Don’t let anyone boss you around about bourbon.
“Drink it however you like it,” says master distiller Marianne Eaves.
“Bourbon purists would shame you for putting bourbon in Coke, but if that’s how you’re going to start to develop an appreciation for the flavors, maybe you start there and then move into some craft cocktails, maybe try a nice old fashioned, and move into a neat pour from there,” she says.
Eaves, 31, knows a thing or two about learning to like bourbon.
When she landed a co-op at distilling powerhouse Brown-Forman in 2009, she didn’t have a taste for it. She had expected to end up working in bio diesel or fuel additives once she earned her chemical engineering degree from the University of Louisville.
But she fell in love with bourbon and the industry and stayed on after she graduated, rising to become a master taster at Brown-Forman, the company behind Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Jack Daniel’s and many other spirits and wines.
In 2015, she made a big splash in bourbon circles when she left Brown-Forman to take on the role of master distiller at Castle & Key, a new distillery that’s slated to open to the public later this year in the historic Old Taylor Distillery facility near Frankfort, Kentucky.
The move made Eaves the first female master distiller in Kentucky since Prohibition.
“I’m not the only one anymore, but I hope that I was able to open some doors and get people thinking that it was old-fashioned and about time,” Eaves says.
Eaves is also a partner and part-owner of Castle & Key. The distillery’s bourbons will age for a full four years, so its bourbon won’t be ready until at least 2021. In April, the distillery released a limited-edition gin and vodka.
But it’s bourbon that dominates Kentucky Derby season drinks, so CNN asked Eaves to recommend some of her favorite bourbon bars in Louisville, where the most exciting two minutes in sports takes place the first Saturday in May.
The Silver Dollar
Modeled on the Bakersfield, California honky tonks of the 1950s, this Frankfort Avenue spot serves traditional working class dishes with a modern spin and is serious about whiskey.
There are more than 400 varieties available, about 200 of which are Kentucky straight bourbons. Craft cocktails are also on the menu, including a mint julep made with Four Roses Single Barrel.
While bourbon must be made in the United States, it’s not made exclusively in Kentucky. Still, the state produces 95% of the world’s supply.
It must be made from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn and be aged in new, charred oak barrels. There are also some proof requirements for distilling, aging and bottling bourbon.
The Silver Dollar is on the city’s Urban Bourbon Trail, a collection of bars and restaurants that stock at least 50 bourbons. Guests with paper or electronic Urban Bourbon Trail passports get stamps at participating venues toward Bourbon Trail swag.
The Silver Dollar, 1761 Frankfort Ave., Louisville
Haymarket Whiskey Bar & Bottle Shop
With more than 400 whiskeys, at least 250 of which are bourbons, the odds of finding something new at Haymarket are good, even for Eaves.
“If I’m looking for just a place to sip neat whiskey and find new things that maybe I haven’t heard of before, I go to Haymarket,” Eaves says.
There’s a lot going on – pinball machines, skeeball lanes, a music venue – but whiskey comes first at this Urban Bourbon Trail stop. There’s even a bottle shop on site, so you can taste at the bar and then buy a bottle to take home.
Haymarket, 331 East Market St., Louisville
Proof on Main
For bourbon with a side of high design and arresting art, downtown Louisville’s Proof on Main goes down easy.
“It’s got all this cool modern art because it’s connected to the 21c, and they’ve got great food and great drinks,” says Eaves.
The 21c is the flagship 21c Museum Hotel, a hotel/contemporary art museum concept launched in 2006 by Laura Lee Brown (of the Brown-Forman empire) and her husband Steve Wilson.