Robin's Bourbon and Beer Chili

It's a cold, damp and rainy spring day outside today. The kind of day that I know is necessary to a lush green summer but still not the type of day that is all that fun to live through. Especially when you are sick with a cold. I have the kind of cold that affects the upper respiratory. So of course, that means no fun tastings either. 

But wait! There is one thing that would be perfect on a day like today, a big bowl of Chili. I talked to my wife about it and she was gracious enough to share her secret and award-winning (office chili cook-off winner is an award, right?) recipe with you fine folks.

She wanted me to share that this is a heavily adapted version of a recipe that was shared with her by a fellow Minnesotan via Twitter. 

Robin's Bourbon and Beer Chili


  • 1 bottle of beer – Heavy stouts or hoppy IPAs both work nicely, Stouts make for a sweeter finished product.
  • 4 oz of bourbon – Make it something you like to drink. We use Old Grand-Dad 114 or Wild Turkey 101. The sweeter the bourbon, the sweeter the chili will be.
  • 1 pound of stew meat – we use beef or venison
  • 1 pound of Italian sausage
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • 12-ounce can of tomato paste
  • 2 – 15-ounce cans of tomato sauce
  • 2 cups of beef stock
  • 2 cans of chili beans (We use 1 spicy Bush’s and 1 of the Black chili beans)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of Cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons Chili powder (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of Mexican Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground Cayenne pepper
  • 2 Dried Chipotle and 1 Dried Serrano Peppers – chopped or otherwise broken up. (We grow our peppers. Then we dry and smoke the jalapenos into chipotles or just dry the serranos.)


Start boiling the beer and bourbon in an 8-quart stock pot.

In a large skillet, brown the meat. It helps to do the Italian sausage first and then the stew meat. Add to the pot.

Brown the onions and garlic in the skillet you used for the meat. Add butter or oil if needed. Add to the pot.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Feel free to add any other spices you like in Chili.

Heat until boiling and then simmer for at least a half hour for the flavors to meld.

This is better reheated the next day so prepare it the day before. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Not Whiskey, But Tangential: A Selection From BourbonBarrel Foods.

I’ve lived most of my life in Minnesconsin. It’s my name for a region that encompasses a good sized portion of both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Having lived on both sides of the imaginary line that runs down the center of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, I know from experience that the culture of both is essentially the same. They both celebrate deer hunting in the Fall and fishing pretty much any time of year. They both call a casserole a “hotdish.” They both have a weird fondness for Jello with other foodstuffs inserted into it. And farming, both dairy and corn, is a major industry. I guess the major point of difference is whether the football teams you root for wear green and yellow and red and white or purple and yellow and maroon and gold.  

Historically, in both places, the food has been bland and tended to be either white or transparent. I don’t think it was until I started to travel to St. Paul as a teenager that I realized that food should have spices. The fanciest we got was to sprinkle a little garlic salt on the venison when Mom wasn’t looking. 

I think this might be why I like to cook so much. I love flavor. I love to see how various ingredients play and meld and sometimes create something new. It’s the reason I love bourbon too. It is seldom that you will describe a bourbon's flavor as delicate. 

It was with all this in mind that, while at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, I stopped by the Bourbon Barrel Foods booth. I like bourbon, good things tend to come from barrels, and I like foods. I was curious to see what sort of concoctions came from a combination of the three. 

Initially, I grabbed a container of Bourbon Smoked Pepper and the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Smoked Chef’s Spice Blend. Both were wonderfully rich and smokey. I use the black pepper to season eggs for breakfast, and I love the Chef’s Spice Blend on every meat I cook on the grill. Hamburgers, chicken, steak, you name it, it works on all of them. It even tastes good on potatoes. Really some killer stuff.

I liked that Bourbon Smoked Chef’s Spice Blend so much that I soon used it up. Luckily they also sell on their website. So I popped another container of the spice blend in my cart and went looking at the rest of the items they offered. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Smoked Lemon Pepper
This uses the Bourbon Smoked Pepper, lemon peel, onion, garlic and various other spices. It’s tasty enough. I tried it on chicken and fish, but I suppose it would work on anything you might want lemon pepper flavored. 

Bourbon Smoked Sugar
Beautifully smoky on the nose and mouth. Once I purchased this, I had a hard time deciding how I was going to use this. I wouldn’t want that kind of smoke flavor on my morning oatmeal. And though it might taste good in a cookie, I didn’t buy it in a package big enough to use that way. Eventually, I came up with the perfect use for it, though. Simple syrup for an Old Fashioned. It adds just a hint of smoke and complexity to the drink. 

