We have heard from many of our Bourbon loving friends that we must attend The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM if the opportunity ever arises. On a cold and snowy Saturday in January that opportunity finally came. Not only was The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM taking place in our town, it was also taking place at our favorite establishment in Northern Kentucky, The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. Knowing our love for Bourbon, this event was a must.
The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM is a one-day class led by Michael Veach, the Filson Bourbon Historian. According to their website, “The Filson’s Bourbon AcademyTM mission is centered on education and adding to our already internationally recognized archives and special collections of a product that is synonymous with Kentucky – Bourbon.”
The morning of the event we had to drive through treacherous conditions caused by a snow storm but we all made it safely to The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. Not long after we arrived, Michael Veach from The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM arrived safely, and in spite of the weather we knew The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM would go on. Everyone grabbed a seat and prepared to learn about the history of Bourbon.
Michael began the class with a brief explanation of what Bourbon is and then he began to tell us about the origin of “Bourbon.” We learned about the people who moved from other parts of the world to finally settle in Kentucky. We were taught how they actually arrived to Kentucky, usually through the Cumberland Gap or down the Ohio River from the Northern side. We discussed many aspects of history, such as how the Bourbon making process began, who is thought to be the first person (people) to ever make Bourbon, the first mention of charred barrels in the Bourbon making process, how Bourbon got its name and the role of the Whiskey Rebellion. Michael taught all of this before 10:00 a.m.!
After a break, we began a session on how to taste Bourbon and where the six sources of flavor come from. We also discussed the types of Bourbon (traditional rye, high rye and wheated) as well as the proof and filtration or lack of filtration. Though The Bourbon Guys already had a lot of experience in this area, it was still a lot of fun getting Michael’s perspective. During this tasting session we sampled Bourbon from Old Forester and Larceny. One unique twist in this tasting session was that bowls of pecans and dried cherries were placed next to us. After doing an initial tasting of the Bourbons we then took a bite of either the pecan or dried cherries and then re-tasted the Bourbon. Tasting the Bourbon after the pecans and dried cherries, we noticed different tastes that came through the Bourbon each time.
Next, Michael began a session that covered the 19th century history of Bourbon. Some of the fascinating topics covered were the invention of the copper still, the steam boats and railroads that transported Bourbon, some pioneers in the industry such as Christopher Crow and E.H. Taylor, how the Civil War affected Kentucky and how Bourbon was mainly sold in barrels at the time. We even discussed the invention of the lithograph, which was responsible for the first color advertisements of Bourbon. One of the most interesting topics we covered had to do with a man named George Garvin who legally used his doctor’s name, “Dr. William Forester,” to name his first Bourbon — Old Forester. This became the first bottled Bourbon that was for sale.
We took a break for lunch before beginning another tasting session that included samplings of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey and Wild Turkey 81 Rye. We talked about the differences of Tennessee Whiskey and Rye whiskey when compared to Bourbon. This session was brief but it’s always fun to taste whiskey.
Right after the second tasting we began our session on the history of Bottled in Bond legislation. Even though our after-lunch food coma was beginning to set in, the very informative Michael Veach managed to keep our full attention throughout this entire session. He discussed topics such as the first bottling machine that was developed in the late 1880’s as well as the pros and cons of the Bottled in Bond Act. We talked about E.H. Taylor’s dismay for this Act as well as how James E. Pepper was the first to develop tamper-proof labeling. We discussed many other topics as well, including how the President William Howard Taft defined “straight whiskey.” Our final lesson took us up through Prohibition. We covered government taxes and the effect that World War I had on the Bourbon industry.
In a third tasting, we sampled a small batch Bourbon, Knob Creek, and a single barrel Bourbon, Four Roses. Michael explained the differences and we enjoyed our samples. Even though most in attendance knew the differences between the two, it was still a great time and Michael Veach always adds a few interesting tidbits that we weren’t aware of.
Michael Veach began our final session, covering post-Prohibition up to the 21st century. We discussed everything from the Great Depression, the grain shortage, job layoffs, the repeal of Prohibition, the gangster George Remus, and World War II all the way up to today where we discussed the great Elmer T. Lee along with Booker Noe and others.
After all of the day’s sessions were complete, Michael Veach led us into a blind tasting of an unknown spirit which he had previously poured into his green decanter. We each tasted the spirit and were told to guess things like the type of whiskey, the age, the proof and brand name of the whiskey. We being The Bourbon Guys thought we would ace this test (LOL!) but to our surprise we couldn’t guess the name of whiskey in the decanter. We must also add that no one guessed the name of the whiskey, which we won’t name in the event that Michael chooses to use this whiskey on another class of unsuspecting students.
We expected a lot from The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM and we were not disappointed. It was absolutely amazing how many topics Michael Veach covered in one day! If you enjoy history and Bourbon we highly recommend that you attend The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM whenever you get the opportunity. The knowledge that you will gain in one day is absolutely incredible.
Thanks again, Michael Veach!