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Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Lisa Roper Wicker

When Widow Jane Distillery opened in Brooklyn, New York, I thought the whiskey they were bottling was average at best. Then the distillery and brand were sold to Samson and Surrey and they hired Lisa Roper Wicker as their president and distiller. In 2019, right after Lisa was hired, we visited the distillery. They were making chocolate and whiskey and the tour was more about the chocolate production than the whiskey. Lisa was not there at the time we took the tour and we were disappointed with the tour for many reasons, but mostly because we were not interested in the chocolate production. In the spring of 2022, we returned to visit the distillery. The chocolate production is gone and the emphasis is on the distillery, as it should be. The whiskey we tasted was excellent. Even the one year old Baby Jane, distilled by Lisa is very good. The distillery has made a great improvement with their tour, tasting room and quality of whiskey being made.

Lisa started in the wine industry. She was then hired by Steve Beam at Limestone Branch Distillery and proved her ability to blend good whiskey when she led the development of their Moon Pie Moonshine. This product paid the bills for Limestone Branch Distillery for several years. Unfortunately, when Steve joined the Luxco Distillery, Lisa was let go by Limestone Branch Distillery as Luxco had someone else they wanted in her position at Limestone Branch Distillery. I think that this was a blessing in disguise for Lisa. She worked briefly at Starlight Distillery in Indiana and then at Preservation Distillery in Bardstown before going independent as a consultant for a while. Then she was hired by Samson and Surrey. My friends were favorably impressed.

Samson and Surrey placed her at the Widow Jane Distillery as the distiller. Lisa had a lot of sourced barrels to work with and she used her skills as a blender at greatly improve the quality of the whiskey being sold by that distillery. She also became their number one brand ambassador for the brand. I invited her to speak at my BARDS (Bourbon And Rye Drinkers Society) meeting and she convinced the members, who remembered the old, inferior Widow Jane products, that they need to give the brand another taste. 

Widow Jane Distillery has a very small production but it is expanding under Lisa’s leadership. Samson and Surrey was recently purchased by Heaven Hill and the additional funds to be provided are making the expansion possible. It will also make distribution easier outside of New York. Lisa is distilling excellent whiskey at Widow Jane. As I mentioned, the Baby Jane Bourbon is only one year old and sold only in New York, but it is of excellent quality. I am looking forward to seeing whiskey made by Lisa at an older age and available in Kentucky. 

Lisa is overseeing the planting of the Baby Jane corn in New York and Kentucky for Widow Jane Bourbon. She is quick to lay to rest the story created by the original owner that the water used is from the Widow Jane mine in New York. The water is from the same watershed as the mine, but not from the mine itself. She believes that the distillery needs to be open as to what they are doing and honest in their facts. She has changed the culture of the distillery as well as their distilling process.

Lisa Roper Wicker is proof that one person can make a difference at a distillery. She is quick to say that she could not have done this without the support of the people at Samson and Surrey and her team at Widow Jane, but she is the person that led the way to a greater product being sold in a more honest way. This is why I believe that she is indeed, an unsung hero of the Bourbon industry.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Rosemary Miller

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Jane Bowie And The Innovation Teams

I have been saying for years that the established Kentucky distilleries should not be resting on their laurels when it comes to innovations with their whiskeys. There are many new distilleries in other states, and even in Kentucky, that are trying new things with their whiskey and they are they are producing remarkable products. Closer to home, I am glad to say that Maker’s Mark has an excellent innovation team led by Jane Bowie.

Jane Bowie is a relative new-comer to the industry – she has worked in the business fourteen years. She started with Maker’s Mark in 2007 as a Global Brand Ambassador. She spent a lot of time in Europe traveling to new markets and was based in Great Britain for four years. In 2012, she returned to Kentucky. In 2014, she became the Director of Innovation and Master of Maturation for Maker’s Mark. She was in Europe when Maker’s 46 came out so she was not part of developing that whiskey, but her first project was the cask strength. She then worked with Diane Rogers and Rob Samuels to create the Barrel Select product line of Maker’s Mark.

The year 2015 was the pilot program for the Barrel Select Maker’s Mark. I was fortunate enough to do a couple of picks that year – with Party Mart and Jack Rose. That was the first time I met Jane and had a chance to talk with her. I was immediately impressed with her knowledge and passion for the project. The barrel select whiskey is made by taking a barrel of mature Maker’s Mark and placing ten additional staves in the barrel to further enhance the flavor of the whiskey. I admit that I have always been skeptical of whiskey where wood chips were added to the barrel to give the whiskey more wood flavor, but talking with Jane and seeing how this was different from what others have done, I became a fan. 

Jane is very good at educating people as to what these staves do while they are in the barrel. She admits that it is not an exact science, but nothing about making Bourbon is. There are too many variables to know exactly what is going to happen to that whiskey and Jane states she learns something new every day as a result of those variables. She believes that is what keeps her job interesting and fun.

Jane and her team also are responsible for completing the Barrel Entry Proof Project and getting the barrels bottled for the public distribution. These are barrels of Maker’s Mark that were distilled on the same day eight years ago. They had barrel entry proofs of 110, 115, 120 and 125. The project was to show how raising the barrel entry proof would change Maker’s Mark. Once the project was completed, some people at Maker’s Mark wanted to add these barrels into the dumps for Maker’s Mark, but the Innovation team talked them into releasing them as individual bottles so the Maker’s Mark drinkers could see for themselves how the entry proof changes the whiskey. I will say that the 110 entry proof does make a big difference and the eight year old whiskey in this project is as good as anything that was ever made at Stitzel-Weller. I am glad it did not get mixed into the standard bottles of Maker’s Mark.

Jane told me she loves her job. She says that she works “with beautiful people at a beautiful place”. Going to work is a pleasure. She is proud that she shares the title of “Master of Maturation” with people at other distilleries such as Andrea Wilson at Michter’s. Working with Bill and Rob Samuels is another fun part of her job. I can see why; Bill is always interesting to talk to and to learn from and Rob is quickly becoming another leader in the industry.

Innovation is what is going to keep Kentucky as a leader in the whiskey industry. Traditional brands will always be the main products produced at the distilleries, but new and innovative products will keep the consumer interest. Jane Bowie and her Innovation Team are leading the way to the future.

Photos Courtesy of Janie Bowie and Rosemary Miller

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – The Quality Control Department

Back in 1992, when I was hired full time by United Distillers as their archivist in North America, I was fortunate enough to become involved with the Quality Control Department at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. That is where I met Mike Wright, the head of Quality Control at Stitzel-Weller. They were running tests on samples from every barrel at Stitzel-Weller. There was a trailer set up and everyday employees were invited in to nose and examine 10 samples of whiskey representing 10 barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouse. This program was led by Mike Wright and the quality control team. Their job was to make sure that no bad whiskey made it into the bottle.

The effort made by this Quality Control team is part of the reason that Stitzel-Weller whiskey enjoys its great reputation. Believe me, there were bad barrels of whiskey that ultimately ended up being sold for re-distillation into alcohol for the fuel industry. Occasionally there were some barrels that had a bad acetate or sulfurous, rotten egg odors and tastes or others that were musty smelling and tasting. Mike Wright was looking for people who could distinguish these odors and I was fairly good at it, but there were many people who were very sensitive to these aromas. Those were the people that Mike wanted to come visit the trailer and help with the survey of barrels. It is the most important part of quality control to catch bad barrels of whiskey before they are bottled.

I asked Mike Wright as to what caused these problems. With musty whiskey, it is usually caused by either grain that has gotten wet and became musty or barrels that have become wet in the warehouse and picked up a moldy, musty odor. The first reason is the responsibility of the Quality Control crew as they test the grain as it is brought to the distillery. They do several tests on samples pulled from the truck delivering the grain. These tests are made before the grain is accepted to be unloaded. The tests include simply smelling the sample, then heating the grain in a microwave and smelling it again. They also test for moisture content. If the grain fails any of these tests, it is rejected. The second cause of must is usually caused by a broken window or a leaky roof in the barrel warehouse. There are some distilleries that are located along a river and get flooded in the warehouses. Those problems can cause musty whiskey.

The other odors and tastes such as sulfur and acetate are usually caused by bacteria infection during fermentation. Once again, Quality Control works hard to detect such infections before it is distilled. If caught early enough, the mash can be treated to prevent problems. These tests are chemical analysis and sensory tests of the fermenting mash. The human nose is often the best tool for detecting these problems and that is one reason I have never met a quality control member that did not have an excellent nose for whiskey.

Even after the whiskey is dumped from the barrel and readied for bottling, the quality control team works hard to match the brand’s flavor profile by blending different barrels together in the batch. These barrels will come from different floors of the same warehouse, different warehouses at the distillery, or in some cases different warehouses from other sites owned by the distillery, and barrels of different ages. Once the flavor profile is achieved, the random bottles will be tested after bottling to make sure nothing happened to contaminate the whiskey during the bottling process. An uncleaned line can mess up many bottles of whiskey in the bottling process.

The next time you enjoy a bottle of your favorite brand of whiskey, think about the work done by the Quality Control staff at the distillery. If it is the flavor profile you expected, and free of off-odors and must, they have done their job correctly. This staff may be dozens of people at a large distillery, or simply one person at the small, artisan distilleries, but they are all heroes who should be respected, for, without them, there would be a lot of bad whiskey put into the bottle.

Photos Courtesy of Michter’s Distillery

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Gary Crunkleton

If you have ever met Gary Crunkleton, then you know why he is a great bar owner. He is very friendly, extremely knowledgeable about the spirits industry, and hires, trains and retains staff that also possess these qualities. His accomplishments have come despite the handicap that his establishments are located in North Carolina – a control state with limited choices when it comes to purchasing spirits for a bar. Gary’s original location is in Chapel Hill but just in the past year opened a second location in Charlotte, N.C. The difference between the second location and the original The Crunkleton is that the Charlotte location also serves food. Otherwise, you will find the staff to be just as friendly and knowledgeable as the staff at the Chapel Hill bar

So why is Gary Crunkleton one of my “Unsung Heroes”? There are many friendly and knowledgeable bar owners in the United States. Gary is a pioneer in the bar industry. For many years, Bill Thomas and his Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. was unique because a customer could go into the bar and purchase a pour from an old bottle of whiskey, some as old as 100 years, for a price. Jack Rose Dining Saloon could do this due to the fact that Washington, D.C. had no State liquor laws that required bars to get all of their spirits from a distributor. Gary saw this and wanted to do the same at his Chapel Hill bar. So Gary hired some lawyers, talked to his State Representative and Senator and started to work to get the North Carolina law changed to allow him to serve pours from old bottles. It took years to do, but he did it. He worked out a bill that was fair to the bar owners and still allowed the State to collect their taxes on the spirits. By doing so he  not only helped himself, but all other bar owners in the State of North Carolina who wished to do the same and also showed owners in other States, including Kentucky, that it could be done. Since then Kentucky has passed a similar law and bars in Kentucky like Bourbons Bistro and The Silver Dollar benefit from the change in the law.

Gary started with a large collection of old whiskeys ranging in age from Prohibition era pints to 4/5 quarts from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. He invited me out to The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill in February 2016 to be there when he opened his first bottles to sell at the bar. There was a fairly large group of his customers there and I discussed the heritage of the bottles Gary was opening that first night. It was a great event. I was also impressed with not only choices of old bottles, but also the price. Gary charged a price that was based upon what he paid for the bottle so that he would make a profit, but the fact is he could have been charging a lot more for pours from those bottles. That is the type of person Gary is – a generous businessman who makes a profit, but it is a fair profit. He would never dream of gouging his customers’ wallets.

The Charlotte, N.C. location also sells pours from old bottles. The prices there are also very reasonable. The plan is to do the same at any other locations that they decide to open a new The Crunkleton. That means he will have to pick locations that either have already adopted a similar law or work to get the State to allow pours from old bottles. All I have to say is that Kentucky already has such a law and I would love to see Gary and his partners open a place in Kentucky. If not in Louisville, then how about Bardstown or Owensboro?

Gary Crunkleton is an Unsung Hero of the Bourbon Industry. He keeps a very good bar and worked hard to get the North Carolina State law changed to allow the sale of pours from old bottles in bars. He is a trailblazer that has shown bar owners in other States it can be done.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Ted Huber And Farm Distilling

Farm Distilleries were common before Prohibition. The excise tax on distilled spirits made them less common after the American Civil War, but they continued to exist up to the beginning of Prohibition. With Repeal came stricter regulations and it became financially unfeasible for farmers to do legal distillation. With the changes in laws starting with deregulation of the industry in the 1980s, distilling spirits on the farm once again became something that was possible. There are a growing number of farm distilleries in the United States and I could have picked other families as the unsung hero for this article, but I chose Ted Huber and the Huber family because I feel they are a shining example of the farm distilling movement.

Those living in the Louisville area are familiar with Huber Farm and Orchard. They are the place where a short trip into Southern Indiana can get you fresh strawberries, peaches and other produce as well pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees for the holidays. They are a local institution that has been around for generations. In fact, the Huber family purchased their land in Southern Indiana almost 175 years ago. The family came from Germany where they had owned a farm, vineyard and distillery for seven generations, making wine and brandy. It was only natural for the family to do the same once they came to America. They have been in America now for another seven generations and making wine and brandy with the exception of Prohibition and the years following that dreadful chapter in American history.

Six of the seven American generations have been distillers but credit must be given to Carl T. Huber, the generation that kept the family farm going and turned it into a profitable venture during prohibition and the years that followed that dry era. In the early 1970s they started to make wine again as Indiana laws were changed to allow them to do so. Within a few decades, laws again changed and they started to make brandy and they are now making whiskey. They have two different distillery licenses and two different operations as the Brandy and Whiskey operations are separate productions at the Starlight distilleries.

Ted Huber is the sixth generation of this American farmer family. His sons are joining the business as the seventh. Ted grew up with the wine production part of the business and led the efforts to create first a brandy distillery and then a whiskey distillery on the family farm. His history in viniculture has influenced his distilling operations. His still houses are kept very clean and he prefers sweet mash whiskey over sour mash because he feels it gives him better control of the resulting spirit.

He is also very knowledgeable about the effects of the barrel on the final product. He looks at barrels as a wine maker looks at barrels. He is always experimenting with barrels to get the best result. Currently he has been doing an experiment with char levels, as well as experiments with the level of toast not only on the staves, but also the heads. Having tasted some of these experiments I was amazed at just how much these experiments with the heads change the flavor of the whiskey. You will never see palletized barrels at Starlight Distillery warehouses! Ted has even gone so far as to take some oak trees at the farm and cut them down, made barrel staves, air dried them for years and had a cooper make them into barrels. Ted loves his cooperage experiments and they are paying off by giving the local market some fine spirits.

Ted in addition is not afraid to play around with grains. He grows his own corn and rye on the farm. He is experimenting with several heirloom varieties of corn. He also has a deal with an Indiana Malthouse to provide him not only with different styles of barley malt, but they will also malt grain to his specification. He has discussed a rye he had malted with some of it done as chocolate malt. He has two mash bills for his Bourbon with one being barely legal with 51-53% corn, 20% rye, 20% barely malt and 7-9% wheat (also grown on the farm). The other mash bill is 58-60% corn, 20% rye and 20% malt.

Ted also likes to play with beer malts in his whiskey. The person he hired as his whiskey distiller came from a local brewery and is very knowledgeable about the different malts and how these malts effect the flavor of the beer. For now these experiments are special bottlings that can only be purchased at the distillery and they are not frequent releases. However he is releasing a rye whiskey made with 20% chocolate malt later this year. I was fortunate enough to taste this whiskey when he brought some to a meeting of The Bourbon Society and I think it is excellent.

The Huber family has a business that includes a produce farm, a winery and two distilleries. The whole family is involved as Ted’s wife Dana is involved in marketing and promotions of the business and his sons Christian and Blake have joined the business as part of the distilleries. They are modern farmer distillers who are not afraid to innovate but are still true to their heritage.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller and Michael Veach

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Jason Brauner

Thursday April 26th Bourbons Bistro will celebrate its 13th birthday!

I first met Jason Brauner and his business partner John Morrison at a class I was teaching as part of an adult education program at Bellarmine University in 2004. They were both interested in Bourbon and its heritage and were working on opening a Bourbon themed restaurant. In 2005 they opened Bourbons Bistro. It was the first Bourbon themed, white table cloth restaurant to open in Louisville and has been the inspiration for many of the Bourbon themed restaurants that have opened since in Louisville.  Bourbon was just beginning to gain momentum in the market and I do believe that Bourbons Bistro helped to build that momentum with their Bourbon themed dinners featuring Master Distillers and Bourbon and food pairings.

