View Full Version : Discovering Bourbon

08-01-2000, 20:57
Being new to bourbon (and whiskey, for that matter)let me say that I've really learned a lot from this forum. I'm curious how others came to enjoy bourbon, so I'll start by volunteering my own story. Only an occasional drinker for most my life, a girlfriend introduced me to wine, which I enjoyed only after some effort to acquire the taste. When I stopped seeing her, I left wine too. Curiosity prompted me to try whisky, in the form of Bushmills. I took an INSTANT liking and at age 42, regretted missing out on those first, what, 24 years? From Irish to Scotch to a few single malts, they were all pretty good. Ah, but then, through providence or just plain good luck, there came Knob Creek. I was immediately hooked on bourbon. I've been expanding my horizons since and look forward to trying many more.

So now I'm curious about how others came to enjoy whiskey. And once having discovered bourbon, do most continue to explore Irish, Scotch, etc., or is there sufficient diversity of quality and difference of taste in bourbon to prompt one to stay awhile? And having been bitten by the bug, do others do as I do: subscribe to magazines, collect whiskey art, plan a pilgrimage to Kentucky, etc. etc. Have I lost it, or is bourbon just that good?


08-01-2000, 21:35
You've lost it; found it, and yes indeed bourbon really is that good.
Knob Creek is one of the most lovable bourbons on the planet. Welcome to Bourbonia!

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

08-02-2000, 09:54
Hi Scott!

Let's take it backwards from the end...

(1) Bourbon is indeed just that good.

(2) You've lost it -- big time. But you're in good company, because

(3) Just about all of the regular contributors here, and surely most of those who just read and enjoy, are in the same barrel.

(4) Bourbon (as opposed to Scotch, Irish, other distilled spirits, and especially wine) has a couple things going for it that make it especially attractive as a hobby/collection subject (aside from the wonderful taste). First of all, it fairly oozes history and historic significance. The story of bourbon whiskey is the story of America (US and Canada). Beginning with the collapse of the rum-based triangle trade system that supported slavery, it has been a major focal point of the American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, the great migration to the Kentucky/Tennessee wilderness, the War Between the States, Women's Suffrage, Prohibition (and the federalization of morality in America), the Pure Food and Drug laws, the Truth in Labeling laws (funny, since there's still a whole lot of liberty in bourbon labeling today), and so much more. To learn about bourbon is to learn about our country, and vice versa. Of course the bottles themselves are beautiful as objects, which encourages collecting them. Another very significant advantage of bourbon over other liquors is that there really aren't very much different examples of it. My wife Linda and I have a pretty comprehensive collection; a collection of wine that size would be laughably small and inadequate. A collection of cognac with a value similar to that of our bourbon collection could easily be contained in just two bottles. We have probably all the currently available books about bourbon; there's only a handful... probably less than the number of books about just Pinot Chardonnay. So for those of us who remember as kids, looking at that huge stamp album with all those pictures and only six stamps scattered among them, bourbon collecting can be very satisfying. Bourbon also tastes good. Real good. For all the messages you'll read about "this rot-gut" or "that awful swill", I would have to say that personally the worst bourbon I've ever tasted was "okay-to-borderline-good".


I really didn't drink bourbon much until about three years ago. My knowledge and experience basically amounted to, "Well, there's Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's and another black-labelled square bottle called Even Williams or Ezra Brooks or something like that. The Evan Williams tastes the best and it's cheap so that's the one I like." Except that what I really liked was tequila. Tequila is still my next favorite liquor. My mother drank bourbon (and at 84 years old she still does), and I thought it would be nice to buy her a bottle of something expensive for her birthday. I chose Blanton's (on account of it was the most expensive one in the store -- I'm really glad they had a limited selection; I think she'd have been a little overwhelmed with the likes of Booker!) and I also got a bottle of Jacob Beam for myself, based on the way the bottle and label looked. Such was my level of expertise. Now, anyone who's tried Jacob Beam may wonder how I noticed any substantial difference between that and Jim Beam white label, but I did. And of course Blanton's was... well, Blanton's; I was impressed. My wife Linda didn't like bourbon at all. In fact, she doesn't like any kind of canned corn and that's how she thought of bourbon. She still doesn't really enjoy it as a drink (except in cocktails), but she's tasted every bourbon currently available and many that aren't. And she can distinguish and compare with the best of them. And she can blind taste a sample and tell you pretty accurately what distillery it came from better than I can. And she knows who the distiller is (and sometimes who the previous one was and where this one worked before). She didn't acquire this knowledge out of any sense of "duty" (Lord knows neither us do things that way) but just because it fascinates her. I'd have quit collecting long ago, but if I don't pick up something new every once in awhile she threatens to go out onto eBay and bring back something herself. She's done it, too! So you don't even have to really LIKE bourbon to get hooked by this hobby.


"Gee, honey, it's 1998 and I'm sure enjoying life here in Cincinnati since we moved from Philadelphia two years ago, hoping to avoid the Republican National Convention coming up in 2000. Let's take a little long-weekend vacation and go visit Mammouth Cave in Kentucky!".

"Oh, that sounds like fun! On the way, we can stop at the tourist information center and see if there's anything else worth checking out in Kentucky."

And so we learned about the Jim Beam and Maker's Mark distilleries. As we drove I reminisced to Linda about all the fun I used to have (I think) doing winery tours in California. By the time we arrived at Mammouth Cave it was too late to tour it that day, so we found a motel with a jacuzzi and arranged to come back tomorrow. By the next morning, we were so fascinated with the distillery brochures (and the awesome beauty of the Kentucky countryside) that we decided to chuck the whole cave thing and just head up 31E through all the little towns and villages toward Loretto and Bardstown. Since then, we've visited every bourbon and Tennessee whiskey distillery that offers tours and several that don't. We've spent time talking with the distillers, the plant engineers, the sons of distillers, the historians, and so many more wonderful people. And we've both fallen totally in love with everything bourbon. When I retire, I want to move to mid-Kentucky somewhere and do volunteer work at one distillery after another until they're all sick and tired of seeing me.


"John, is that ANOTHER bourbon bottle up there on the shelf of the spice rack? That's six now! Come on, can't you, like, put up a shelf or something in the downstairs living room? I need my space back."

"Okay, all right. But I'll need more room than that. I'm going to put up two large shelves and three small ones."
"There! That ought to hold all the bottles I'll ever need."
"Oh, and I'll refinish that grungy old dresser and make a small bar out of it."
"Oh, and I'll add another shelf over here, since we're running out of space."
"Oh, and I'll add another shelf over here, since we're running out of space."
"Oh, here's a distillery promotional display."
"Oh, here's yet another old magazine ad to frame and hang."
"Oh, and I'll add another shelf over here, since we're running out of space."
"Honey, do we really need the TV to be over there?"

Etc. Etc. Etc.

CURTAIN? No way!
Enjoy your new hobby, Scott. BrrooowaAH Ha ha ha ha haaaa!!!!

The attached .jpg is just one small corner of our living room. As it was in December. Even that's grown since the photo.

-John Lipman-

08-02-2000, 10:26
My parents drank bourbon--a single cocktail each night before dinner--but when I started drinking it was mostly beer. When I tried "the hard stuff" I drank things like White Russians, 7 and 7, vodka and Squirt (I'm not sure where that came from), and Southern Comfort. Hey, I was a kid. Then someone told me that if you drank whisky (he meant scotch) and nothing else, you wouldn't have as bad of a hangover, so I tried it and developed a taste for scotch. (This was before the discovery of single malts.) Then I moved to Kentucky and decided to try bourbon. I never looked back.

I still drink beer and like a good Irish or Scotch from time to time, but mostly drink bourbon.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

08-03-2000, 11:06
Great pic there Golden Dudester! Now you told me that you didn't buy bourbon by the barrel. Are those barrels of bourbon or just bourbon barrels?
What about all those full bottles of boubon? Hmmmm? Holding out on us are ya?
Party at John's house! If you want clean glasses better bring your own. Linda's busy cookin'up some five way Cincinatti Chilli! Do we hafta bring our own bowls too?


Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

08-05-2000, 09:39
I got into bourbon mainly for $$$$ reasons -- I like to drink and can't afford scotch or cognac or even vodka or gin that often. Bourbon in comparison is a fairly cheap drink: $50 is pretty high and most decent bottles range in $15-$30 range. Plus, you can find some very good bourbon at $12 and under -- something I don't think you can say about scotch.

I also like tequila and Canadian whiskey, although tequila's slowly climbing out of my price range.

Once you get started with bourbon, of course, it becomes an endlessly fascinating thing, for reasons that some others have already posted. It simply exudes American history. It's got an utterly distinctive flavor profile. It's a kind of cult drink -- much quality bourbon is absurdly underpriced -- and that's always a fun thing to be involved with. There's not a great mass of it, so it's possible that one person, with a little time and effort, can actually master the subject. Also, there's a "coolness" factor involved. Think of it this way -- Bogart drank bourbon in his movies, or rye. He didn't drink strange cocktails with flowers and fruit in 'em, or oddball variations of the martini. :)

Have fun with it!

doug (who just bought a fifth of Jim Beam Black).

08-05-2000, 10:28
You're a good man Mr. Basset! I've just returned from the liquor store with a *GIANT* sized bottle of Knob Creek. ***Pure Bourbonium***

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

08-05-2000, 21:27
Up until now, I was totally content to just sit back and enjoy all the posts that everyone puts up without needing to throw in my two cents worth. After reading John's post on "Discovering Bourbon", I felt compelled to respond. John, I couldn't have said it better myself and agree with you 100 percent. I "discovered" bourbon about six months ago and there's been no turnng back. Not only have I become totally hooked on the taste (I have a hard time drinking anything else), the history behind the bourbon industry has me totally hooked. My wife hasn't taken to bourbon as much as John's wife Linda has, but she's slowly coming around.

