Bourbon: A Love Story

photo courtesy Wild Turkey
photo courtesy Wild Turkey

Recently a conversation with a friend got around to the length of time we'd each been married.  They were surprised to learn I was coming up on my 16th anniversary and asked what the secret was to our marriage. Now, I wasn't going to spill all the secrets, where would the fun be in that?  But I did share one... bourbon.

Yes, bourbon. That's the secret. At least one of ours.

We're not alcoholics, nor does our marriage require drinking as a crutch. Rather, bourbon became something we could share.  Something to learn more about, explore and enjoy.  Together as a family.

But it wasn't always this way.

You see, from our first conversation, over 17 years ago, I really liked my husband. Makes sense, since I married the fellow.  But we quickly discovered that though we shared a passion for pinball and were committed to doing some good for the people and the world around us we didn't share all the same interests; including the one that was later to become central to my career- alcohol.

When we met I was a drinker. He wasn't.  Kind of an interesting flip of the script since his father enjoys a good drink now and again and my mother barely touches the stuff so goodness knows how we each came to our own proclivities given the families we'd grown up in. But here we were, sharing an apartment to which wine and alcohol arrived regularly from brands that wanted me to taste their wares and write about them. He was tolerant of the postman ringing once, twice, even sometimes six times a month, but he wasn't interested.

That is, until he discovered bourbon.

courtesy Wild Turkey
courtesy Wild Turkey

It doesn't hurt that his first introductory sips were the rich caramel and vanilla notes of the highly awarded Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon.  The bottle, along with some beautiful cut crystal glasses, had been a special birthday present for a very special uncle who felt that bourbon (aka his birthday gift) was best enjoyed with the ones you loved. The uncle generously poured and a few sips in my husband was a bourbon fan. It was nothing like he expected bourbon would be, and it surprised him.

So much so that he started seeking out opportunities to sample a variety of brands any time he could, and absorb as much whiskey knowledge as possible at whiskey tastings and from brand educators and knowledgeable bartenders.

Like a fine barrel of bourbon evolves, so did his position on America's national spirit. And then things got even more fun for us, at home and out.  Finally, he was keen to stop at the bar for a pre-dinner drink or a nightcap and began engaging bartenders in conversations which not only got him more excited about all the nuances of bourbon but it also enabled me to glean new things that benefitted my business too.  And, more importantly, our social time together.

But maybe most satisfying of all was the satisfaction that bourbon's entry into our lives brought me. His bourbon appreciation also FINALLY enabled me to say, "I told you so" and get the "Yes, you were right" answer. You see, I had explained to him that after work drinking events could be easily managed with a glass of the brown goods in his hand.  Before his intro to bourbon, he shunned the idea, insisting he hated the taste and besides, everyone drank beer. Now, as a bourbon drinker it's become obvious that an affinity for bourbon gives him a great topic for small talk, a way to bond with likeminded colleagues, an opportunity to educate the uninitiated and a method for drinking responsibly because he savors the juice.

bourbon lineup at Whisky Live by Francine Cohen
bourbon lineup at Whisky Live by Francine Cohen

And bourbon is the perfect spirit for my charitably minded husband. Bourbon doesn't just taste good, it does good too.  The category is filled with examples of brands giving back; to the community and the planet. With the need for bourbon to be aged in new charred oak barrels it makes sense that Angels Envy started their Toast the Trees endeavor. Each September, Angels Envy partners with the Arbor Day Foundation and plants an oak tree for every Instagram post of an Angels Envy drink tagged with #AE4THETREES.

At High West Distillery it's their American Prairie Bourbon that takes a stand.  A blend from LDI and Four Roses that's carefully finished by the folks at High West. This bottle offers delicious aroma of leather and marshmallows and spice. A swallow only confirms what your nose detected and if you listen closely you can hear the saloon doors slapping closed behind you. According to their website, "For each bottle of American Prairie Bourbon sold, High West donates 10% of its after-tax profits to the American Prairie Reserve."

All this do-gooding is important, and possibly a compelling reason behind the category's growth. It's new bourbon lovers like my husband who have been driving the numbers off the chart for the category and making way for contemporary brands like 1876 Texas Straight Bourbon which, according to a recent press release, "touts an 80% Texas corn and 20% Secale Cereale Oklahoma winter rye mash bill with subtle notes of Rye toast, caramel, vanilla and a hint of smoke on the palette and it is finished with mineral rich Hill Country Artesian Spring Water."

photo by M. Christian via Flickr
photo by M. Christian via Flickr

With new brands like this becoming available it is no wonder that production and consumption of bourbon is up in almost unbelievable percentages as you look at how the category has grown and where it stands in relation to other spirit categories. Here are just a few interesting facts, courtesy of the Distilled Spirits Council of the US.

  • Exports of Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, which represent 68 percent of U.S. spirits exports, approached $1 billion in 2016.
  • Corn used in spirits production increased 265 percent while Rye used in spirits production was up 149 percent from 2010 to 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Tax and Trade Bureau. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Small Grains Report estimates that farmers’ Rye production was up 60 percent in 2015.
  • The value of US spirits exports rose a robust 10.6 percent--up more than $67 million--to a total of 698.5 million in the first half of 2017 as compared with the same period in 2016.   In dollar terms, the growth was led by the largest category: American whiskeys including Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey and American Rye, which rose nearly $27 million to $464.6 million up 6.1 percent.

Obviously, there's a lot of good bourbon out there to enjoy. I'm looking forward to hearing what he likes when he goes out on his own, taking time together to taste through some of the winners of the NY International Spirits Competition like Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Bourbon, O.Z. Tyler Bourbon and New Holland Artisan Spirits Beer Barrel Bourbon and seeing how they measure up to existing favorites.

Of course, best of all may just be settling in for a night together with a glass of our current favorite- a bottle we bought together.