Back in 2009 I had a friend come into town and visit Churchill Downs during the spring meet. He told me he asked the Bartender what Bourbons they had and was told “We have Crown Royal, Jack Daniels and Early Times”. That is a 0 for 3 answer so he looked and saw they had Woodford Reserve and ordered a Woodford neat. Unfortunately that was not an uncommon experience in Louisville back then Things have gotten better since then. There are more Bourbon bars in the city and these establishments are working to educate their staff about Bourbon. Fortunately there are several option for owners looking to educate their staff about Bourbon.

The Woodford Bourbon Academy is the oldest of the training programs. Chris Morris, Brown-Forman’s Master Distiller, started teaching this six hour course in 2002 at the Woodford Reserve Distillery. The students are led by Morris in a tasting of new make spirits for Old Forester, Early Times, Woodford and Jack Daniels. Chris Morris also leads the class with tastes of Old Forester, Early Times, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniels single barrel. Between all of this tasting of product there is a tour of the distillery and explanations from the Master Distiller as to how and why things are done at Woodford to make their product unique. Chef Ouita Michael furnishes lunch and a short talk on cooking with food and pairing food with Bourbon. Ouita could do a six hour class on these subjects alone. She is a talented chef and an excellent speaker. At the end of the class the student gets a barrelhead diploma. Enrollment in the class is $250 but money well spent for a person who makes their living serving Bourbon.

In 2009 the Filson Bourbon Academy was created with the dual purpose of raising money for the Filson Historical Society and to educate people about Bourbon heritage. It is a seven hour course with four history segments and four tasting segments. The history segments covers the heritage of Bourbon from the first settlers in Kentucky in the 1770s to the 21st century and the Bourbon boom of today. The tasting segments include seven whiskeys with a traditional Bourbon, a wheated Bourbon, a Tennessee whiskey, a Rye whiskey, a Single Barrel Bourbon, a Small Batch Bourbon and a blind tasting. At the end of the class the student gets a certificate showing they completed the class. The cost is $125 but once again well worth it for a person in the service industry.

The most recent education program is the Stave and Thief program from the Distilled Spirits Epicenter. This class focuses mostly on how Bourbon is made and includes some hands on experiences at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter. The class is an all-day event. They have some excellent teachers and the initial certification comes with the ability to take supplementary classes at no cost. The initial class also includes some sensory training, brand awareness and some history. The supplemental classes help strengthen areas of knowledge not covered in the initial class. The cost is $1,000 per student, but that student gets material to train nine other students for the certification. These additional students have to take an on-line exam, but that is the weakness of the program when 90% of the certifications are earned by people taught by students. Even so if these additional student take advantage of the supplemental classes there is great value in this program.

Southern Wine and Spirits has created the Academy of Spirits and will offer training to local workers in the service industry. These classes include many different spirits and other subjects such as sensory training. The Louisville branch of Southern Wine and Spirits recently hosted the Aroma Academy U.S. and the Indianapolis branch recently hosted a Filson Bourbon Academy. It would be well worth a bartender’s time to speak to their local SWS representative to find out what is available in training opportunities.

There are many other educational programs happening in Louisville that local bar workers should take advantage of to further their knowledge. The Bourbon Salon at Oxmoor is a small gathering, but gives the attendees a chance to listen to and ask questions of many people in the industry. The cost is $50 a ticket and only 25 tickets. The Kentucky Derby Museum has a Legends Series where Fred Minnick. A talented spirits writer and journalist, will invite a person from the industry to the museum to be interviewed. The attendees can ask questions of Fred’s guest. The cost is $75 a ticket.

There are many educational opportunities for Bourbon enthusiasts and bar workers in this area. It is well worth the investment for the bar owner to send their employees to these classes and events. The city of Louisville prides itself on its Bourbon and Food scene. It should not be smirched by having a person serving a customer a Bourbon not being able to answer such basic questions as “What Bourbons do you have?”

rick house

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl