Take the barrel for instance, as the wood plays a role in bringing out some cherry notes, the yeast for some green apple and pear. No matter the process leader of the tasteful congeners, fruit notes in a Bourbon are fabulous and pair inexplicably well with fresh fruit.

Why we care about fruit notes

Take your cocktail mixers. Strolling down the aisle of a liquor store just past the Bourbon are the cocktail mixers and it looks like a plastic rainbow of colours touting the different fruit flavours such as coconut, cranberry, orange, etc. Have you ever truly thought about tasting your Bourbon before you select a flavoured fruit mixer to match the profile of the Bourbon? Think about it, chefs always taste the quality and flavours of the ingredients before they prepare a dish. And fondly, what I call my “bar chefs” should do the same. Freshly squeezed is always preferable, but still taste the Bourbon first to determine what fruit flavours and texture you are dealing with. Ever notice why some Bourbons just taste better than others in an old- fashioned with the cherry and orange? I purposefully choose a Bourbon with great citrus notes because you can’t put enough orange in my old-fashioned.

Garnishing the hell out of it

I’m not sure about you, but I like to see my cocktail clearly beyond the garnish. Some cocktails these days look like a whole garden in your glass. You don’t even need to slice up the whole fruit as the rind of many fruits does quite nicely. Using the essential oils from the rind to rim the glass is not only fragrant when taking a sip and that puff of orange zest hits your nose, but it does not take up too much room either. Such a lovely experience to drink your cocktail without wearing a nose guard.
If you do slice or muddle your fruit, you may wish to keep it at room temperature, because when you refrigerate fruit it tightens the pulp. A Las Vegas mixologist taught me to always roll juicy fruit on the counter whole before slicing for the ultimate burst. This ritual has now become part of my Bourbon religion. Choose the fruits you love, but always think seasonal, as well as flavourful to get the best quality fruit.

Fruitful pairings made easy

What fun to put a pot-pourri of fruit out at a party and pair with your favourite Bourbons or allow guests to muddle their fruit choice to make your signature cocktail at the party. People are amazed at how Bourbon brightens and elevates the flavour of the fruit. I am a huge fan of fruit infusions too. Infusions dig deep with blanketing the Bourbon while swimming around in all that fruit for days. Even cooking with fruit and Bourbon steeps a heavenly marriage of flavours because of the natural sugar that fruit excretes and the dance of the caramel and vanilla. Just when you think it could be too sweet, the zip and the tang of fruit makes its way through, whether it be acidic, sour, or slightly mellow and commands that Bourbon-fruit combination to perform.

Follow the fruit notes

Nose your Bourbon to pull out the essence of the fruit note(s) and if it is difficult, add the splash of water to break down the alcohol and release the notes. List them out and then determine if you want to match flavours or send the Bourbon on the proverbial rollercoaster of flavour and “tang it up” a bit.

I keep a running list of all types of fruit and divide them into categories to aid with the pairing. Below is just a small sample of my fruit repertoire. Remember, thanks to our master distillers, every Bourbon truly produces unique fruit notes, so always capture and write them down to create a great list to use for your next party. Another way I pair fruit is to divide light and airy fruit like a raspberry to dark rich fruit such as dates and figs. This establishes the “weight” of the cocktail. If the Bourbon is big and bold (be mindful of proof), it may drown out the faint light fruit and vice versa. Many times, you can quickly gravitate to the right fruit if you taste the Bourbon first.

Enjoy your next outing to the liquor store, or shall I say the fruit and garden stand to find your choice mixers and fruity delights. It will collectively make a difference in your cocktails and can be the easiest food pairing around. The proof is in the pudding. I share my Bourbon marinated pineapple pound cake recipe for your party. Sip on this.

Bourbon and pineapple pound cake

Serves 8-10 depending on how you slice your cake

This is a very quick and easy, yet elegant dessert. Be sure to use fresh, not canned, pineapple. Good pound cake is available from bakeries or in the bakery department at groceries, so you don’t have to bake from scratch, if you don’t want to.


  • 1-2 fresh pineapples, quartered and sliced in thick strips

  • 1 pound cake

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • ¼ cup Bourbon (choose a Bourbon that pairs well with pineapple)

1. Mix brown sugar with Bourbon until it forms a thin paste.
2. Lay the pineapple strips side by side in a baking dish.
3. Brush the brown sugar mixture thickly on the pineapple strips.
4. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees and allow the mixture to melt over the pineapple until warm and the pineapple can be easily speared with a fork.
5. Lay pineapple strips over slices of pound cake and ladle any extra juice over each slice.
6. Serve immediately.
7. Pour a neat glass of the same Bourbon used in cooking the pineapple and enjoy!