In my education of bourbon over the last several years, I’ve witnessed multiple acts of snobbery that have, quite frankly, turned me (and others) off from enjoying bourbon to the fullest. There have been several disappointing incidents my memory can recollect but, very recently in fact, I can recall patronizing a well known bourbon establishment on Louisville’s Whiskey Row. A customer ordered an Old Fashioned and requested that Blanton’s be the bourbon of choice in the very popular cocktail. The bartender, shaking his head and smirking in disgust, immediately questioned the customer’s selection imparting that, in his opinion “using Blanton’s in an Old Fashioned or any cocktail, is a waste.” Inferring that Blanton’s is too good, too fine of a bourbon to be watered down in a cocktail.
Wait a minute! Now I certainly agree that Blanton’s is a fine, fine bourbon. It’s actually in my top three, and I prefer it with just one ice cube. But I thought a bartender’s responsibilities were to make drinks, gently guide customers and more importantly make money for the establishment that employs them? No?
I understand the bartender’s underlying intentions may have been to steer the customer into making the best selection possible (I am sure he was uber knowledgeable and has forgotten more about bourbon that I will ever know). I also took into consideration that we were in Kentucky where bourbon is king and flows as abundantly as the water, so choosing a bourbon from the thousands of offerings could be quite daunting. I get all that, I really do! However, that’s not where I had the issue. No matter how educated or bourbon savvy the bartender may have been, his delivery came across as elitist and, well, quite snobbish. His approach lacked tact and alienated the customer without taking the time to understand their level of knowledge before deciding to opine his own. Not to mention that his recommendation cost the bar money and a decent tip for himself. But maybe I am looking at this the wrong way. Maybe his comments saved the customer money. Maybe he was just having a bad night. Hard to determine. But no matter how you look at it, I feel the encounter could have been handled more professionally.
As the Bourboneer (and as an Executive Bourbon Steward (EBS)) it is my job to teach about and promote America’s native spirit. We know that bourbon was born here. We know that it was regulated here, perfected here and represents a prominent thread intricately woven into the fabric of our great history. Therefore it clearly should be protected and most importantly, championed here. Bourbon is part of our culture and thankfully this culture is on the rise once again. Those of us who truly consider ourselves bourbon lovers are members of an inclusive society. We are passionate advocates, enthusiasts and proficient imbibers versed in the knowledge, heritage, art and culture of bourbon. We are Bourboneers! Our promotion of bourbon is crucial in preserving and growing it’s popularity as we move forward.
All bourbon is good, some is just better than others.
As an EBS, my role derives itself from the education of bourbon and of course the hospitality that goes along with the offering of a memorable learning bourbon experience. Teaching others or imparting my knowledge in a welcoming, respectful and professional manner is my strength and in fact an honor. Being hospitable and providing the best experience to those thirsty for knowledge is my primary concern. Not just for the interested, but for the efficacy of expanding the love of bourbon as America’s distinctive spirit. I feel the bartender I refer to in this article, failed to consider this. If you focus on where he actually was employed and where this establishment was located, I know more was expected by not only me, but more so by the the customer served.
So having said all of that, I believe there should be no hard and fast rules to drinking bourbon. It doesn’t only have to be served “neat” to enjoy. Or on the rocks, or with water or in a cocktail. It doesn’t have to only be from Kentucky or aged more than 4 years to be considered good. Bourbon is to be enjoyed by all. Remember, individuals will drink what they enjoy and what taste best to them no matter how much you may expand their bourbon IQ. Not everyone has the same preferences, is adept or is interested in the intricacies of bourbon and its characteristics. You don’t have to be a snob! You don’t have to stick your nose up in the air if someone wants 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle with diet ginger ale. If that’s truly what they want then that’s what they should order, even if just the thought of that concoction makes you cringe. The idea is to promote bourbon not isolate it. My personal experiences and preferences should not dictate anyone’s taste. I don’t ever want the enjoyment of bourbon to be tainted strictly by my own opinions. Individuals need to decide their own preferences. If done correctly and with hospitality, the bestowing of my knowledge and my experience will be the catalyst to their long love of bourbon. And that is what loving bourbon and being a Bourboneer is all about. Right?
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Why Blanton’s of course! Blanton’s KSBW, 46-1/2% ABV or 93 proof NAS) Blanton Distilling Company, Frankfurt, Ky.