Bourbon Smoked Garlic Salt
I can see the salt crystals. I can see the dried garlic. I can certainly smell the garlic, but I don’t get any overt smoke on this one. That said it is still one of the better garlic salts I’ve used. Unfortunately, I use only a bare minimum of salt in my cooking, and I use garlic salt even less. Good thing I only sprung for the .75 ounce container. I have a feeling this one will stick around for a while.  


These folks are creating some excellent stuff. I’m enjoying almost all of them and will certainly be looking for more. Thankfully it looks like some of their products are available in Minnesota. Apparently, I’m not the only Minnesconsin resident that has woken up to the fact that it is ok to have flavorful food. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries

Last weekend I took a long weekend away to spend with my niece and nephew in Door County, WI. If you haven’t been there, it is the peninsula that just out of the side of Wisconsin into Lake Michigan. One of the things that Door County is very proud of is their cherries. If you make a fruit product in Door County, you better have at least one expression that contains cherries. Cherry jam, jelly, wine, vodka, soap, cider, ice cream, candy, you name it. And while I’m not any sort of judge of cherries, I don’t even particularly like them, when you are there, and they are in season, it’s hard not to come home with at least a quart of them.

Luckily even though I don’t eat cherries, every time I get some, I decide to try to make my own cocktail cherries. Because even though I may not like cherries by themselves, they do play really nicely with bourbon and rye whiskey.

The last time I made some it was chocolate bourbon cherries because those were the ingredients I had on hand that year. Thanks to my recent exploration of Michael Dietsch’s Whiskey cocktail book, I find I have a lot more items to play with this time. I really like Manhattans so this year I tried to really think about what flavors I wanted to include in my Manhattan so I would end up with the perfect garnish. I used cherry puree because some of my favorite bourbons have a ripe cherry note to them. I used dry curaçao because I prefer orange bitters to aromatic in my Manhattan. I used New Riff new make rye and Old Grand-dad 114 to give it a flavor that would play nice with the bourbon or rye. I used the spices from the Brandied Cherry Recipe in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book because I thought they would play nice in my drink. 

Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries

Pit one quart of fresh tart cherries. You will need one pound for the recipe and the remainder for the cherry juice. (if you are looking for a cherry pitter, I recommend the OXO Cherry Pitter it works great and isn’t expensive.)

Syrup Ingredients

1 cup cherry “juice" (Puree the remaining pitted tart cherries (about 2/3 pounds) in a blender, run it through a fine mesh screen and add water to the result until it makes 1 cup)

1 cup sugar

Syrup Spices

1 tbsp cinnamon chunks (crushed cinnamon sticks)

1 tbsp Juniper berries

1 tbsp whole Allspice 

1 whole Star Anise (broken up slightly)

Syrup Sprits

2.5 fluid ounce Dry Curaçao 

1.5 fluid ounce New Riff new make rye

4 fluid ounce Bourbon

In a medium sauce pan, combine the cherry juice, the sugar and the spices and bring to a simmer (not a boil). If you want to avoid straining it later, tie the spices up in a piece of cheese cloth so you can fish them out). Once the mixture is at a simmer, let it simmer for 5 minutes to infuse the spices. Then add in your pound of pitted tart cherries. You’re just looking to warm up the cherries not cook them so stir them a few times and pull it from the heat.

At this point the cherries should be well below boiling, but measure it to be sure. Once it is below 160 degrees (don’t want that alcohol boiling off) add your spirits and stir. 

You have a couple choices at this point. If you make a lot of cocktails you can just pack them in a mason jar and pop it into the fridge. If you think you might need it to last longer, you can put them into smaller jars and run it through a hot water bath for five minutes to can it. This is what I did. I ended up with 3 half pint jars to use later and about half a jar of the same size that I can use right away. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Barbecue Sauce made from MB Roland Kentucky Black Dog

Disclaimer: I consider Paul and Merry Beth of MB Roland to be my friends and in my statement of ethics I promised to disclose when I am sharing one of my friend’s products and to only review them when it was truly something I really liked. While there is no review, one of their products does play a featured part in this post.

Minnesota is a cold place. We normally get snow until April. We get cold rains until mid June. And the threat of snow starts coming up sometime between mid September and the end of October. But summer? Summer is grilling season. Sure summer doesn’t last long, but that means that you just need to make the best of it. Every night from the Fourth of July until Labor Day the air in my neighborhood is filled with the smell of someone’s grill. It’s a magical time. 

