For Ramona Jackson, the Bourbon Bohemian, the interplay of whiskey flavors with cocktail elements is a palate to paint with, and her cocktail business thrives with unusual and compelling flavor combinations. Read more about her journey as the Bourbon Bohemian below. You can find her online (and peruse her amazing cocktail kits) at https://thebourbonbohemian.com/ or on Instagram at @thebourbonbohemain
BW: Tell us about your name, The Bourbon Bohemian, and your business? How did you come up with the name Bourbon Bohemian and tell us more about the origins of your business?
RJ: The name came before the business, over dinner with @joknowsfood and Chef AJ Binion at Noona Steakhouse in Duluth back in Sep 2019. We were blown away by the kimchi collard greens and somehow got on the discussion of my love for turning ethnic cuisine into whiskey cocktails. I went home and turned the potlikker into a whiskey cocktail that my husband the non-drinker loved. It would be another year before the pandemic afforded me the time and space to experiment more consistently for others outside of our once normal house parties. One small paid gathering after another turned into virtual experiences for businesses and eventually a monthly subscription program. The Bourbon Bohemian the business has now been operating for almost 2 years.
BW: You take inspiration from flavors of different cultures and places, it seems. Can you talk about pairing those flavors with spirits and especially whiskey to make great cocktails?
RJ: Whiskey is such a complex spirit from a flavor perspective, it stands to reason that you’d need equally complex flavors to be able to hold their own with whiskey in a cocktail. Even the color of whiskey doesn’t afford you the same visual liberties with cocktails as pisco or cachaca. So having first been a lover of cigars and scotch whisky, global cuisine-inspired whiskey cocktails wasn’t a far leap for me, having an affinity for more robust and peculiar sensory experiences than your average drinker. So I’m always traveling, trying new things, cooking, and exploring cultures through a different lens because my mind immediately goes to “Could this be a cocktail?”
BW: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced starting this business and on your journey as an entrepreneur?
RJ: Working full time in tech and never having been an entrepreneur, there’s so much that I just don’t know. Coupled with the fact that I’m hyper-sensitive to following the rules of business (licensing, safety, etc) where I definitely don’t follow the rules for cocktails, I find myself frustrated oftentimes with a corporate mentality for what really is a small scale hobby business. And the other big challenge more recently has been adjusting everything that worked in a virtual first society to tactics and offerings more geared towards in person. But I’ve definitely learned a lot about entrepreneurship and the domain in general that has made this an amazing journey. And I hope to continue for years to come, even if it looks very different than how I started.
BW: What advice do you have for women looking to start a business in the cocktail or spirits industry? Are there any lessons you learned along the way that surprised you?
RJ: My single piece of advice is to research everything and execute a few things. Always assuming that I know nothing keeps me open to discovering the best way to go about this whole process. I see a lot of people who operate under a ton of unvalidated assumptions and they struggle because of it. Ask questions. Meet people. Leverage free resources. And have a plan based on facts/data. And once you’ve done your due diligence (spend at least 3 months doing this and covering most of your bases), just do it. Pick 1 or 2 main things you want to accomplish and hyper-focus. Finish what you start and evaluate what went well, what you can improve, and what needs to be sunset. There’s more science to art than I think a lot of creatives anticipate. Lean on others but remember if you fail to plan you plan to fail.
BW: Are there strengths to being a woman in the industry that you celebrate?
RJ: Women are absolutely incredible at having perspective. We have extrasensory perception when it comes to our purpose, our customers, and the surrounding context that may affect either. I use that power of observation and critical thinking to validate my assumptions and make data-informed decisions for my business and even my cocktails. I call it my mental flavor bible. It allows me to craft a cocktail and accompanying story in its entirety mentally. Not one dime is spent on R&D until I’ve settled on a country, cuisine, flavor profile, garnish, and personal story. That process has revolutionized the minimal time I have left after my full-time gig, marriage, parenting, friendships, self-care, etc so that once I get going I can knock off as much as possible. That thoughtfulness and ability to see what others often cannot see I believe is the superpower of women.
BW: What are the most unique flavor pairings you’ve experienced lately, and where do you get your inspiration for cocktails – specifically whiskey ones?
RJ: Argentinian chimichurri simple with passionfruit juice was definitely a unique flavor pairing. But my recent Bridgerton series of cocktails featured a shiraz, blackberry, rose and vanilla cocktail with whiskey that was divine. Something about the red wine and whiskey played off of one another and allowed for the more delicate flavors to peek through. But I’d have to say my Advieh Berenj (Persian rice spice) simple and pistachio bitters are my favorite flavor pairing with whiskey with a little aquafaba. It’s creamy, savory, nutty, and just really mind-blowing. Layering flavors is really my favorite part of the game of cocktails. There’s so much you can do and I feel like a really interesting cocktail has the power to activate parts of your brain that other things just can’t.
BW: What are your favorite bitters, mixers, and liqueurs you’re loving and working with right now?
RJ: I make all of my own bitters and simples but when I do incorporate mixers I lean towards quirky teas like lapsang souchong, cactus/aloe water or vegetable juices. All of them add a dimension that most teas and juices don’t and are a good sub for liqueurs when it comes to packaging cocktail kits for shipment. Otherwise, I love Velvet Falernum, Rice Wine, Barrows Intense Ginger, and Spiritless Horse’s Kick Ginger Syrup. Either it has to be some intense flavor to play up a smoother whiskey or a soft modifier to mellow a Rye. Balance is key and citrus doesn’t always have to be the balancer, although it helps. I’m looking forward to experimenting with more liqueurs as I transition to in-person events and learning more in general about the space.
BW: Can you tell us what your favorite whiskey weekend activities would be in Atlanta?
RJ: Wow the list is quite possibly endless. Whiskey Project. Garden & Gun. Local Three. Rowdy Tiger. And of the myriad of speakeasies. Eleanors. GA Chapter Room. Three Dollar Cafe. The James Room. JoJos. There’s definitely a little bit of whiskey wonderland in and around the Atlanta metro. Recently tried the smoked cocktails at Macs in Marietta and was blown away. Although my journey really began at home entertaining. So that is really where my heart is. Dinner parties. Adult field days. Picnics. Live outdoor music. Anything to be an excuse for me to batch up an experiment and share with friends new and old. Because that’s all whiskey really is, a gift shared in many forms over many things with one singular objective. Bring us all together.