What did you do last weekend? Oh, I spent Sunday at Bourbon Academy. That’s right. Eight hours of whiskey history and whiskey at Brooklyn Kitchen.
This class was US history through the eyes of whiskey and the development of bourbon. And let’s be honest, isn’t that the most realistic and fun way to experience it?
Led by Mike Veach of Filson Historical Society out of Kentucky, this class started with frontiersmen having their “eye-opener” shot of whiskey first thing in the morning before taming those wild west farms when Kentucky was the edge of the US. Many brought their stills with them when they settled in Kentucky in the 18th century. The class then followed Kentucky whiskey history through the Civil War and Prohibition and World War II and then that sad time when whiskey sales dipped…followed by today’s resurgence.
Every time life got tough – Prohibition! What the hell were you thinking? – we would stop and have a whiskey tasting to lighten the mood.
The class was developed by Mike Veach, bourbon historian at the Filson Historical Society (that’s a real job title), after he heard from a visiting friend that a local bar in Louisville had a few kinds of whiskey, but no bourbon. Even in Brooklyn, that would make locals cringe.
Mike created the class to educate local bartenders. But it turns out that not just bartenders in Kentucky need to know the history of bourbon, so he took his class on the road. The Brooklyn crowd was a mix of about 22 men and women – bartenders, a historian, some writers, and people who just like whiskey.
If you grew up in California, like me, you know a lot about Spanish missions in California (including how to construct them out of sugar cubes) and Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail.
But Kentucky moonshine and the whiskey trade with New Orleans? My history teachers totally skipped over that. And the whiskey rebellion and whiskey taxes and whiskey distilleries being commandeered by the US government during world wars to make high-proof alcohol and what a prescription could get you during Prohibition (1 pint every 10 days, but if you got a second opinion…)
So thank goodness for Bourbon Academy to fill in the gaps. Like how charred barrels were most likely used for bourbon as a way to improve sales of whiskey in New Orleans where the French were drinking brandy. And how whiskey was a viable currency for buying land at one point. And how single malt Scotches helped revive American whiskey sales in the US in the 1970’s.
I learned a lot at Bourbon Academy, but eight hours wasn’t nearly enough. I can tell I will need to devote a lifetime to the study of whiskey.