By the way, for anyone who hasn't checked out John's website, http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey, you really should. It is just incredible. I recently took a long weekend trip to bourbon country to visit some distilleries and I used John's website, almost exclusively, to plan my trip.

Well, I've said enough. I'll keep reading (and keep my mouth shut) as long as you guys keep posting all the great information that you do.


08-10-2000, 14:14
I came to bourbon because of literature but I remain because of taste. Right after college I read John Cheever's collected short stories. Cheever's protagonists come home from a hard day in the city, walk home from the train to their lovely house in the suburbs, kiss their lovely wives, and sip a drink from a highball glass; maybe two or three, this being a Cheever story. As a grungy GenX-er this hip lifestyle seemed attractive to me. Everyone I knew was into the microbrew of the minute. Beer connoted to me boozy fraternity parties. I decided I needed an "adult" beverage. Bourbon seemed to lack the pretensions of the wine world, and especially scotch drinkers. Bourbon is the only native American spirit (in the USA sense of American - tequila, mezqual is Mexican) and this fact sealed it for me.

I started with Jack Daniels but soon moved on to Maker's Mark. Maker's is the perfect introductory bourbon. I have converted numerous beerbarians with Maker's. I always have jug o Maker's on hand. Obsession quickly followed like the previous posters. Glassware, high end bourbons, special distilled water ice trays; the whole full blown dementia.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my story

08-11-2000, 05:39
I was introduced to beer by my wife and Schlitz at their (then) N. Carolina brewery. That's what I drank in my "early years." My parents, like Chuck's, drank a form of whiskey but preferred Canadian. At the ripe old age of about 26 I took a job where my bosses drank Jack Daniels. To be "in" I started. I still like beer, and have started brewing it, but also enjoy sipping whiskey.

08-11-2000, 05:42
Good choice in the Beam Black Label -- one of my favorites for the price!

08-11-2000, 05:48
John is a great writer and aficionado. If you've not visited their web site, do it now! A true soulmate who likes travel, whiskey, and tequilla. Hope to meet you and Linda in Bardstown this Sept.

08-11-2000, 09:43
My story is a simple one. My brother in law, Al gave me Gary and Mardee Regan's excellent "Book of Bourbon" for a gift and I have been hooked since. I love the history, the colorful characters, the art of the labels, but especially the unique taste. I would put world class bourbons like Van Winkle's or Proprieters Reserve up against the best Scotch or brandy made. There is truly something uniquely AMERICAN about bourbon. I have yet to cultivate the taste buds to pick up all the nuances but I am sure having fun learning.

08-12-2000, 07:37
Thanks Slim!
Thanks Kitzg!
(private messages sent)

And especially thanks again to Scott for starting this thread. It's quickly becoming one of the most interesting topics on the forum ( at least to Moi ). I hope others (especially those who have been only watching so far) will soon add their stories as well.

-John Lipman-

08-12-2000, 09:27
I'd like to weigh in here because I came to bourbon from a different vantage point than most I've read about, and I'm curious whether anyone else out there has had the same thoughts. My interest in fine whiskey in general started from my other favorite hobby - pipesmoking with a good book. At night when things quiet down, the pipe and book just cried out for a wee dram of something. So I started with single malt Scotch. Then I got this theory ("Good God, another one?", my wife would say). I started to see the connections between the tobaccos and the whiskeys I knew - those that came from the same area, were associated historically, seemed to complement each other's taste and presence in a very satisfying way. So the traditionally British latakia blends, with their "smoky campfire" taste, fit perfectly with the Harris tweed and sea air whip of an Islay malt.

Then my taste for tobacco changed (actually I'd always loved perique but didn't pursue it as a study). I started to research perique, with its lovely fig juice flavor, its history and current rarity (one 80 year old farmer in St. James Parish, LA is the world's only producer - he planted 11 acres total), and its orbital intensity. It's too sweet and mellow for Islay whiskies and just didn't fit even with sherried Macallans or Balvenies. But Louisiana perique and dark rum - well, that's another story, full of tobacco kegs and rolls of Escudo in sailors' ditty bags, pirates and rum kegs in the sand. So I started learning about good rum, and discovered the fascinating story of British Navy rum (now sampleable under the Pusser's Blue Label guise). I still love it, and Barbancourt rum is the only thing I use to clean my pipes.

Then my taste evolved again. I began to really enjoy the deep, more complex taste of aged dark-fired Virginia flake tobacco, all cool dark-chocolate reminiscence, slowing me down and leading me through layers of flavor and thought. "So what goes with this?", I thought, "maybe something from the same countryside?" And I remembered my own links to Monongahela rye whiskey, and I ordered a double Wild Turkey 101 straight up and now I'm home. I love the sense that I can contact the land and the water, the history and the people that make this honest and dignified spirit, and I am glad to be a lover of bourbon. I don't know where my pipes will lead me next, but I somehow doubt that bourbon would not be a companion in the journey.

Ralph Wilps