Every journey begins with that first step. My journey started by sipping a whiskey as my husband described what he experienced in it. I’m not so sure I tasted the same thing, but I could see why he liked it. I took another sip, another step, and now I am finding more new tastes and some adventures.
Since I did not start drinking alcoholic beverages until a little bit later than my peers, I call myself a late alcoholic bloomer. I was 24 or 25 before I hit my bar days. The sister of a friend invited me out to go dancing and drinking. We found ourselves single in the world where our friends had gotten married. It seemed easy enough to pair up and go out without trying find a boyfriend. That is until she found a guy and walked down the aisle herself. Then I was on my own in the bar world.
In my first trials of drinking distilled spirits, I didn’t enjoy the burn either before or after the sip. I decided I couldn’t enjoy the taste. I did, however, find that I enjoyed the taste of spirits after someone else had the drink. It was not hard to talk a guy into drinking something I wanted to try and get the flavor from a kiss. I could get a hint of the flavor without experiencing the burn. I did not know what I was missing from the entire experience.
Now I fast forward a few years. My husband, Rich, was a serious homebrewer who delved into the various tastes and textures of beer. After being stationed in Germany for several years, he came back to the U.S. where beer was not yet up to his standards. I developed a taste for his beer. Then the explosion of microbreweries occurred in the U.S. Through his friends and the local beer society, I learned to taste and distinguish the wonderful world of beer.
Then my husband began exploring distilled spirits. For him, this was not a new area as his family was quite well versed in drinking cocktails and each had their favorite spirits. He jokes that the family drink is the High Ball, which his maternal grandfather enjoyed as often as his wife would allow. This was my first real step into spirits as the designated driver for my husband after a visit to the bar or distillery.
My bar days were spent in Louisville, which was almost the center of the bourbon world. Distilled spirits were popular among the crowds that moved through the bars. My favorite bartenders created wonderful concoctions using spirits. I knew something about drinking spirits, even if I didn’t enjoy it. My family even contains a few distillers from back in the day and into the present.
My husband began exploring distilleries along the Bourbon Trail in the middle of Kentucky. We took the tours and heard the stories from each distillery. It was amazing how different each one was. He would sample the tasting room wares with much gusto. I sampled sparingly, which lead to the discovery that heads and tails make a different in each product.
After most tours, Rich talk to the guides, distillers, and anyone else around with the distillery about their process and products. Being the driver, I would stand around and listen, which meant I was gaining knowledge by osmosis. Distillers call homebrewers lazy because they don’t complete the brewing process to get distilled spirits. It did give them a common ground to discuss what we were drinking.
Rich went on to become a certified Bourbon Steward through Moonshine University in Louisville. He has a nice kit you can use to determine what you smell, taste, and enjoy. I admit to dragging it out and working on my tasting skills.
From these first steps, I discovered I do like distilled spirits. However, I have very specific taste in what I like. Using Rich’s Bourbon Steward kit, I learned that I like leather and tobacco in taste. I don’t like heads at all, but I will tolerate some tails. When I taste a distilled spirit, I know how to evaluate it for taste and texture. From here, I am just beginning to explore the world one taste of spirits at a time.