A new whiskey produced in Santa Fe honors the rule-breaking frontier icon who ran with Doc Holliday.
Was it that her nose was considered prominent or the fact that she liked getting into people’s business that earned Mary Katherine Horony Cummings the nickname Big Nose Kate? Popular history goes with the former, but the Hungarian-born rule breaker and intimate companion of Doc Holliday wasn’t shy about who she was and what she wanted, sometimes vociferously communicating her strong will under the influence.
It’s in the spirit of the frontier icon’s chutzpah that distiller-blender Melissa Heim has launched a Western-themed whiskey named in her honor.
Big Nose Kate, Heim says, starts with notes of dry sherry and cherry fruit, cereal grain, and oak, and finishes with mellow baking spice for a unique blend with a strong body and rich mouth feel. It’s produced in Santa Fe, where Kate lived for a time and worked in a dance hall.
We talked with Heim about Big Nose Kate — the woman and the whiskey — and got some cocktail recipes to toast all the bold women of the Old West.
Cowboys & Indians: What attracts you to whiskey — not just drinking it but making it?
Melissa Heim: Drinking whiskey and making whiskey requires a cerebral collaboration that satisfies my analytical and instinctual brain. Making whiskey is turning prose into poetry, and drinking it makes you the poet. It’s a great thing.
C&I: What made you choose Santa Fe as a base of operations?
Heim: Two reasons: Santa Fe was the site of Kate’s infamous “dance hall,” so it made sense to bring her namesake spirit to a spirited place from her life. Second, the stars aligned in our favor when seeking options for a premier co-packer. It happened that my friend and veteran distiller, Caley Shoemaker, was in the process of building her own distillery in the center of town. Could not have dreamed a better fit.
C&I: Why did you choose Big Nose Kate as an inspiration and the name of your product?
Heim: Kate is an afterthought in Wild West lore, and she deserves to be a legend. Kate was ahead of her time. She was enigmatic. She outlived all the men whose stories have been told, retold, romanticized, and profited from. It’s well-documented she enjoyed her share of whiskey, and the more I learned about Kate, the more I wanted to share her story. My medium happens to be whiskey.
C&I: Beyond the name honoring a frontier icon, what makes it a “Western” whiskey?
Heim: Great question. A Western whiskey, simply put, is not made in the tradition of Kentucky and Tennessee bourbon and whiskey. It’s boundless. It’s wild. It’s undefined refined. The West was a crossroads of myriad cultures and influences, a melting pot where fascinating new combinations formed constantly. You might think of the Old West itself as an extraordinary and rare “blend.” That’s exactly what this well-traveled whiskey is. And so was Kate, the person.
C&I: What are some of the best ways to drink whiskey besides straight? Favorite recipes? Anything specific to fall and the holidays?
Heim: I’m a nontraditionalist, so I believe the best way to drink whiskey is the way you enjoy it. I do suggest trying whiskey straight before mixing it, so you can familiarize yourself with its smell, flavor, and sensation. To be honest, I rely heavily on the expertise of bartenders and mixologists. They are wizards when it comes to exploiting a brown spirit’s best quality through manipulation. Ask your friendly hospitality professional for suggestions and recommendations because there’s no one-size-fits-all. At home I drink it neat.
Kate is an afterthought in Wild West lore, and she deserves to be a legend. Kate was ahead of her time. She was enigmatic.
C&I: What’s on the whiskey horizon?
Heim: The whiskey industry is primed for a shakeup. Johnnie, Jim, Jack, Elijah, Evan, fathers, brothers, uncles, and granddads have held the spotlight for a long time. Kate deserves a spot on the shelf.
C&I: What’s in your personal whiskey future?
Heim: Whiskey is really versatile. I enjoy a good Sazerac. I like my cocktails savory and will substitute real fruit for sugar and herbs like thyme for mint. In the fall I like to blend whiskey with warming amaros and digestifs to accompany dinner or dessert. A new favorite we developed for Big Nose Kate is called The Straight Flush. The whiskey has wonderful undercurrents of dark fruit and coffee. The amaro and burst of citrus are very complementary as well as satisfying.
1½ ounces Big Nose Kate
¾ ounce Amaro di Angostura
4 dashes orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in a vessel with ice. Stir for 10 seconds. Strain into Nick and Nora glass, and garnish with orange peel.
The Baddest Bird
Big Nose Kate resident mixologist, Aaron Howard, concocted a lovely, moody nightcap they’re calling the Baddest Bird. Whiskey and fruit are a winning combo.
2 ounces Big Nose Kate
¼ ounce Cassis (we like Clear Creek)
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir 15 seconds. Strain into coupe or rocks glass.
Big Nose Kate, bottled at 90 proof, is priced at $38.99 per 750 ml bottle. Visit bignosekate.co.