Executive Bourbon Steward

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When I began this Bourboneer experiment back in August I did so with a conviction to not only learn as much about my favorite spirit but to also share what I have learned with others in a manner that was entertaining and easily digested. As I wrote in a past article, “I am a bourbon drinker who likes to write.” So writing stories, sharing experiences and imparting knowledge became the cornerstone in the foundation of the Bourboneer and it’s development moving forward.

In my inaugural article, I defined the Bourboneer to be an advocate, an enthusiast and a proficient imbiber versed in the knowledge, heritage, art and culture of bourbon, it’s production and with an understanding of it’s unique characteristics. Additionally, each Bourboneer could also classify themselves in one of three categories or levels: #1) Imbiber – the casual bourbon consumer, self educated in the subject with a facile knowledge of bourbon and it’s production. #2) Operator – the regular or daily consumer, formally educated and trained in the subject. Someone who is well read in bourbon heritage, art, culture possessing an extensive knowledge of bourbon and its production. Or #3) Master – the regular, daily consumer formally educated, trained in the subject but makes bourbon a profession. Someone who has a comprehensive and practical knowledge of all things bourbon and a refined palate.

For many years I’ve blissfully drifted along as a Bourboneer Imbiber, contently consuming bourbon of all kinds and casually storing tidbits of trivial bourbon knowledge. Not enough to make me dangerous, mind you, but enough to know why I loved it so much. However, this past weekend that all changed. That’s right…I graduated! I can know comfortably consider myself a Bourboneer Operator. How you ask? Well, let me tell you.

November 11-14, 2016, I spent my weekend in Louisville, Ky. My cousin and I made the long, much anticipated pilrimage to Bourbon country to soak up the experiences the region had to offer. We also soaked up quite a bit of bourbon. Our days were filled with distillery tours and our evenings were spent partaking in the local establishments proficiency in serving up Kentucky’s native spirit. (Many of our adventures will be documented in future Bourboneer articles so you will just have to wait for that). As fun and as exciting as visiting bourbon’s birthplace  was, It was not specifically the reason we went. You see, the main objective for our excursion didn’t revolve around merely enjoying bourbon, but rather learning about it. Yes you are reading this correctly. We in fact traveled nearly 1/4 of the way across the country to go to school. Bourbon school that is. Executive Bourbon Steward school to be precise.

The Stave & Thief Society in Louisville, Ky, offers a “premier training and education program established to promote and uphold bourbon’s unique and distinguished culture through hospitality channels by preparing establishments and individuals to deliver on the premise of the authentic bourbon experience.” Phew! That’s a mouthful. In layman’s or Bourboneer terms, The Stave & Thief Society educates the crap out of you in all things bourbon. This was exactly the learning experience my cousin and I had been craving. So we signed up and took the course.

To say the lesson was intensive is an understatement. The course could have easily filled 2 or 3 days, however, it was crammed into a little over 8 hours. The course topics covered such subjects as bourbon history, classification and standards of identity, grain selection, aging, mingling, sensory skills relating to mashbills, proof, congeners yet not to ignore brand awareness and assessing flavor profiles. Oh and there was a 50 question exam at the end to score your proficiency. It was a pass/fail course so not making the cut meant you weren’t worthy enough to become a steward or even be a part of the Stave & Thief Society.

Despite the stress and mind-numbing uncertainty, the course was worth every penny (and that turned out to be aout 50,000 pennies in all actuality) And it was even more worth it when we passed the exam with flying colors. See the proof below.

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So to get back to my point and to the reason as to why I now consider myself a Bourboneer Operator. I am happy to report that I am now a certified Executive Bourbon Steward! As a result of this in depth training,  I better understand the art, history and culture of bourbon. I am able to discuss bourbon confidently and accurately in a conversational manner, as well as assess a bourbon consumer’s preferences and make recommendations based on their specific taste.

Now armed with my new education, I am here to answer any of your bourbon questions. So ask away.

Before I close, I just wanted to pay a special thanks to all of the staff at the Stave & Thief Society (Moonshine University). They were truly professional and made learning so interesting and fun. I learned so much and I am very thankful for the opportunity to be part of the Stave & Thief Society. Additionally, and more importantly, I want to thank my cousin. He practically bank rolled our entire trip and I am  blessed for his consideration to include me in such an endeavor. It had sincerely been a long time since we had the opportunity to hang out in such a manner. I am truly grateful for his generosity and friendship. I look forward to our future bourbon education.

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Larceny KSBW, 46% ABV or 92 proof (NAS) Heaven Hill Distilleries, Bardstown, KY.

