We’ve all heard the news recently about Jim Beam being sold to a Japanese holding company called Suntory. Through this obsessively-repeated news coverage, we’ve all heard the fact that Jim Beam is the best-selling brand of bourbon in Kentucky. Over and over. So we here at Louisville.com started to wonder: what is Louisville’s Favorite bourbon? The answer is not as straightforward as you might want it to be.
For starters, I asked some notable Kentuckians and bourbon connoisseurs which bourbons they prefer. Chef Damaris Phillips of the Food Network show Southern at Heart gave one of my favorite answers:
Nicely done, Chef D. I often feel the same way about my bourbons!
Matthew Landan of Haymarket Whiskey Bar also gave a fantastic answer:
“I don’t really have a single favorite bourbon. I have about twenty. [My] favorite cheap bourbon is Heaven Hill 6 year Bonded. Favorite mid-price is W.L. Weller 12 year. Favorite three new whiskeys that came out in 2013 were Angel’s Envy Rye, Elijah Craig 12 yeah Barrel Proof (134.2), and Four Roses 125th Anniversary Small Batch.”
It is worth noting here that Rye whiskeys are starting to gain in popularity among bourbon connoisseurs. When I asked my favorite liquor store manager what his favorite bourbon was, his response was, “Angel’s Envy Rye. They finish it in Caribbean rum barrels and it picks up this vanilla sweetness. Almost a little bit of bananas foster taste and smell. Goes for around eighty bucks.” When Angel’s Envy Rye first debuted, I was working in another liquor store and our entire case sold out in thirty minutes. If you ever see it on a shelf, just get it.
But back to bourbons. The next person I asked was Chris Williams of 502 Café (Home of Bourbon Bacon Jam). He said, “Willett is my favorite, especially at the price point. Not quite premium, but above the old standard [set] by Makers. It gives all the smoky caramel and vanilla [notes] I look for with a smooth delivery.” Then he sent me this picture of his almost-empty bottle in his liquor cabinet:
Mason Dixon of the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys had this to say: “My family’s [favorite] bourbon is Very Old Barton, but I’m a fan of Woodford and VOB.” He’s in good company-of all the locals polled on social media, more respondents said they like Woodford than said they liked any other single brand.
Another liquor store manager I know said he likes “Makers. Tastes good and I love the red wax!” The story behind the red wax is the stuff of bourbon legend, and it’s required knowledge if you want to call yourself a Kentuckian.
The great thing about Louisville bourbon drinkers is that they are diverse and they know what they like. This has led to the rise of several small distilleries over the last several years, and it seems like more pop up every day. Some stick around, some go platinum, and some get bought up. Fairly often you will hear a story about a bourbon distillery that has been out of business for generations when a new generation decides to start producing it again. Tom Bulleit did it with Bulleit Frontier Whiskey. Most recently this story played out again with Medley Brothers and Old Medley Brothers Bourbon. After 50 years being out of production the family bought the rights that had been sold in 1958 and started producing it again. (This is another new kid on the block I recommend trying if you find it in your liquor store.)
These stories are what bourbon lovers live for. Very rarely will you find a bourbon lover who sticks to just one bourbon for an extended period of time. You’ll usually have one or two favorites for a while and then you get burned out and start the search for something new. For the longest time my favorite was Eagle Rare. Then I ended up chatting with Jim Rutledge of Four Roses one night at work and discovered that I really liked Four Roses Single Barrel. You never know what’s out there until you go looking for it.
We polled Louisvillians on various social media platforms. The top four most loved bourbons in Louisville are:
3. Maker’s Mark
Other bourbons mentioned in no particular order were EH Taylor Small Batch, Bookers, Four Roses, Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, Four Roses Single Barrel, Angel’s Envy, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Old Medley, Jim Beam Black, Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, Elijah Craig 12 year, Elijah Craig 18 year, Knob Creek, Old Bardstown, Woodford Master Selections, Basil Hayden, Old Forester Birthday, Kentucky Gentleman, Kentucky Tavern, Old Forester, and Willett. If you think I just named all the bourbons in the liquor store, I’m not even close. Go see for yourself.
In addition to bourbons and ryes, there were mentions of Wild Turkey American Honey, Red Stag Spiced, and Red Stag Cherry. These are great for someone who wants to ease into bourbon drinking. Flavored and infused bourbons are gaining market share, but it is worth noting they are not technically bourbons, but rather bourbon drinks or liqueurs.
So there you have it. Louisville is full of bourbon diversity. More than one person said they liked them all. If you’d like to weigh in on the discussion, tweet me @LouGirl502. I’d love to hear all about your favorite bourbon.
Photos Courtesy of Woodford Reserve Facebook Page, Louisville.com's Twitter, Damaris Phillips' Twitter, Maggie Kimberl's Twitter, Chris Williams, Brian Buxton's Twitter, Timothy Tucker via Louisville.com on Facebook, and Explore Kentucky's Twitter.