Meet the Bourbonians

It’s not often you meet a Kentucky Colonel. Let alone three at one sitting–and not a bucket of fried chicken in sight.

Gathered at the behest of local bourbon connoisseur and webmaster Jim Butler, folks from around the globe (and closer to home) trek to Santa Rosa each year to meet up with similarly passionate drinkers to talk bourbon, share bourbon, sip bourbon, admire bourbon, smoke a stogie or two and then get back to all things bourbon. These are serious bourbonians. Including–I kid you not–several who’ve been tapped as real-life Kentucky Colonels for their dedication to the state’s righteous brew. (Most wear t-shirts and jeans instead of white suits, however.)

Turns out this was the weekend for the big meet up in Santa Rosa and the bourbon crew counted some 15 states and several countries among those represented at the Bourbon Fest. And somehow BiteClub got invited. Mostly because I accidentally crashed their pre-party on Friday night while making a beeline for a Jack and Coke.

Now in case, like me, you’re a little rusty on the difference between whisky and bourbon, the kindly folks are happy to explain it while you try not to cough and choke on your first shot of 141 proof bourbon. Unlike whisky, there are some rather stringent requirements on what can and can’t be labeled bourbon. Though they share some similar qualities, bourbon must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn (most distillers use 65 to 75 percent corn, according to the website) and bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years in new, white oak barrels that have been charred. Nothing can be added at bottling to enhance flavor, add sweetness or alter color.

A couple other interesting facts gleaned while hobnobbing with the Bourbons: Bourbon is a uniquely American drink and no other country has license to create “bourbon” “kind of like the whole flap about sparkling wine makers not using the term “champagne”. In addition, Bourbon doesn’t really change or age (like wine) after it’s bottled. So at the party, there were more than a few bottles that dated back 20 or 30 years “a real treat to crack open those old time tax tabs.

So, here’s the big question: Is Jack Daniel’s bourbon? Nope, though the process is similar, Daniel’s uses a special process of filtering that makes it straight-up whisky. Not that anyone’s complaining. It just isn’t bourbon. But mention Scotch and you’d think I’d just brought a bottle of Hearty Burgundy to a dinner with Robert Parker Jr. Apparently there’s no love-loss between Scotch-drinkers and Bourbonians.

To find out why, check out Jim’s website, for a FAQ, forums and plenty of discussion about all thinks mashed, filtered, distilled and sipped. Just don’t mention Scotch.

BOURBON FOR WINE DRINKERS: Bourbon drinkers from Wine Country were excited about a new Woodford Reserve Bourbon that is “finished” several months in Chardonnay barrels from Sonoma Cutrer winery after being aged in new oak. The bourbon, which is rumored to be released shortly will retail for $89.99 and only 900 cases are being produced.