References: http://www.staveandthief.com

The Bourboneer ‘Toast’ Series: Mike Rowe

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Why would I toast Mike Rowe? Why?…Well why wouldn’t I?

We all know Mike Rowe as the host of the hit Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs. Man I loved that show! And of course we recognize his voice as the narrator to such shows as The Deadliest Catch, American Chopper, The Ultimate Fighter and Shark Week. However, did you know Mike was a Boy Scout and reached the rank of Eagle Scout? Did you know Mike was a professional opera singer  with the Baltimore Opera? Or how about the host of QVC for a time? Take time to check out his impressive resume’. Honestly, the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man has nothing on Mike Rowe!

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Mike Rowe is a very diverse and talented individual and a fellow Marylander.  And this is, in company with his new endeavors such as the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity designed to provide passionate individuals with skilled training and scholarships, why I take the time to toast him this evening!

But as The Bourboneer, how does this toast to Mike Rowe relate to your love for bourbon you might ask? Just stick with me and I will make the connection. Relax!

I first remember Mike as the host of Your New Home on WJZ-TV out of Baltimore, MD. As I mentioned before, Mike is also a fellow Marylander. However, he packs much more cred than I. He was born and raised in the Old Line State and I am merely a 20+ year transplant. But, it’s this connection where our paths cross (well just my knowledge of him. He has no clue who I am).

Back to the story. In 2005, I was sitting in the waiting room at the Anne Arundel Medical Center while my new born daughter was having her heels pricked to test her bilirubin levels (very random, I know. And may I add, bilirubin is such a fun word to say). Amid the din of the half empty waiting room, I recall hearing the very distinct and dulcet voice of the Your New Home’s narrator emanating from the woefully inadequate TV . “Wow! What a great voice!” I thought to myself, squinting to see the screen. “That guy has to be working on bigger and better things than Your New Home, out of Baltimore!” Mike’s presence owned the show. He just seemed out of place to me, too much of a natural personality to be doing that type of regional broadcast. Trust me, I am not a measuring stick of talent by any means, but I immediately thought, “that dude is going to be a star!” I don’t know if that makes sense and I am certainly not belittling the show, but that is what I clearly remember from that day. Well that and of course my daughter’s nauseating high pitched squeal echoing from down the hall as her heels were being used as pin cushions.

Anyway, It wasn’t long after that I started seeing Mike on numerous other shows and series, as we all did (and rightfully so). But in 2012, the Discovery Channel aired a 3 part series called How Booze Built America. The miniseries featured Mike as he traveled around the country learning about how the history of booze and the United States were so intertwined. This wasn’t the “History” we were taught in school either. This was also about the time I really began to rekindle my love for bourbon and began to galvanize my desire to study what roll the distilled spirit had in our country’s history. Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed the series. Not solely because of the content, but equally so in the manner in which Mike Rowe presented it with a style signature only to him.

Are you starting to see the connection now? Mike Rowe, Maryland, booze, bourbon, Bourboneer…toast? Good, but I am not quite finished.

When I first decided to write about my love for bourbon, I honestly imagined crafting my articles more so as a narration than as merely words on a page. I consider myself right brain dominant and I see things in more of a creative light opposed to the more logical, left brain dominant folks (Yeah I know, I get that the entire right brain vs left brain concept may be a myth. Just go with it!). When I write, I narrate as well. ACTING! It sounds odd, but it works for me. So as the idea of The Bourboneer evolved and my desire for writing progressed, I truly found inspiration in the “narration” of my posts. And then, at that moment, it hit me.

Mike Rowe!!!!

If I had the choice to select anyone that could bring to life and narrate any or all of The Bourboneer articles, it would be Mike Gregory Rowe! Without question! (James Earl Jones was a close second, but the “Vader” tone, although very cool, would be a little “Darth” for me. Get it? “Darth” instead of “dark”…nevermind. I find your lack of faith disturbing!)

Now can you see the connection? Now can you see my reason for toast? Phew.

So to you, Mike Rowe, I raise my glass and toast your excellence and the inspiration you had on this imbiber’s nominal scribblings. I am a Bourboneer who seeks to not only share but “narrate” his love for the distinctive American spirit. Many thanks!

 

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Early Times No. 354 Kentucky Whiskey, 40% ABV or 80 proof (matured 36 months in reused cooperage) Early Times Distillery Co., Louisville, KY.

References: http://www.wikipedia.com: Mike Rowe, How Booze Built America: Discovery Channel, 2012., http://www.profoundlydisconnected.com: mikeroweWorks Foundation.

