September is “National Bourbon Heritage Month”
In celebration of this great American spirit, we thought it would be fun to interview some of the key personalities in the bourbon world — over several bourbons we came up with some questions and got back some fun and informative responses!
Today’s interview is with Chris Morris, Master Distiller at the Brown-Forman Corporation’s Woodford Reserve distillery in Kentucky. He also serves as their global brand ambassador and is an avid historian of bourbon and Kentucky heritage.
TWM: How old were you when you had your first taste of bourbon?
CM: I don’t know how old I was when I had my first taste of bourbon – I am reluctant to admit it – because I was fairly young. Both of my parents worked at Brown-Forman (the parent company of Woodford Reserve, Old Forester and Early Times) so we always had bourbon around the house. My parents would let me have a little sip from their bourbon and water on occasion and as I remember I didn’t like it. I sure have grown out of that opinion as an adult.
TWM: What’s your favorite “everyday” bourbon?
CM: My “everyday” bourbon is Woodford Reserve – I figure that after a hard day at work a person deserves a special treat or reward.
TWM: How do you take your bourbon; neat, with water, ice, other?
CM: I prefer my Woodford Reserve neat or on the rocks, depending on the time of day and year.
TWM: Favorite bourbon cocktail?
CM: My favorite cocktail is an Old Fashioned – and it is one of the more challenging cocktails to get just right. Brown-Forman’s long history with the famous Pendennis Club in Louisville, where the cocktail originated, makes the drink even more personal for me. I would have to give a nod to the Woodford Reserve $1000 Mint Julep that we serve at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. It is the world’s most expensive and exotic cocktail. Not only does it taste great the proceeds from every drink sold is donated to a great charity.
TWM: Best bourbon myth that’s not true?
CM: The bourbon industry is replete with legend and lore, myths, etc, so it is hard to choose just one as being the best. I guess the biggest one to tackle is the source of the name “bourbon” itself. It is well documented that one of Kentucky’s first six counties was Bourbon County – named by the Virginia Legislature to honor France’s support of the Virginia Colony in the revolution against Great Britain. Legend has it that since one of Kentucky’s early ports on the Ohio River was Limestone (now Maysville) in Bourbon County all of the barrels of whiskey shipped from there (and therefore from Kentucky in general) were called “Whiskey from Bourbon County”. This was shortened over time to simply “Bourbon whiskey”. This story has been accepted as gospel. Obviously no one questioned why, since all barrels shipped from Limestone and other ports on the Ohio had to stop at the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville, Jefferson County), be unloaded from the boat they were on, and warehoused until a boat from down river arrived to take them to New Orleans, the whiskey wasn’t called “Whiskey from Jefferson County”. That question has finally been asked and research now shows that the name “Bourbon whiskey” derives from the marketing of Kentucky whiskey on Bourbon Street in New Orleans by French merchants.
TWM: Have you ever enjoyed a pickleback? (shot of bourbon with pickle juice chaser)
CM: I have never even tasted a pickleback. It has always been my belief that a bourbon not worth sipping was not worth drinking – even in a shot.
TWM: Strangest place you’ve ever had bourbon?
CM: I have traveled all over the world as an bourbon ambassador. I don’t know if this counts as strange but it certainly was memorable – I conducted a bourbon tasting at the ambassador’s residence in Moscow, in the same room that every Soviet leader since Stalin had attended receptions in. To think of all the vodka that had been consumed in that room made me feel that finally America was having its day.
TWM: Which of your competitor’s bourbons would you drink in a pinch?
CM: I am fortunate that one of our company’s brands is always sure to be around if I can’t find Woodford Reserve, Old Forester or Early Times – and that is Jack Daniels.
TWM: Do you have a favorite spirit of choice, other than bourbon?
CM: I do enjoy a fine 100% agave tequila – on the rocks or in a margarita on the rocks.