By Richard Thomas
Bourbon and politics have mixed since the earliest days of the Republic. Practices like those of Ulysses S. Grant, holding court over a bourbon and cigar at Washington’s Willard Hotel, or Harry Truman and Sam Rayburn, shooting the breeze over bourbon, are part of the indelible personal side of the capital’s political history.
With a backdrop like that, it’s only natural that Kentucky’s Congressional delegation hosts a few bourbon-lovers, like Louisville’s Representative John Yarmuth. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Yarmuth, a Congressman from a city and district where bourbon is booming, to ask him about Kentucky’s native spirit.
RT: Whiskey fans often talk about “sipping whiskey,” with images of an evening on the veranda with a couple of fingers of bourbon in the tumbler. What qualities do you look for in a good sipping whiskey?
JY: I prefer bold, full-bodied bourbon that is heavy on the corn.
RT: That said, what are your favorite bourbon brands?
JY: With so many great bourbons from my Congressional District, that’s the kind of question that could get me in trouble. The only time it’s safe for me to pick a favorite is during the Kentucky Derby.
RT: How do you like to take your bourbon? Neat, on the rocks, with a few drops of water? Or does it depend?
RT: The bourbon boom has been kind to your district. Evan Williams is already in Louisville; Peerless and Angel’s Envy will open distilleries there; and the Urban Bourbon Trail is all-Louisville. Could the Derby City become the center of Kentucky’s bourbon experience?
JY: It’s easy to see why I’m the founder and chairman of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus: Louisville and bourbon go hand in hand. Bourbon is also part of the heritage of our Commonwealth, and the renewed interest has been great for the entire state. But we have plenty of history, too. Louisville was once home to more than 50 distilleries in the Whiskey Row District. Today, we have distilleries in addition to the ones you mentioned, such as Michter’s and Grease Monkey Distillery (home of Moonshine University, where one can learn the craft), as well as the world headquarters of Brown-Forman and a major Beam presence.
RT: Do you ever venture out into other whiskeys, like rye or scotch?
JY: I recently tried the new Angel’s Envy Rye, which has a really nice, sweet finish. And I’m up for trying any home-state product, which keeps my options wide open – particularly with the revival of micro-distilleries throughout the state, which is mixing innovation with tradition.
RT: Let’s say you’re hosting a trade delegation from Ireland or Scotland or Japan, and you’re introducing them to bourbon. What would you tell them about Kentucky’s native spirit?
JY: Good bourbon speaks for itself, but I’d encourage them to consider the craftsmanship, history, and hard-earned expertise that went into each sip of America’s only native spirit. And I’d tell them the aging process for bourbon is unique: Bourbon is required by law to be aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.