Westport Whiskey & Wine is a Louisville institution for spirits lovers in the city. It is owned by Chris Zaborowski and his business partner Richard Splan, bur Chris is the more public figure of the two. Chris worked in the spirit industry before investing into a liquor store. He has a strong background in wine and spirits, but American whiskey is his passion. He loves picking single barrel Bourbon or Rye for the store and his palate is very good as witnessed by the fact that these barrel selections usually don’t last long on the shelf.
Zaborowski and Splan have created a liquor store that is special. It carries a wide variety of American whiskey, often carrying small craft brands that cannot be found outside of the immediate region of the distillery. Many of these whiskeys are from places like Tennessee, New York and Texas. They keep the prices very reasonable considering the efforts they have to make to get many of these products on the shelf. I do not begrudge him a fair profit as without making a profit, Westport Whiskey & Wine would go out of business and we would lose this gem of a store. The consumer must remember that the liquor store owner also has to deal with a distributor, who is also making a profit so if a Texas Bourbon cost a few dollars more than it does in Texas, it is not because the owners are making more profit, it is because it costs more to get the product to Kentucky. And I for one like the fact that they are bringing these products into their store and making them available.
Chris has a real passion for education and has developed a tasting room in the store where he often holds classes on wine and spirits. Chris often leads these classes himself but also has a well-educated staff capable of discussing and teaching about wine and spirits. He often brings in distillers to discuss their products as well. A consumer can sign up for the newsletter sent out each week to your email where all of the educational opportunities for the coming week are listed, as well as sales on spirits and wines. These classes cover all types of products from French wine to gin and of course whiskey. The tasting room also has a huge library of whiskeys available to be tasted. Bourbon, Rye and other American spirits are available to the shopper because of the store’s bar license so you can taste a product before purchasing. This includes all of the major brands, but more importantly the new brands from the regional distilleries and independent bottlers.
Chris Zaborowski is a very innovative liquor store owner making it his mission to educate consumers. But he is more than that. He is active in the community in many ways. He is a long time member of The Bourbon Society. When the Society started purchasing barrel selections for its members, Chris allowed the purchase to come through his store without taking a profit. He has since become in charge of the private selections for The Bourbon Society making it possible for The Bourbon Society to purchase barrels that they may not have had access to without the purchasing power of Westport Whiskey & Wine.
Chris is also very active in charitable causes. He is always willing to donate products to worthy causes but he goes beyond that stage. When Silver Tail Distillery had their fire, Chris organized a book and bottle signing event where he donated the profits to a relief fund for the people involved in the fire who had medical bills to pay. He will do similar events for other causes and charities as needed. He has a generous heart and soul.
There are many other fine independent liquor stores in the Louisville area. Party Mart, Old Town, Evergreen and Taste Fine Wine and Bourbon to name a few. They all do educational programs to some extent. They all will invite distillers in to sign bottles and to meet customers. They all add a significant amount of effort to create the growth in Bourbon that we are experiencing today, but Chris Zaborowski has excelled in his efforts. Without people like Chris there would be a huge hole in the spirits industry. Big box stores can offer cheap prices and some offer tasting rooms and bottle signings, but none of them offer the real personal touch offered by the independent liquor store owner such as Chris Zaborowski.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl