Heather Wibbels, Whiskey Mixologist and Content Creator at CocktailContessa.com

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF:

I came to cocktails backwards. Most whiskey drinkers start with cocktails and move into sipping neat once they discover how delicious bourbon can be on its own. I started sipping neat and moved into cocktails after winning the Bourbon Women Not Your Pink Drink Cocktail Contest three years in a row (they asked me to be a judge after the third year). I am fascinated with taking classic cocktails and creating unexpected variations on them by infusing syrups or spirits or changing the base spirit of a cocktail. Lately, I’m obsessed with agave spirits and mezcal after a summer trip to Mexico. But bourbon will always be my first love - I consider it my calling to introduce more people to whiskey via cocktails. My bio: Heather Wibbels, Cocktail Contessa, is a digital content creator and Chair of the Bourbon Women Board of Directors. She likes to say she creates whiskey drinkers one cocktail at a time via her site www.cocktailcontessa.com . With her home base in Louisville, KY, and some of the top whiskey bars and distilleries in the world in her backyard, she’s drawn to experimenting with classic cocktails in unassuming ways to deliver great taste in approachable ways. You can find her cocktails and photos in The Bourbon Review, Bourbon+, Drinkhacker, The Manual, Alcohol Professor, American Whiskey Magazine, Whiskey and Relish, Food and Dining, and more. She’s also had recipes included in More Kentucky Bourbon Cocktails and Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon? She keeps busy slinging cocktails at home right now but focuses on creating digital content for her clients that include original recipes, tweaks on classic cocktails, and spirits photography. Her first cocktail book, Bourbon is My Comfort Food: The Bourbon Women Guide to Fantastic Cocktails at Home is scheduled for release in the spring of 2022. While she focused on whiskey in the past, that’s largely due to the huge size of her bourbon collection. Don’t worry, she’s adding gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, and more to her bar.
 

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT PROJECTS?

I’m most excited about my bourbon cocktail book coming out next spring called Bourbon is My Comfort Food: The Bourbon Women Guide to Fantastic Cocktails at Home. It’s a collection of recipes from myself, Bourbon Women leadership and members across the country designed to make bourbon cocktails at home fun and approachable. I even include cocktail labs to help readers evaluate their creations, experiment with flavors and explore bourbon in new ways with different flavors. I’m also creating cocktail content for local and national magazines for both print and digital publications, and I’m always creating fun and approachable cocktails for my own website, https://www.cocktailcontessa.com and my social media channels.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE RECIPE YOU HAVE COME UP WITH USING AN ACC PRODUCT? WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND IT? 

For the 5 by 5 I wanted to make a cocktail with tropical notes and use bourbon instead of rum or tequila. So many times we leave whiskey out of the mix with summer cocktails, but bourbon and whiskey thrive in summer sours. They’ve got enough punch with flavor and proof to stay present in the drink, but can also blend beautifully with the most common tropical flavors like mango, pineapple, and coconut. Because they’re less sweet than rum, they’re also a good option for drinkers who prefer their drinks a little drier. So I’ve bolstered the mango from the ACC mix with both passionfruit flavors and the caramel/vanilla notes from the bourbon. A pinch of chili lime and little acid from the lime juice turn this into a tropical-themed highball that can be far too easy to sip on a hot afternoon. This isn’t a cocktail that presents the bourbon flavors first - it’s one that eases you into the bourbon taste. The recipe: "The hot weather is here and a refreshing, tropical bourbon cocktail gives us all the feels for celebrating America’s Native Spirit in a fun and tropical way. While rum and tequila seem to have all the fun with mango and tropical fruits, here bourbon’s vanilla and caramel notes create a light and easy collins riff that’s perfect for summer’s steamy afternoons. A bit of chili lime seasoning in the drink adds a touch of complexity without overwhelming the mango juice blend. 5 by 5 1.5 oz 100 proof bourbon 1 oz Mexican Mango fruit blend ½ oz lime juice 3-4 oz passionfruit seltzer Chili lime seasoning Garnish: pineapple chip and lime wheel Add bourbon, lime juice, mango fruit blend, and a pinch of chili lime to a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake briefly, 10-12 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass rimmed with chili lime and filled with ice. Top with seltzer and enjoy." I also came up with a Kentucky Margarita with the Smokin’ Marg mix that was fantastic. The only issue was that even with a strong, aggressive I lost some of the whiskey flavor in the cocktail. It was spicy and smoky in a fabulous way. Using bourbon instead of the traditional tequila in Margarita gave the cocktail an absolutely lovely finish. Kentucky Marg 1.5 oz 100 proof bourbon 1.5 oz Smokin’ Margarita Mix Dash of chili lime seasoning 2 dashes chocolate spiced bitters Top off with passionfruit seltzer if you like a lighter Margarita experience.

