Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear Shares His Taste in Bourbon
By Richard Thomas
Although the micro-distillery boom has spread bourbon-making across the United States, Kentucky is still the bourbon state. This is so much the case that despite bourbons from Colorado, New York, and Texas grabbing awards and headlines, the popular myth that only bourbon from Kentucky is really bourbon is alive and well. So who better to ask about what to look for in a fine bourbon than the 61st and incumbent Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Steve Beshear?
RT: “Sipping whiskey” is a popular concept, conjuring images of unwinding on the porch with a tumbler or snifter and a few fingers of whiskey. What qualities do you look for in a good sipping whiskey?
SB: Well, I look for a bourbon that CAN be sipped, and one that’s worth sipping. What do I mean? Well, on one hand I don’t want something that’s going to completely overwhelm your taste buds and your throat with each drink. It needs to be smooth, and maybe a little subtle. On the other hand, I like bourbon whose taste lingers, regardless of what that particular flavor is, and yes, if you’ve ever taken the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® adventure, you know that bourbons have a multitude of flavors. I don’t want a drink whose flavor disappears the second you swallow it.
RT: Bourbon is Kentucky’s “native spirit,” but other types of whiskey are made there too. Do your tastes extend to rye whiskey, or maybe the new breed of American malts?
SB: Kentucky obviously produces a diverse mix of whiskey types, and an increasingly diverse mix at that. But we’re primarily known for bourbon. In fact, some 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is produced here, and we like to think the rest of it is counterfeit. There are so many Kentucky bourbon brands, each with its own distinctive character fine-tuned by the master distillers. There is enough variety for anyone who likes bourbon to find something suited to his or her particular taste, within the bourbon family or in another Kentucky-produced whiskey.
RT: How do you like to take your bourbon? Neat, with a little water, or on the rocks?
SB: If you’re going to drink a good bourbon, you need to just drink it neat or on the rocks.
RT: Most whiskey lovers have their staples: whiskey expressions that are things they like and inside their budget. What whiskey staple(s) occupy your liquor shelf right now?
SB: As Kentucky’s first family, we entertain a lot. So Jane and I keep quite a few Kentucky bourbons on hand, all the time. Which particular ones might vary from time to time – and no, I’m not going to name them. I’m a politician, after all. You can’t be Kentucky’s governor and not be a bourbon drinker. You also can’t be Kentucky’s governor and take sides. But when I serve a guest a whiskey, you can bet it is premium Kentucky bourbon.
RT: Let’s say you were receiving a delegation from Europe, where they drink a lot of blended and single malt scotch. How would you persuade them to expand their horizons to include some Kentucky bourbon?
SB: First, I would offer them a taste of one or more Kentucky bourbons. I might invite them to visit distilleries in Kentucky’s bourbon country, to take a Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour and see the craftsmanship that goes into one of our signature products. To talk to one of the master distillers, who can explain the art of bourbon-making, often passed down from one generation to another. It’s a great tour. In fact, National Geographic designated the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour as one of its top 10 “Best Spring Trips” for 2013. And due to the success of the attraction – it attracted more than half a million visitors in 2012 – we also recently launched the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour™, a groundbreaking new tourism attraction that links the state’s artisan micro-distilleries. There are quite a few of those as well. Bourbon production has really taken off. We’re in the middle of an expansion boom, the largest since Prohibition, with some $265 million in new construction (distilleries, warehouses, bottling lines, visitors centers etc.) over the last couple of years.
Believe me, it’s not a hard sell: In the far corners of the world, people know a legendary product when they taste it. As governor I talk to a lot of people – visiting dignitaries, potential business investors, and elected officials and politicians from out of town. I also have made several trips around the world to create trade and investment opportunities. And whether I’m in Japan, China, India or France, or here in Frankfort, our capital city: when it comes to Kentucky products, they all want to talk about bourbon, the drink, and bourbon, as in the tourist experience.