Bourbon & Branch

May 01, 2020
Bourbon & Branch

Bourbon and Branch is an old-school classic experiencing a resurgence. It first made a splash outside The South when Felix Leiter introduced James Bond to it in “Diamonds Are Forever.” The “bourbon and branch” is more complicated (and irritatingly esoteric) than simply adding four ounces of water to your whiskey on the rocks.

“Branch water” refers to the iron-free water that traditionally fed whiskey distilleries. Most of Kentucky and Tennessee sits on limestone deposits, and that limestone filters rainwater and snowmelt on its way down to their aquafers. This water eventually “branches” out of the limestone and forms a river that is naturally iron-free.

The water of the Ordovician Aquafer also contains traces of calcium and magnesium at its mother branch, and these minerals in “branch water” add a bit of “velvet” due to molecular changes to ethanol when it is proofed down. This changes how the flavors hit the palate.

Proofing down whiskey allows aromas and flavors to pop up. Smoke shows up early and he sting comes out of the spirit. Caramels and vanillas become huge (though I think it’s due more to the temperature of the drink than the low proof), though they don’t linger nearly as long.

The traditionalists say you must use “real” branch water for the full effect, and you can buy it but it will cost you somewhere around $10 for a quart if you’d like to try some for yourself. We decided to see if we could find something that would work in the Mineral Water aisle at the local grocer.

We found several that might work so we tried them all. Fiji, which is filtered by volcanic rock, adding silica to the calcium and magnesium trace minerals. Our verdict: worth a try, given the caveats of the volume of water added to the drink and the ice it’s served over. Fiji was the only one we’d recommend, so there’s something to the legend of “branch water.” We aren’t sur[rised by the differences assorted waters made (tap was the worst to us) given the dilution in the traditional recipe

We found the following to be the best proportions: 

  • Add to a chilled rocks glass packed with ice made of Fiji Mineral Water: 
  • 2 oz of Smokin’ Bourbon 
  • ¾ oz Fiji Mineral Water 
  • Garnish with a sprig of lavender (if available) and a lemon twist 
  • Pair with Smoked Salmon