I recently was invited to do my Bourbon Country Institute at the Ben Holladay Distillery in Weston, Missouri. They wanted to do a two day event with the first day, Friday, being a class for the staff of the Distillery and their brand ambassadors. The second day, Saturday, I did the class for the public. They were great events.

On Friday I did the class using the following whiskeys for the tastings: Their new make spirit, Copper & Kings American Brandy, The Ben Holladay traditional Bourbon made with rye, the Ben Holladay Red Winter Wheat Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey, George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky, Ben Holladay Single Barrel Bourbon, and Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. The class has four history sessions with a tasting of two spirits after each session. We took a lunch break after the second tasting. There were many excellent questions asked and the class had a good time. 

The second day, we used the same whiskeys but I added a Ben Holladay Barrel Proof Wheat Recipe Bourbon as a blind tasting at the end of the class. There were about 25 students from the local area and a few travelled from Kansas and beyond to come to the class. There were many excellent questions asked and the blind tasting was a very humbling experience for many of the students. 

In the first session, I define Bourbon whiskey and explain that the class tells the story of how these regulations came about. I start by telling of the Whiskey Rebellion and the origin of Bourbon and how I believe it came about as a way to sell Kentucky whiskey to the people in New Orleans by making it taste more like French Brandy. It ends with a tasting of new make whiskey and the American Brandy. The second session discusses the 19th century evolution of Bourbon from James C. Crow, the American Civil War and the conflict between straight whiskey producers and rectifiers. It ends with a tasting of a traditional Bourbon made with rye and a whet recipe Bourbon. We then take a lunch break. 

After lunch, I start the third history session. I discuss the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the “What is Whiskey” question and the rise of the Temperance Movement and Prohibition. We then taste a rye whiskey and a Tennessee whiskey and discuss why they are different from Bourbon. The last history session discusses the era after Prohibition until the modern day. We then taste a single barrel Bourbon and a small batch Bourbon and discuss why they are considered extra premium whiskeys. We end the class with a blind tasting and the Ben Holladay people added a toast with a cocktail. 

I enjoy teaching these classes. The Ben Holladay Distillery staff were excellent hosts for the classes. I was impressed that they closed the distillery for tours on Friday so their tour guides could join the class. I think that a well-educated tour guide will give a better tour. It is also important that your brand ambassadors are well versed on Bourbon history. The class on Saturday also gave them a chance to showcase their products to the public while teaching the public about Bourbon. It was an enjoyable experience for all. I  hope they invite me back to do the class again.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller