Whiskey’s Role In The Popular Kentucky-Based Crime Drama
By Richard Thomas
FX’s Justified has earned a following among Kentuckians for its authentic, down home flavor (this despite being shot in California), due in no small part to the prominent role Kentucky’s native spirit, bourbon, plays in it. Indeed, Justified is often described as the most whiskey-soaked show on television, the show where bourbon is a supporting character, and as the kind of show where you can tell a lot about a character by the kind of whiskey he drinks. Without whiskey, Justified just ain’t Justified.
With the Elmore Leonard-inspired series entering its sixth and final season, it’s high time to review just who drinks what on the show, and what that might say about them.
Raylan Givens: Early in the series, the protagonist identified himself as the show’s white hat by asking for Jim Beam. Since that early reference, Givens was often seen drinking bourbon, but the actual whiskey in question went unidentified except for a few brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss it glimpses of the bottle. The drought on Givens’s drinking choices continued until we see him in Lindsey Salazar’s bar, presumably before he started sleeping with her. When Givens’s ex Ava stops in, Lindsey offers her what Raylan is drinking: Elmer T. Lee, from “the top shelf.” He later suggested to his fifth-season love interest, Alison Brander, that she get into bed with him and a bottle of Blanton’s.
Overall, Givens isn’t especially particular, and will drink whatever is put in front of him so long as it’s bourbon and it’s at least a decent one.
Boyd Crowder: In his initial appearances, the show’s principal antagonist was a Wild Turkey man. Presumably going for “The Bird” fit his role as the continuing bad guy. As Crowder moved up in the world, ultimately becoming Harlan’s crime boss, his tastes rose too. In later episodes he expresses a fondness for Russell’s Reserve, but is usually seen drinking Elmer T. Lee.
Art Mullen: The Chief Deputy Marshal and Givens’s boss is the type of guy who has a bottle of Blanton’s tucked away in his desk for when it is needed. On another occasion he was given a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle as a gift, and that has made appearances as well. Yet according to Nick Searcy, the actor who plays Mullen, the character’s go-to whiskey is not bourbon, but Canadian: Crown Royal. As strange as it might seem, Crown Royal would be very authentic, since Lexington, Kentucky is awash in Crown Royal advertising. Collectively, the picture is one of a folksy, successful Lexingtonian with hard working roots.
Arlo Givens: Raylan’s criminal father was, like Crowder in his early days, a Wild Turkey guy.
Emmitt Arnett: The Frankfort-based “Dixie Mafia” boss was shown pouring Pappy Van Winkle into his coffee. His coffee! Clearly this was meant to suggest conspicuous consumption. I’m sure many a bourbon fan were waiting with baited breath for the character’s Season 3 demise for his manifest sin.
Mags Bennett: The “pot queen” of Southeastern Kentucky was also a moonshiner, who routinely offered her apple pie ‘shine as part of her hospitality… or to poison folks she needed to be rid of. The intent was obviously to give her a deeper Appalachian polish than bourbon could provide for the character.
Robert Quarles: The Detroit mobster who killed Arnett and then filled his shoes also adopted his taste in bourbon, but thankfully he showed enough class to not pour Pappy Van Winkle into his java.
Behind the screen, the real people who are associated with Justified are also whiskey enthusiasts. The series is based on the work of author Elmore Leonard, who has a liking for Knob Creek and Black Maple Hill. Walton Goggins, who plays Boyd Crowder, is reportedly a Maker’s Mark fan, while Nick Searcy’s go-to whiskey is Bushmills.