File the South’s relationship with alcohol under “It’s Complicated.”
It’s the birthplace of both bourbon and moonshine, and New Orleans is credited with inventing some dozen classic cocktails. But it can also be a place where booze is banned altogether, where even today, dry counties prohibit the sale of alcohol within their borders and Southern Baptists denounce it from the highest level. Though sometimes, it’s all about keeping up with appearances. Such is the case with the Baptist Spike, a three-liquor infusion so named for its rollicking success with the supposed teetotaler set in a Louisville chef’s hometown. John Castro heads the kitchen of Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar, the open-air restaurant inside Bardstown Bourbon Company an hour outside of the city. As such, he frequently finds himself cooking with booze, from meaty fish roasted in hoisin-bourbon glaze to kilt greens tossed with warm rye dressing.
He grew up across the Ohio River from Louisville in Scottsburg, Indiana. Every year in anticipation of the holidays, his mother, Mary, would put up a batch of Baptist Spike: a potent combo of bourbon, brandy, and rum steeped with warming spices. “We grew up Catholic, and, of course, the Catholics drink—we don’t hide it,” Castro laughs. Mary incorporated the Spike into a number of drinks, added it to simple syrup for macerating cakes, and soaked pecans bound for pie in it. Originally printed in a vintage bourbon cookbook as “Kentucky Spike,” she renamed the recipe after seeing her pious friends throw it back during cookie swaps—especially when stirred it into a batch of eggnog. “It was very tongue-in-cheek,” Castro says. “She’d joke that we were the most popular house during the holidays thanks to that eggnog. And of course, it was loaded with liquor. But because it’s opaque and in a glass, not a punch cup, if someone walked in there wasn’t going to be any judgment.” This winter, he’s debuting the infamous infusion at Bottle & Bond, where it’ll take the form of a hot toddy, a cider cocktail, and, of course, eggnog.
Mary would start her holiday batch of Baptist Spike as early as June or July. Castro suggests starting no later than early November, and to expedite the steeping, stow it in a warm part of your house. When it comes to the types of liquor, use whatever brands you prefer, he says. “But as my mother would tell you, ‘don’t use anything really good.’”