Jonathan Maisano is well-informed about American bourbon.
It wasn’t always that way.
Maisano got his start in the food and beverage industry as a fine dining server at the Porter House, which is now known as BR Prime, at the Beau Rivage Casino and Resort well before Hurricane Katrina hit the Coast in 2005.
There, he was intrigued by the large wine cellar but never dreamed he would one day own his own establishment — Maisano’s Fine Wine and Spirits, 1622 Bienville Blvd., Ocean Springs — that could boast 1,300 wines and more than 600 bottles of spirts, many of which are famed American bourbons.
First off, Maisano is an accomplished sommelier, having passed the introductory sommelier examination regulated by The Court of Master Sommeliers. He also is preparing to take the advanced-level sommelier test.
There is, however, a new and growing side to the business that is taking more and more of Maisaon’s time — American bourbon.
He travels to the distilleries, tasting and talking about bourbon just like a sommilier would with wine, to which there are many similarities, including pairing bourbon to foods just as sommliers do with wine.
“I look for similarities in notes (qualities),” Maisano said. “People often ask me what my favorite bourbon is, but I have to answer that question with a few of my own, just to discover that person’s likes and dislikes. Everyone has their personal taste or palate profile. What one person likes isn’t necessarily going to transfer to what another person likes.”
All bourbon is not equal
All bourbon is not great bourbon, and each bourbon is different.
Each barrel stored in the same rack house (the building where bourbon is aged) will be different as the temperature and other conditions vary row by row.
Maisano has progressed to the point where he now visits distilleries, tastes from four to 10 barrels and chooses a single barrel or combines two he likes to make a small batch.
That bourbon is then bottled for Maisano’s and will be found nowhere else. He has selected 18 barrels this year — 16 from Kentucky, one from Canada and one from Colorado.
Bourbon, food pairing
If you are getting the bug and are interested in pairing bourbon and food, Maisano offers a few idea.
Maisano’s Colorado bourbon has oak, dark-chocolate and tobacco overtones. Maisano said it would go particularly well with a chocolate dessert, particularly if it has a hint of citrus.
Other bourbons would go well with braised short ribs, or barbeque.
Southern chef Sean Brock suggests a good bourbon goes well with a sack of boiled peanuts that you bought at that roadside stand.
Bourbon by itself
If you are more interested in the bourbon and not the food pairings, here are a few interesting ideas: You can buy whiskey stones, meant to be frozen and added to drinks that you do not want to dilute.
Some people think of themselves as purists and want their drinks neat, but Maisano insists that a few drops of water can enhance flavors, not detract.
You might also want to invest in a set of Glencairn glasses, the preferred vessel for bourbon drinking.
Maisano’s Fine Wine and Spirits
Where: 1622 Bienville Blvd, Ocean Springs