Nearly everyone who’s tasted bourbon either likes it or they don’t.
Fans likely enjoyed it from the start, even if gulped from shot glasses at a fraternity party. Their palates were preconditioned to enjoy “the brown” and its flavors of charred wood, vanilla, corn and honey. As they grew older and graduated to the good stuff, their fondness for it only deepened.
Regardless of where they stand, bourbon lovers and haters alike always can learn more about the spirit — especially haters willing to try it again.
Colleen Rice, marketing director for the Distilled Spirits Epicenter (DSE), said conversion to bourbon isn’t unusual when people learn the nuances of what they’re tasting. That helps the mind attach meaning to what the tongue is telling it.
“Just learning about the different flavors you can pull out of it and recognize when you drink it really opens up people’s minds,” said Rice. “Now I’m thinking about what I’m drinking and I’m looking for this and this or that flavor. It really starts to make sense.”
To better facilitate that connection between mouth and mind, DSE is hosting a class this Saturday named Why Rye? Choosing the Right Bourbon for the Perfect Cocktail. The two-hour session will be led by Albert Schmid, bourbon geek and beverage management chair professor at Sullivan University. He also authored the book, “The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to The Original Whiskey Cocktail.”
Schmid will dabble some in whiskey history, address bourbon nuances and how to recognize them, and share cocktails made by guest bartender, Joy Perrine of Equus, who authored her own work, “The Bourbon Cocktail Book.”
If you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal about bourbon lately? That’s what the drunks drank when I was a kid,” that’s a fair question. It wasn’t that long ago that many representations of Kentucky’s native spirit were just plain awful. So bad, in fact, that about a century ago, bourbon’s all-out lameness gave life to the Old Fashioned, which relied on a combination of sugar, bitters, cherry and orange to cover up the bad booze.
As bourbon quality began improving markedly about a half century ago, whiskey fans started returning to it not only for cocktails, but to drink it straight.
“People also were realizing they could get high quality bourbon at a fraction of a price of high quality Scotch,” Schmid said. As premium and super-premium bourbons came onto the scene in the 1990s, bourbon moved from has-been to happening. “Today, the bourbon being produced is better than it’s ever been, and people know it. It’s amazingly popular.”
But often misunderstood, Schmid said, hence the need for more education, especially among Baby Boomers who remember its low regard on the bar. Gen-Xers and Millenials are growing up knowing it’s good.
“The reason why you take a class like this is it’s a shortcut to the truth,” Schmid said. Tuition for the session is $59. “You get the right information presented in a way that makes sense.”
Schmid said that means understanding the spirit first by itself, which opens the drinker’s mind to cocktail possibilities.
Louisville-based whiskey writer Fred Minnick said bourbon drinkers now enjoy variety as much as drinking it straight. Classes like this one, he added, shouldn’t be missed.
“If you like bourbon and are serious about enhancing your knowledge of it, you want to learn all you can about the different styles,” Minnick said. “With each different style you get bourbons that work better than others in many different cocktails.”
Minnick said the only negative byproduct of bourbon’s renaissance is some drinkers’ tendency to be snoots about brands or proofs or how to consume it.
“There’s no wrong way to drink bourbon; you drink it however you like it,” said Minnick. Unlike many winemakers who insist on telling drinkers how to serve their wines and pair them with foods, Minnick said bourbon distillers let consumers make those decisions. “The bourbon community says to drinkers, ‘Let us tell you how it’s made, and then you decide how to drink it.’ That makes drinking it much more fun.”
Want to go to the class? You must reserve your seat by calling 502-301-8126 or signing up online at www.moonshineuniversity.com. The Distilled Spirits Epicenter is located at 801 S. 8th St.