WHEN YOU ARE COMING UP WITH NEW DISHES OR DRINKS, DO YOU HAVE A SOURCE(S) FOR INSPIRATION?

Food and flavors inspire me. Oftentimes I’ll see an idea on another account or have a meal or dessert where the flavors meld perfectly and I want to recreate that combination in cocktail form. I’ll often browse cocktail menus or dessert menus online to see what kinds of combinations are doing well out in the wild. But I know that each palate is different. Every single person comes to a cocktail with their own flavor preferences, their own palate sensitivity, and their own aversions. Something I create may be fantastic for me, but too bitter or sour for someone else. Part of the fun of cocktails is tweaking them for a particular palate or occasion. Many times, especially with bourbon and rum drinks, the hardest part is deciding which whiskey or rum to use. They are so varied both in flavor and proof, that changing out the bourbon you use can drastically alter the balance and flavors in the cocktail. I’m often using my nose to evaluate possible matches. If things smell good together, chances are they’ll taste good together. And sometimes I play cocktail roulette. I close my eyes and reach into the refrigerator and use whatever ingredient I pull from the fridge in a cocktail. Thankfully I have avoided the ranch dressing so far.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT OR BAR, WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK DO YOU RECOMMEND IT, AND WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE CAN A VISITOR EXPECT?

In LA, my musts are Joan's On Third for a power breakfast (and, the best omelet on the planet), El Coyote for a relaxed Sunday afternoon lunch, Spago Beverly Hills for the brown butter ravioli, Jon & Vinny's for the Ham & Yeezy pizza and Gem Lettuce salad with Chile dressing & breadcrumbs, Magnolia Bakery for banana pudding and cupcakes for everyday desserts, and Hansen's Cakes for birthday cakes (and, half-birthday cakes, if you ask me, because I find celebrating whenever we can to be essential - especially in these times!)

WHAT INFO ABOUT COCKTAILS DO MOST PEOPLE MAKING DRINKS AT HOME NOT KNOW THAT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO THEM?

Use good, quality base spirits that you enjoy sipping neat. Don’t relegate your least favorite spirits to cocktails. If you don’t enjoy it on its own, you’ll likely dislike the cocktails you make from it as well. I hear whiskey drinkers say they’ll make cocktails with a bottle they don’t enjoy neat. But I’d rather they traded it out for something they loved and use a great whiskey to make a fantastic cocktail. The spirit doesn’t have to be expensive, just good quality. Get a hand-held latte whisk to make foamy sours. Shake the cocktail as usual with the eqq white or aquafaba, then strain into a mixing glass or shaker and use the latte whisk on it for 10-15 seconds to build up a lovely pillow of foam. Finally, use a jigger to measure. Cocktails are based on ratios and amounts. If you don't measure the first time you make a great cocktail you'll never be able to recreate it!

 

FAVORITE ACC FLAVOR?

Smokin' Margarita

ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE? 

Head to my website or Instagram channel for more cocktails (especially whiskey cocktails) I’d love to invite any woman interested in bourbon and whiskey to check out https://www.bourbonwomen.org - we’re a nationwide group dedicated to spreading the love of bourbon and bourbon culture to others. Whether it’s a tasting with a master distillery or a class on bourbon food pairings or cocktails, we love to learn and sip at the same time. And sipping on whiskey in a room full of women is one of the most empowering moments you’ll ever experience.

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