‘Bad Girl of Bourbon’

Author and Mixologist Joy Perrine Is Still Mixing Things Up in the Bluegrass State

By Rich Warren

Nowadays, the “Bad Girl of Bourbon” may seem less naughty than she once was.

When Joy Perrine first moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1978, she applied that moniker to herself because she found many residents of the Bluegrass State regarded consuming bourbon any way other than neat or with just a cube of ice as “gilding the lily.” And Perrine wanted to shake things up a little.

In short order, she started doing just that. Having tended bar in the Virgin Islands for several years, she’d found that the rum in that region lent itself to pairings with other sweet flavors. Similarly, she discovered the natural sweetness in bourbon made it a natural to mix with flavors such as maple, orange, and even chocolate. Perrine started creating bourbons infused with blueberry, cranberry, orange, lime, lemon — even candy canes and spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. She started shaking up standard bourbon cocktail recipes, throwing peach into Manhattans, pineapple into Mint Juleps, brown sugar into Old Fashioneds.

This was decades prior to the current cocktail craze when throwing unusual ingredients such as basil or honeydew-infused grappa into a drink has become commonplace. In the late 1980s, when Perrine took the helm at the bar of Equus Restaurant and Jack’s Lounge, her recipes were downright revolutionary. Soon, she started winning awards, at first making a number of “Best of” lists in Louisville. National recognition soon followed for drinks such as her “Bourbonball,” a liquid form of the Kentucky confection using crème de cacao and Tuaca to duplicate the candy’s flavor.

In 2016, Perrine cemented her place in bourbon history when she was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Also that year, Perrine, along with fellow writer Susan Reigler, issued a second volume of unique bourbon cocktail recipes. Entitled simply More Kentucky Bourbon Cocktails, it followed the release in 2009 of the very popular Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, which taught readers how to make such creations as Perrine’s “Dark and Bloody Bourbon Mary” and “The Kentucky Jellybean.”

The sequel to that volume had some new recipes of Perrine’s such as “Devil in a Blue Dress,” named for the blueberry juice and Devil’s Cut bourbon used in it, and the Ginger Snap, mixing ginger syrup, brown-sugar syrup, and lemon juice with bourbon. But with the addition of cocktail recipes served at bars on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, as well as cocktails that have won contests where Perrine and Reigler served as judges, this book acknowledges that radical bourbon cocktails are now the norm in the Derby City. There’s even some bourbon-inspired food recipes thrown in. Why not wash down some Candied Bourbon Bacon Bites with a Kentucky Mojito?

Both of Perrine’s parents and her grandmother were “rum runners” during Prohibition years, so Perrine feels she came by her profession naturally. Growing up in the Atlantic City area, Perrine recalls how her parents had dealings with Nucky Thompson, the notorious racketeer featured in HBO’s popular series “Boardwalk Empire.” She recalls a boat repurposed as a flower planter in their front yard had visible bullet holes in it from when it had been used to pick up offshore illicit cargoes. She even remembers her father removing a bullet from his leg with a fishing knife.

With fall and then the holidays approaching, a number of recipes in Perrine’s two volumes will make flavorful seasonal libations. Pumpkin and cider make tasty combinations with bourbon, and both volumes of Perrine’s cocktail books contain recipes for several kinds of eggnog.

“Just thinking of holiday cocktails makes visions of sugarplums start dancing in my head,” she laughs.

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