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John Lamb, Published May 20 2013

Get acquainted with South’s signature spirit on Fargo Bourbon Tour

FARGO – The Kentucky Bourbon Trail stretches nearly 200 miles in the north-central part of the Bluegrass State, but you don’t have to go that far to sample some of the area’s signature spirits.

The Fargo Bourbon Tour was devised to introduce area drinkers to some of the finer flavors from the South.

And other parts of the country are getting well-acquainted with bourbon. The distilled spirit is the second fastest growing booze, behind only Irish whiskey.

The free tour, organized by Republic National Distributing Company, lined up nine establishments to feature five varieties of the American Whiskey. Most of the watering holes have developed their own twist on a classic cocktail using one of the selected bourbons; Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch, 1792 or Blanton’s.

Tour participants get a card when they order a drink and once they fill it with 10 stamps, two for every brand, they turn it in for a key chain and a chance to win a flat-screen TV, an iPad or an iTunes gift card.

And no, you don’t need to get all of your stamps in one night, the tour runs through July.

With summer rapidly approaching I was feeling a desire to hit the open road and explore new areas. But daunted by the sky-rocketing price of gas, I decided to hoof it on my own local bourbon trek.

My first stop was at Rhombus Guys. Beverage-wise, the pizza place is best known for a wide selection of beers, but just like their pies, they like to get creative.

The Tatanka mixes Buffalo Trace with St. Germain, a liqueur made with elderflower blossoms, DeKuyper Ginger liqueur, fresh lemon and lime and soda water.

With a name like Tatanka (Lakota for a large animal with a big hump on its back, like a moose, but preserved in pop culture for Kevin Costner’s character trying to learn about buffalo in “Dances with Wolves”), I was ready to be knocked over by a powerful drink. It has a kick, but was ultimately more refreshing and sharp, a credit to the ginger. And for $5, the price didn’t floor me either.

Next, I meandered up to The Beefsteak Club. The bar developed five different drinks for the tour, one for each bourbon and I already had my mind set on the Rhubarb Sour.

With muddled rhubarb and sugar, lemon and 2 ounces of Eagle Rare shaken with ice, it sounded like a good summery option.

Unfortunately I couldn’t taste much of the rhubarb and a friend who sampled mine said it wasn’t as tasty as one she had earlier in the week. Still, it was a fine drink for $7, but next time I’ll try the No Soul Bison, again with the Buffalo Trace, but also a dash of bitters, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and muddled lemon and basil.

Mezzaluna also developed a number of specific concoctions, with the Absinthe Brulee Manhattan is the one you want.

Using the absinthe to flame up the martini glass is enough of a showstopper, but the heat brings out the individual flavors of the aromatic and orange bitters. If you order the drink, ask to smell the tiny bottles.

Of the four drinks I tried, this was the best tasting and also the strongest. And at $9.90, also the priciest, but you pay for the good stuff.

Last on my trail was the Radisson’s Level Two bar. Much has been made about the remodeled bar(s) and restaurant and the space was indeed nice. I was looking forward to trying some of their various old fashioneds, like a coffee take or one of the fruity twists, the Only Orange Old Fashioned with an orange simple syrup, or the Bourbon Banana Bird, mixing bourbon with Crème de Banana, triple sec, and cream, shaken together, which sounded so odd, I wanted to try it.

But at least on this night there were some growing pains with the bar. The bartender didn’t know of any specialty drinks for the tour, though the bottles were nicely displayed above the bar.

I settled for a Colonel E.H. Taylor old fashioned, which eased my disappointment fine, but for $8, I would’ve rather tried one of the more distinctive drinks.

Maybe I’ll need to hit this trail again.

Other bars participating in the Fargo Bourbon Tour are The Old Broadway, Labby’s Grill & Bar, Fort Noks Bar of Gold, Empire Tavern, The Bismarck and Labby’s Bar & Grill.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533