When Jacquelyn Zykan offered up a drinking tip as a bartender in Louisville, Kentucky for The Field Guide to Drinking in America: A Traveler’s Handbook to State Liquor Laws by Niki Ganong, she was quick to recommend Old Forester bourbon whiskey to anyone who wanted to drink like a local. Now, she works for Old Forester as the “master bourbon specialist,” traveling the country conducting trainings, tastings, and events on behalf of the brand.
Introduced in 1870, Old Forester was the first bourbon to be bottled in sealed glass bottles, and, according to some legends, it was the bourbon used to create the first Old Fashioned.
Kentucky-made bourbon accounts for ninety-five percent of the world’s bourbon, so it’s no surprise that the beverage is a huge part of the state’s culture. People from all over travel to the “Bourbon Capital” to celebrate the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. Here, tourists can sip their way through the state’s distilleries on the Bourbon Trail or enjoy a Bourbini at the Doc Crow’s.“There’s so much more of a rich tradition here, such a long tradition of making it, that it’s not a fad, it’s not a trend,” Zykan said. “It’s a point of pride, a sort of homeplace pride for everyone here. Other whiskeys are great, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I don’t know, I can only speak on Kentucky whiskey. Kentucky hits you in a home place.”
For a whiskey newcomer, Zykan recommends finding what works for you and substituting whiskey. For example, if you enjoy a rum and coke, try it with whiskey instead for a similar barrel-aged liquor. Personally, she swears to live and die by an Old Fashioned.
“It’s such an easy cocktail to introduce whiskey to someone,” Zykan said. “People stand by the whole, ‘you have to drink whiskey on the rocks, by itself, or else it’s an abomination.’ If you stand by that rule, Old Fashioneds are still somewhat friendly to you because it’s not laden with juice and it’s not up and crazy-colored. It’s still just whiskey—just tweaked a little bit.”
She advises whiskey-drinkers to enjoy a beverage they love rather than embrace the “proper way” to sip bourbon. To her, there are no rules to whiskey. “If you don’t like it, don’t drink it,” Zykan said. “There’s no reason to drink a glass of something miserable. Life’s too short.”