I grew up in a Commonwealth, but it never was part of the British Empire.
I wasn’t always a resident of the wild, cold North. Nosiree, I came of age in Lexington, Kentucky, and I’ve spent most of my life within a couple hundred miles of the Bluegrass State. As an adopted son of the birthplace of Lincoln and Elvis, a strong patriotic streak has been blended into me – specifically, into my liver. You can’t live in Kentucky without an awareness of bourbon, the United States’ official spirit. Originally made in Kentucky (and the only place where you can make ”Kentucky Straight Bourbon”), bourbon is as much a part of Kentucky culture as the horse industry, the rolling bluegrass fields, or people getting into fistfights over basketball games. The smell and flavor of bourbon is everywhere – bourbon candies, bourbon desserts, and even bourbon steak sauce all serve as a gateway to familiarize young’uns with the sweet, hot flavors of the tasty local spirit.
That said, bourbon hasn’t always been popular outside the Bluegrass. During the 70s and 80s, whisk(e)y in general was on a downswing in the U.S. (Note: The Irish and the U.S. call whiskey “whiskey,” while the Scots, Canadians, and much of the rest of the world spell it “whisky.” In the spirit of being a contrary, Imperial-measurement-using American import, I will call whiskey whiskey unless specifically talking about a Canadian or Scotch.) As the lame stockbrokers from the 80s and new drinkers of the boomers and Gen-X rebelled against their daddies by drinking tasteless vodka or inventing Zima or something, whiskey makers sat on their stocks, waiting for the day when the market would shift. And shift it has, with Scotch again becoming cool a bit over a decade ago, and bourbon makers finally following suit and beginning to release all sorts of premium bottlings. I came of age in a pretty lucky time – the beginning of the 2000s – so I’ve seen the rebirth of Four Roses, the rise of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and the general explosion of higher-end bourbons. And, right as I started really learning to appreciate the huge, delicious varieties of bourbon available, I left the states alongside my wife for Ontario.
Let me tell you: for as worldly and international you Torontonians claim to be, for as much as you complain that the U.S. shoves its culture and entertainment down your throats, y’all don’t know NOTHIN’ about bourbon, which is a crying shame. At first I had to get over the sticker shock of the cheaper brands available up here, but I eventually was able justify it by saying that it’s an import and that the taxes are hopefully going to a good cause. Once I got over that, it took me a little while to find out that I sometimes can buy more than just the bog-standard brands always stocked at the LCBO (for the record: Beam, Knob Creek, Wild Turkey 80, Maker’s, Woodford, and now Bulleit). Turns out, the LCBO has started offering a “premium” bourbon or two every month or so. Big thanks to the amazing bartenders at the Red Light on Dundas West for hooking me up with that information!
Now, dear readers, please don’t take anything of what I’ve said as confrontational: the point of this blog is actually to be a big ol love-in. My hope is to introduce to all my Canadian friends the joys of Bourbon, the great American whiskey, as it arrives here in Ontario. Along the way, I hope to learn to appreciate the native whisky of my new home!