This past weekend, Mike, my dad, and I put on our Sunday Funday hats and attended The Imperial Life's bartending class on bourbon. I'll admit, I felt a little guilty about putting off our typical Sunday housekeeping and grocery shopping to start drinking hard liquor at 1 PM, but rarely do I get to cavort around downtown with my family and friends. And since I recently laid down a new law that I do not work on Sundays (a necessary boundary in my effort to live a more balanced life), I said 'yes!'
We arrived a tad early to grab a quick bite at Table which was amazing. I always recommend Table to out-of-towners but rarely do I get to go there myself. I ordered the Classic Breakfast and y'all, I swear they served up the best fried egg I've ever had! Mike ordered a delicious coffee cocktail but I knew if I started drinking prior to the tasting I'd be in baaaad shape LOL!
With literally a minute to spare, we ran upstairs to grab our seats at the bar and found a booklet, pen, and three bourbon samples already set up in front of each bar stool. We dove right in as our teacher, Ben, educated us on everything from how to taste bourbon, to how it's made, to why certain types are better on the rocks or mixed into a cocktail. He made an excellent point that bourbon is always the spirit that everyone wants to talk about, learn about, and collect. I was sitting next to my dad, the son of two Kentuckians, one of whom grew up in Bardstown where Maker's Mark is made, my husband, Mike, who asks for a new bottle of bourbon for every birthday or holiday, and our friend Chad whose bourbon collection would make any ABC Store jealous. Clearly each one of them is heavily invested and interested in their continuing education on bourbon! I am, too, though my bourbon drinking happens primarily during football season, or when I get a cold and require a hot toddy.
Anyways, he poured up samples of Four Roses Small Batch, Maker's Mark 46, and Knob Creek Single Barrel in that order. When we started tasting, he advised us to ignore the first sip because it shocks our palette and our taste buds need a minute to get acclimated. On the second sip, you can try and discern different flavors mixed in, ranging from maple sweetness to cinnamon to black pepper. I wasn't that great at tasting the subtle nuances beyond sweet or peppery but once Ben pointed out things like vanilla or citrus I could sense those tastes, too. But what really blew my mind was how adding just a couple drops of water to your neat bourbon opened up the taste! Once I doctored my Maker's Mark 46 with a few dashes of H2O I really began to enjoy sipping it, so much so that I told Mike I wanted to pick some up on our next trip to the package store!
Honestly, the whole discussion was fascinating -- the world of bourbon making is so steeped in history and chemistry! For instance, you can create loads of different bourbons just by selecting and blending different barrels in their storage facilities, called rickhouses. Some are created by combining barrels from different stories; that's called a vertical blend. A horizontal blend is achieved by taking barrels from the same level of the rickhouse. It's all about how the temperature on the different levels affects the bourbon traveling in and around the wooden barrels and their interior charcoal coating.
BTW. It's actually a law that you can only make bourbon in the same barrel one time. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the wastefulness of this, but it's an old law from a different time. Luckily, since most beverage companies own different brands of various spirits, they can reuse or repurpose the barrels for making other types of liquor like scotch or tequila. And I know I've seen them used as decoration a time or two!
I took our class booklet home with me to keep for future reference as we sample new bourbons or host a tasting with friends. The bar in our living room is a hutch that my great grandmother used as her kitchen on her Kentucky farm in Bardstown over 100 years ago! Her son, my grandfather, inherited it and converted it to the more decorative piece it is today, removing the tin lining from her flour drawer and so forth. My great grandmother, Lula, served as a hostess in My Old Kentucky Home. I like to think that using it as a bar, a place we gather around and open up when we host guests or dinner parties, is exactly how she'd like to see it used today.
You can bet it'll be stocked with bourbon! Always with Maker's Mark, for my grandmother and my Bardstown ancestors. I couldn't have known that taking this class would make me feel more connected to my family line, but I do!
My awesome experience extended well beyond the class and the $20 I spent to take it. I'll be watching for Ben and The Imperial Life crew to announce their next one! We found out about the bourbon class through word of mouth and also little fliers they had sitting around the bar and downstairs at Table. I also follow them on Instagram (@theimperiallife) to stay in the loop on their goings-on and specials.
Hopefully you learned a little bit about bourbon from this post, and about the cool things happening around our awesome town! Leave a comment below if you know of any other cool courses or experiences I should hit up!