heritage month

Bourbon History Month: Are there any unofficial rules for drinking Bourbon?

Don't sleep on budget brands, stop being so pretentious and other unofficial bourbon rules

Are there rules when it comes to bourbon?

At first, you might be tempted to say no way. After all, Maggie Kimberl, president of the Bourbon Women Association and content editor at American Whiskey Magazine, says “I always follow Freddie Johnson (of Buffalo Trace‘s) rule that bourbon is meant to be enjoyed with friends and loved ones, and instead of saving the ‘special stuff,’ you should share it because that’s the whole point.” 

I totally agree. It’s nobody’s job to tell someone else how to drink their bourbon.

“My other rule,” Kimberl says, “is that if someone wants to put your bourbon in diet Coke, drink it on the rocks, or mix it into a cocktail, let them.”

And I love what Peggy Noe, founder of the Bourbon Women Association, and the world’s first female master bourbon taster, had to say: “I truly believe that part of the reason the bourbon industry is special and different from any other spirit, and/or the wine industry is that we did not force rules on consumers, or make them feel uneducated (like ordering the ‘right’ wine at dinner).” 

 

All that said, there is a time and a place for “rules,” and I have one nonnegotiable bourbon rule, myself. This one has to do with being a good guest. If I’m at someone’s house and they tell me to help myself to bourbon from their bar, there are two bottles I won’t touch: the one that’s not opened, and the one with only one drink left.

Why? 

That first drink could be from a bottle they’re saving for a special occasion. Maybe it’s rare, maybe they camped out overnight to get it. Maybe it’s a single-barrel pick they can never get again. Same for the last drink in a bottle. I know from my own bar that I have an array of one-drink-left bottles that I can’t bring myself to finish off because once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Hospitality expert Peggy Noe has been a trailblazer for women in the bourbon industry while living up to her Kentucky heritage. She became the world's first female Master bourbon Tester in the industry.

It’s comforting knowing — even if I never get around to drinking it — that I have that one final sip of, say my George T Stagg, that Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon Whiskey, or my Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey.

I’d be heartbroken, honestly, if I went to reach for one of those and found it empty. So I take care not to take the first or the last drink of anyone else’s collection. 

So, what are some other bourbon folks’ non-negotiable rules when it comes to Kentucky’s native spirit? I wondered, so I reached out to a few industry insiders. Here’s what they shared.

Don't take the fun out of the bourbon

“My No.1 rule is don’t take the fun out of bourbon. However you drink it or whatever bottle you open, it shouldn’t turn into a contest on who knows the most. Drink it with someone. Enjoy it with someone. Then repeat.” — Justin Thompson, editor-in-chief, co-publisher of The Bourbon Review

If you've got a rare bourbon, share it or sell it

Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve At Bourbon Whiskey Distillery in California, June 25 2015

“If you are a bourbon collector or sitting on a lot of rare bottles, are you just waiting to sell, waiting for the right occasion or people to share them with, or just bragging rights? I see those who love to open a bottle of rare whiskey to share with friends, and then I see those that display them but keep them off-limits. My theory is if you got it, share it. If not, start selling them to others to enjoy.” — Mike Bass, Punchbowl Project

Barton 1792 Distillery wins big at World Spirits Competition

1792-single-barrel-kentucky-straight-bourbon-whiskey Courtesy of 1792 Bourbon

Three spirits produced at Barton 1792 Distillery were awarded Double Gold medals at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Out of a record-breaking 3,500 entries from around the world, 10 Barton 1792 Distillery spirits were awarded medals. Each entry was subject to rounds of blind tastings and individual evaluation on both taste and design by judges.

“We are humbled to receive recognition for our spirits,” Master Distiller Danny Kahn said in a news release. “These awards would not be possible without our team’s unwavering commitment to top-quality whiskey.”

Double Gold Medals went to:

Gold Medals went to:

Silver Medals went to:

  • 1792 Aged 12 Years Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • Thomas S. Moore Cabernet Sauvignon Finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • Thomas S. Moore Chardonnay Finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Bronze Medals went to:

  • Early Times Kentucky Whiskey
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