 

Essential Hardware

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Every Bourboneer worth their mash bill knows that truly loving bourbon is to understand bourbon. Taking the time to educate oneself and absorb the wealth of knowledge available makes you a better bourbon drinker and, in fact, makes you a Bourboneer. There is so much wonderful information out there on the subject that it’s difficult to determine where to begin without feeling overwhelmed. Initially, I took to the internet, searching websites and links under the broad subject of bourbon. However, I quickly realized that without a foundation, that facile knowledge of whiskey as a distilled spirit, so much of what I researched was lost in translation or didn’t resonate enough to retain. That’s when I went to the professionals (the Bourboneer Operators and Masters). Amassing a small reference library of my own was the only way personally to benefit and learn at the depth I desired.

Accumulating enough material to form your own library may not be what you have in mind. Quite frankly it can be rather expensive. So, I have taken the liberty in providing what I believe to be “essential hardware” as a starting point for your bourbon education. Nothing will ever top a formal and practical learning atmosphere but there is a lot of outstanding material available to the public to get you on your way. Here is what I put together (in terms of a college course it would be similar to a Bourbon 101).

I believe, as with any good education, a knowledge of the parent subject is  very important. Therefore, my first suggestion would be to educate yourself on Whiskey in the broad sense of a distilled spirit. In that vein, there are two (2) definitive books I strongly recommend. As a caveat they are extremely comprehensive. But if so inclined then “Whisk(e)y” by Stefan Gabanyi or “Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide” by Michael Jackson are essential. These offerings are truly an entire education in and of themselves. Check them out but approach them as if you’re going to school:) However, as someone who seeks a more condensed or specialized read, one revolving around American whiskey, you absolutely can’t go wrong with “American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit” by Clay Risen.

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I love this book and have read it cover to cover more than once. Not only does Risen knit together the historical fabric of American whiskey, he provides a lesson into how it’s made and the difference between the types of whiskey. The second half of the book is an actual guide to “profiles, ratings and tasting notes for more than 200 whiskeys.” I use this as my “go to” reference and have done so in many of my articles. I’d recommend “American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit” to anyone seeking a solid understanding of American whiskey as well as an introductory experience for a knowledge driven bourbon education.

Once you feel comfortable with your understanding of whiskey, it’s time to refine your research to bourbon. Dave Huckelbridge’s “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit” and Wall-Street Journal Best Selling author, Fred Minnick’s “Bourbon Curious” are two reads that don’t disappoint. Huckelbridge immediately captures you with a detailed history of bourbon, masterfully seasoning your experience with little known and intimate facts of it’s creation. I was captivated from page 1. Minnick’s work provides a similar history lesson yet takes pride in deflating many of the existing “myths” that often mislead those curious about bourbon. Minnick also let’s you in on many  of the distiller’s recipes and production methods, including a sample tasting guide to assist you in the principles of enjoying bourbon.

Another crucial asset in furthering your bourbon education is a subscription to “The Bourbon Review” magazine. I have an online subscription but find myself collecting the hard copies as well. From the textured cover, to the interesting stories and stunning pictures, it’s hard to put down. The Bourbon Review supplies the cultural, artful side of bourbon’s heritage, both past and present. Each issue allows you to remain steeped in the ever-growing bourbon lifestyle.

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Finally, as one of my favorite selections, “The Kentucky Bourbon Experience: A Visual Tour of Kentucky’s Bourbon Distilleries” by Leon Howlett, is a different style of book. While my other recommendations successfully focus on bourbon history, production and characteristics, renown photographer Howlett uses his offering to deliver a more visceral sensation to the reader. The “Kentucky Bourbon Experience” visually tours the eight (8) distilleries that make up the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT) and gives an overview of each distillery to include a brief history and look into the product and production methods. This book is visually stunning! I feel transported to bourbon country with the turn of every page.

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I hope you find time to enjoy these Bourboneer recommendations. They have been the essential hardware in developing the fundamental ground work of my ever growing education. However, there are so many equally wonderful publications to choose from don’t limit your search to just these offerings. Find the right book for you and your level of interest. But if you are looking to build a solid understanding of the American whiskey we love so much, there is no better place to start.

– The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Clyde Mays Alabama Style Whiskey, 42.5% ABV or 85 proof (no age statement) Conecuh Ridge Distillery, Auburndale, Fl.

References: American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye: A guide to the Nation’s Favorite SpiritClay Risen, 2013 New York, NY.  Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit, Dave Huckelbridge, 2014 New York, NY.  Bourbon Curious, Fred Minnick, 2015 Minneapolis, MN. The Kentucky Bourbon Experience, Leon Howlett, 2012 Morely, Mo. The Bourbon Review Magazine, Summer 2016.