Jason is a big reason for this success at Bourbons Bistro. He admits he did not have a huge knowledge of the history and heritage of Bourbon when he took my class, but he has since taken every opportunity to learn more. He has a great palate and loves his Bourbon almost as much as he loves sharing his knowledge. He has been hired as a consultant for several other restaurants that opened with a Bourbon inspiration, some in Louisville but many more outside of the city and even the State of Kentucky. He has been hired to do many Bourbon tastings for private parties and even does a Bourbon and food themed whitewater rafting trip every year.

When Bourbons Bistro first opened people would bring old bottles of Bourbon and rye to him and many were given as gifts. Jason has the same philosophy as I do that bourbon is meant to be drunk so he would open these bottles and share with friends that would come into Bourbons. Early on it was nothing unusual for me to walk into Bourbons and to be offered a taste of their latest acquisition. In January Kentucky law was changed so that now they can actually sell drinks from these bottles and Jason usually has one or two open for customers to purchase. You can be assured that it will be a good one because Jason will have opened it and tried it before he offers it to the public.

Jason has been promoting the Kentucky Distilling industry for over a decade now. Thousands of people come into the restaurant from all over the world. Jason is always willing to come out to the tables and talk Bourbon with patrons and will go out of his way to make them feel welcome. One of my favorite memories is when I met I.W. Bernheim’s great grandson, Tom Block at Bourbons and Jason brought out a 1976 Barrel decanter of I.W. Harper and opened it so Tom could drink some of the whiskey created by Bernheim.

Jason is a great ambassador for Kentucky Bourbon and does not get enough credit for his efforts. I want to encourage people that come to Louisville for the Kentucky Bourbon trail to take time and visit Bourbons Bistro and ask for Jason. They will not regret it. A nicer guy is not to be found and he is very generous with his time and knowledge. A true Unsung Hero of the Bourbon Industry.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Rosemary Miller

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Chris Zaborowski And Independent Liquor Store Owners

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.

Chris Zaborowski points out Westport Whiskey’s plaque at Woodford Reserve

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Ouita Michel And Chefs Who Cook With Bourbon

In the late 1980s the idea of using Bourbon to cook with was the occasional Bourbon Ball or some other chocolate fudge combo, baked beans and the daring chef would substitute Bourbon for Brandy in a recipe. Then came Woodford Reserve. The Brown-Forman people started to actually promote cooking with Bourbon and they hired a chef in residence at the distillery. They came out with a cookbook and a flavor wheel to help with this promotion. The first chef retired and Ouita Michel took his place as chef in residence at the distillery.

I was involved with the Woodford Bourbon Academy teaching a history segment to compliment the excellent distilling class taught by Chris Morris. There was always lunch involved and I remember Ouita’s first Academy. I could tell that she was going to be a game changing chef. She had some excellent recipes involving Woodford – Orange Bourbon glazed chicken I believe with Bourbon in the salad dressing and the dessert as well. More importantly she had a presentation to make about Bourbon and food. Ouita’s “flavor wheel” involved pairing the Woodford with actual foods to see not only how the food changed the Bourbon but also how the Bourbon changed the food.

What Ouita did was arrange on a plate an olive (for salty flavor), aged parmesan cheese, toasted hazelnuts, dried cherries, a slice of orange, dark chocolate and sorghum molasses on a spoon. She invited the participants to take a sip of Woodford to get an idea of how it tastes and then to take a bite of the olive and then take another sip of Woodford. As we worked our way down the line we would discuss how the flavors changed. It was very interesting to note the changes when eating orange pulp versus orange zest. She was teaching not only what to eat with your Bourbon in this demonstration but also what would work well when cooking with a Bourbon. She had indeed taken the concept of Bourbon and food pairings to the next level.

This knowledge was used by Ouita to design her foods for the lunch. The Bourbon/orange vinaigrette was an unexpected pleasure to me. The orange and sorghum glaze on the chicken also worked very well. As I continued to work with Chris Morris at the Academy Ouita tried several recipes that were based on one or another pairing from her wheel. She eventually came out with a cookbook with Woodford Reserve Distillery and also took this knowledge to her restaurants as well. Cooking with Bourbon was becoming mainstream and Ouita had a large part in this happening.

