For the love of bourbon: Spirits expert talks about this most American liquor

A look what bourbon is and the trends in distilling

whiskey and natural ice on old wooden table
whiskey and natural ice on old wooden table (igorr1)

Bourbon is back.

Well, it never really went anywhere, but it is in the midst of a resurgence like never seen.

Fred Minnick is a spirits connoisseur, wrote a best-selling book about bourbon and served as the official Bourbon Authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum. Minnick, a Kentucky resident, knows a thing or two about the brown stuff.

He’s excited about bourbon’s newfound history, and about distilleries outside of Kentucky — like the new Oceanside Distillery in Cape Canaveral — that are starting to make bourbon, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

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Minnick chatted over Zoom and spilled the spirits on this history-rich elixir.

Q: What exactly is bourbon?

A: Bourbon is a type of whiskey that must be made in the United State of America. When countries have a free-trade agreement with us, the United States will actually make the country adhere to our terms and standards as to what is bourbon.

This is a special, unique product to the United States. To be bourbon it must be made from at least 51percent corn mash. From there it has to be distilled at no higher than 160 proof.

It has to go into a new charred-oak container, which is a barrel. That was a law that was put on the books in the 1930s, because nobody was using barrels anymore. After they are done with the barrel it is used for scotch, Canadian whiskey, tequila, tobacco, even hot sauce is aged for three years in used bourbon barrels.

Q: What’s bourbon’s reputation?

A: Bourbon kind of became the everyday person’s drink, and it was always affordable. It was always the one that had more bang for your buck.

If you were someone into brown goods, you knew you had to spend money on scotch, and you knew you could save a buck on bourbon, and you could get pretty close in quality.

That’s been changing quite a bit with the demand in bourbon and the excitement around bourbon. ... It’s in a lot of the cool pop culture moments, whether it’s in a scene of “Mad Men” or “John Wick” or “Boardwalk Empire,” there’s a lot of moments that you see in pop culture across all social statuses, and people are drinking bourbon. It’s a pretty rare moment for bourbon because it’s not had this kind of mainstream popularity before.

Q: Where does a person begin when they want to start enjoying bourbon?

A: I don’t just say this lightly, but I think Maker’s Mark. This is a very easy bottle to get. I think this is one of the best things to get if you’re wanting to start in the process.

One of the worst things you can do if you’re jumping into bourbon is you start really high up, and you start with something so good you’ll never be able to taste it again.

I would never recommend someone start their bourbon journey on like Pappy Van Winkle 15-year-old or like a Henry McKenna. I would never recommend that because, you’re never going to get that fix again. You will, but you’re going to have to spend money.

If you like spicier notes, Wild Turkey is a really good one. Evan Williams is another really good one to start with. For the money, it’s hard to beat Knob Creek 9-year-old.

Q: How do you drink bourbon?

A: The whole thing about bourbon is appreciating it. Appreciating bourbon in a lot of ways is respecting it. If your intention is to kick it back, don’t drink bourbon. If you want to sip it and enjoy it ... bourbon is an amazing spirit to get to know.

Q: You’re actually doing good when you buy, drink bourbon, correct?

A: There are so much taxes that go into bourbon. When you’re buying bourbon, you’re literally helping build the roads and schools of Kentucky. This is one of Kentucky’s greatest economies. It’s a $10 billion economic output for the state. You are helping the children of Kentucky by drinking bourbon, because this is going to help build roads and schools.

Q: What’s the hot trend when it comes to bourbon?

A: Small distilleries outside Kentucky are getting in the game. Cedar Ridge in Iowa, they have an Iowa bourbon out that is absolutely phenomenal. In Alabama there’s a brand, Dettling, and they have a 4-year-old cast drink out that is really, really good.

Spirits of French Lick out of French Lick, Indiana, it does a four-grain bourbon that is just gorgeous. It has oatmeal in the bourbon. It’s very, very tasty.

I get really excited when I see bourbons not made in Kentucky taste exceptionally well. The beauty is the popularity of bourbon has led to all of these people investing in their own brands.

Last year backset everybody a little bit, because they switched gears a little and made hand sanitizer. Last year was really bad for the small distillers, so hopefully this year they’ll gain some of those losses.

More bourbon

To learn more about Fred Minnick or book him for a virtual tasting, visit FredMinnick.com.

To learn more about Oceanside Distillery, 240 W. Central Blvd., Cape Canaveral, visit facebook.com/SpiritsOnCentral.