Last week, I finished the last bottle of barbecue sauce from my last trip to Memphis. There is a barbecue place there that makes a sauce I just love and I stock up every time I drive through. In a pinch it’s available on Amazon, but I got to thinking that it might be fun to make my own. And of course, if I was going to do that, it would probably have to have some whiskey in it.

The idea of a whiskey barbecue sauce is not new. There are a ton of them out on the market. Go into any store and you’ll probably find two or three. The problem is that most of those are very sweet. I personally don’t care for sweet sauces. They just aren’t my thing. I like a sauce with a tad more tangy vinegar in it. Of course the first thing I did was look online. I looked at whiskey based sauces and most of them still looked too sweet. So I took a step back and thought for a minute.

A bourbon based sauce would be sweet to complement the sweetness of the bourbon, but what if I didn’t use bourbon? I started diggging through my whiskey shelves. When I pulled out the MB Roland Kentucky Black Dog I knew I had hit upon something. Black Dog is unaged whiskey distillate. The first step of creating it is to smoke the corn. And that smoke really comes through on the finished product. It is sweet, but hits you with a full head of smoke. I thought that this would be the perfect thing to build my sauce upon. I also grabbed some of their St. Elmo’s Fire, a cinnamon and cayenne flavored spirit to add a little heat.

The first step in making this was to see what it would taste like when I substituted it for bourbon in a whiskey barbecue sauce recipe I had used before and enjoyed. (I like this one from because I really like what making the whiskey reduction does for the sauce.) I tried it and it was pretty tasty. Still too sweet for me, but I could tell I was on the right track.

So then I got down to work and after some delicious trial an error came up with the following.

Black Dog Barbecue Sauce 

Makes about 1 cup of sauce. (All quantities are U.S. Fluid Ounces.)

Start by making the reduction: 

  • 4 oz MB Roland Kentucky Black Dog
  • 1 oz MB Roland St. Elmo’s Fire

In a small sauce pan, bring the spirits to a boil and let reduce. When you are finished you want to have a little over a tablespoon of liquid remaining. Please supervise this step. You are putting flammable liquid over heat and you don’t want it to catch fire. Once you have the reduction finished, remove from heat and add the everything else to the sauce pan.

Everything Else: 

  • 3.5 oz Tomato Ketchup
  • 2 oz MB Roland Kentucky Black Dog
  • 1.67 oz Dark Molasses
  • 0.75 oz Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 0.5 oz MB Roland St. Elmo’s Fire
  • 0.5 oz Worchestershire Sauce
  • 0.5 oz Dijon Mustard
  • 0.5 oz Tomato Sauce
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • Pinch of granulated garlic powder
  • Pinch of granulated onion powder

Stir thoroughly and bring back to a simmer. Let it reduce until it has reached your desired thickness. 

I’m really proud of this one. The sauce is sweet from the MB Roland spirits, ketchup and molasses but tangy from the vinegar and vinegar containing products (ketchup, mustard, Worchestershire, etc). It has just the tiniest touch of spice and enough smoke to play really nicely with meat. 

This was pretty tasty on a burger, but where it really shined was on some pulled pork that we brought home from a local barbecue joint. I’m going to need to head back to Kentucky, I think. My bottle of Black Dog is almost empty. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!

Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries

Door County Wisconsin is famous for it’s cherries. And when my wife and mother-in-law went on a short trip there, I asked them to bring me some back. You see, I had the idea that I wanted to make a yummy garnish for my manhattans and I couldn’t pass this opportunity up.

Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries

Chocolate cherry juice

  • 1 cup 100% cherry juice
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of salt

Bring these ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan. Allow to cool enough to fish out the cinnamon stick (or leave it in if you want more cinnamon influence). 


  • 1 pint Cherries (I used tart cherries because I like tart cherries, if you don't you might want to try sweet)

Pit the cherries while the Chocolate Cherry Juice cools. Pack them into a wide-mouth one pint mason jar. 


  • 1 cup Bourbon or Rye (I used a 50-50 mixture of Buffalo Trace and Sazerac Rye)
  • 1 splash of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Once the Chocolate Cherry Juice has cooled to below 160° or so add the spirits. Mix well and pour over the cherries. You will have too much, reserve the rest for topping up the jar after the Cherries start to absorb it. Store in the refrigerator, shaking occasionally.

These get better with time. I found that after a month the tartness had mellowed and the chocolate and cinnamon had a more subtle influence that integrated better with the other flavors.

Now, I need a manhattan...