Another important point Ouita makes is that it is okay to enjoy a glass of Bourbon WITH THE MEAL as well dessert or after eating. I have long enjoyed a glass of Bourbon with a steak dinner, but it opened me up to other foods as well. It works very well with chicken dishes such as Ouita has developed. Anything with fruit in it works well with a Bourbon in my opinion. And of course Bourbon and Chocolate work very well together.

There are now many chefs out there cooking with Bourbon. The use of Bourbon in this way is simply another piece of the puzzle that is the growth of sales and part of the Bourbon Boom. Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer created a city wide panel to promote Bourbon and cuisine in Louisville. This interest is growing but it only took root because of the pioneering work done by Ouita Michel and other chefs cooking with Bourbon at the beginning of the 21st century.


Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Holly Hill Inn

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Jennifer Jarvis And All Other Bartenders

Every now and then a Bartender will make a splash in the world of distilled spirits and get some name recognition for the hard work they do. Most recently Joy Perrine was made a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame for her work with Bourbon Cocktails. However for every Joy Perrine there are hundreds, if not thousands of hard working people behind the bar who never receive the recognition they deserve. The person pouring the drinks behind the bar is often the first person a consumer comes into contact for a distilled spirit like Bourbon or Rye whiskeys. The knowledge and enthusiasm this person shows for the spirit brand can often make a big difference upon that consumer’s perception of the spirit and brand. A prime example of such a person is Jennifer Jarvis, the Bar Manager at Match Cigar Bar in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Jennifer Jarvis is a native of Louisville so she grew up in Bourbon Country. Her working career has always been in the spirits industry behind a bar. She started her career at a place that is no longer in business called Staxx Roadhouse in 2009. With several stops at places like Gerstles and the Monkey Wrench, she landed at Match as the Bar Manager in March of 2015. She has paid her dues along the way but is now a well respected mixologist and bartender at Match. I first met her when I spoke to Camp Runamok in 2014 where she was one of my contacts while arranging the talk. Jennifer was on the local arrangements committee. She was named a Tales of the Cocktail Apprentice in 2015. I am sure this helped her earn the scholarship money from Tales of the Cocktail that is helping her with her college expenses. Jennifer is attending Belermine University, earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. Her goals is to become a yeast specialist at a distillery after she graduates. When she is not pouring drinks and serving customers at Match, Jarvis is nose deep into text books or on her laptop writing papers.

Jennifer knows her whiskey and other spirits. When a customer comes into Match and asks about a Bourbon or Rye Jennifer is there to steer them in the right direction, often based upon the cigar they are smoking. She is very familiar with the flavor profiles of the whiskeys and the cigars. She knows that the wrong Bourbon can ruin the experience of the Bourbon and the cigar. She is also very good at mixing a cocktail and makes one of the best Manhattans on either side of the river. She loves her job but does plan to leave the world of bartending after she earns her degree, yet with that said she admits she might still work behind the bar one or two nights a week after she finds her dream job at a distillery.

Jennifer is an example of the thousands of young men and women who are working behind the bar and serving customers spirits. They are knowledgeable and friendly. They know their spirits and are often the first influence a consumer has with a brand. When a bartender finds a Bourbon they really like they often build a local demand for that brand. They start recommending it to friends and more importantly to customers. As more people enjoy the Bourbon at the bar, they often purchase a bottle for their home consumption. A bartender can often make or break a brand because the opposite is also true. If a brand is poorly made or over-priced a bartender might steer customers away from that brand in favor of a better made or more reasonable priced Bourbon. The Bartender really is the first line of sales for Bourbon and they deserve the respect of not only the distillers, but also the consumers. When I want to try a new Bourbon or rye, I often go to a bar where I know the bartender and ask their opinion of the product. In most cases I will still try it even if they don’t care for the product but there have been some times when I have held off because of a strong negative opinion and went to another place and asked a different bartender their opinion. If I get three negatives on a product I will not purchase that drink, let alone a bottle.

Bartenders are truly Unsung Heroes of the Bourbon Industry. They are the first line of sales and have a tremendous influence on the sales of brands. The next time you are sitting at a bar enjoying your favorite Bourbon raise a glass to the person behind the bar and maybe leave an extra dollar tip if the selection was influenced by the bartender.


Photos Courtesy of Match Cigar Bar and Jennifer Jarvis

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