In the year 2005 I taught a class on the history of Bourbon at Bellarmine University. In this continuing education class were Jason Brauner and John Morrison. They told me that they were going to open a Bourbon bar and restaurant and wanted to learn all they could about Bourbon and its heritage. About a year later I get a call from Jason and he tells me that they are about to open Bourbons Bistro on Frankfort Avenue and he would like for me to come out and speak to his wait staff for a few hours to teach them a little about Bourbon history. This was in late April 2006, the week before Derby. I came and dragged along Julian Van Winkle when I told him they had some Very Old Fitzgerald open and were pouring it to celebrate the opening the next day. He could not resist that temptation. No one else had a Bourbon Bar in Louisville at this time, though the now defunct Maker’s Mark Lounge was also getting ready to open on Fourth Street Live about the same time. Bourbons Bistro was an original and I have been a fan ever since.
Walking into Bourbons Bistro the first thing you notice the bar made from Barrel Staves and all of the Bourbons on the shelves behind the bar. There are comfortable bar stools at the bar and several “high top” tables in the bar area. The restaurant lies further back in the building, but that would be another review for the future. I am here to review the Bourbon Bar. Sitting at the bar I ask for a Bourbon menu. The front page lists Bourbon Flights. They seven flights with specific themes and brands such as “Wheated Bourbon” with Old Fitzgerald Prime 86 proof, Weller Antique 107 proof and Maker’s Mark 90 proof for $15. The most expensive is the “Big Baller” with Distillers Masterpiece, Pappy Van Winkle 23yo and Elijah Craig 23yo for $200. Of course the customer is invited to create their own flight with the price depending upon the Bourbons chosen by the customer. These flights are one ounce pours and are served in jiggers on a barrel stave tray. Very nice presentation but would be nicer if served in a tasting glass. The “Flights” section of the menu earns the place 2 points in ratings from me – 1 point for having well thought out flights and 1 point for presentation.
Opening the menu and there is the lists of Bourbons, 110 on the menu. The list is done alphabetically but includes proof and age (when applicable) for each brand. The prices range from $7 to $16 on this list, but at the bottom of the list is “But That’s Not All” and invites the customer to ask about Special Bottlings and New Releases. The list contains just their regular release bottlings, so they have more than 110 Bourbons at the bar. Absent from this list are flavored “bourbon” brands. I ask if they have the flavored products and Jason quietly admits they have one because a regular customer likes a cocktail made with the Evan Williams Honey, but it is not on their list. The back page of the menu has the American Whiskeys list that has their ryes, Tennessee, corn and wheat whiskeys. An impressive list in itself with 36 products on the list. The menu earns Bourbons Bistro another 2 points from me – 1 point for completeness and ease of use and 1 point for the reasonable price range. Plenty of options and all under $20 a pour.
I order an Old Grand Dad Bottled-in-Bond neat, a $7 pour. It comes to me in a Glencairn whiskey and the pour is very healthy – at least 2 ounces and maybe a bit more. The bartender just eyeballs the pour without using a pourer tap in the bottle. A glass of water is served on the side. I look around and I am not getting special treatment. The other customers have equally generous pours when served neat and those ordering cocktails seem quite happy with the quality. I am not a cocktail person as I like my Bourbon neat, but the bartender mixes several while I am sitting at the bar and seems to have a wide range of offerings. The Glencairn glass earns them 1 more point and the generous pour earns them 1 more point.
My final requirement for Bourbon Bars is staff training. I have to give Bourbons Bistro 2 points for this as well. I know John and Jason are very knowledgeable and keep their staff trained. I have done several Filson Bourbon Academies at Bourbons Bistro while the Filson Historical Society is being remodeled and there has always been several staff members in attendance. If a member of the wait staff or bar does not know the answer to a question, they will find an answer from someone else working there. I have even received telephone calls from Jason or some other member of Bourbons Bistro staff with particularly hard questions. These people work hard to get the correct knowledge to the customer.
At the end of the day Bourbons Bistro has earned 2 points for their flights menu, 2 points for the rest of the menu, 2 flights for the bourbon pour and 2 points for staff knowledge and training. To this I will add 2 points for atmosphere and customer service. The grand total for Bourbons Bistro Bourbon Bar is 10 points.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl