Established in Woodford County in 1865, Labrot and Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery is the home of Woodford Reserve, a small-batch bourbon whose texture and atmosphere may go a long way toward explaining why another name for drunkard is lush, as accurate a descriptive as one can place on this abundant and fertile offering from the bluegrass state.
Bourbon whiskey, unlike its Irish or Scotch cousins, is distilled from corn, not malt. Also, its distilling philosophy is more democratic, washing back portions of each completed batch prior to aging to create a consistent character across the distillery. These two characteristics make bourbon a decidedly American spirit, distinct and separate from the monarchist roots of Europe. One distillery, Maker’s Mark, goes so far to eschew standard aging practices altogether, favoring instead to have the master distiller sample each batch and grade its readiness by taste, no matter its age.
Kentucky bourbon, on the whole, is also more pleasing than the sour ashtray runoff produced in places like Lynchburg, Tennessee. Why anyone would want whiskey made in a town named after gang murder is de rigeur of the hillbilly mentality, one assumes. The mere fact that Kentucky, home of Muhammad Ali and Bill Monroe, can claim bourbon as its greatest export cements the stuff’s standing.
In large part, this may explain my fondness for Kentucky. I have a hard time generating any antipathy toward their efforts. Also, their population’s interest skews toward basketball and, tomorrow being only their thirty-eighth meeting, the football teams do not play all that often. (It doesn’t hurt that Alabama’s record is 34-2-1 in those prior thirty-seven games.)
But like bourbon, Kentucky football is improving with age and craftsmanship. Rich Brooks has stewarded the program into a consistent bowl team, if not championship contender. Last week’s result to Florida aside, Kentucky provides more of a challenge now that in recent memory.
For example, last season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Kentucky played a close if lackluster game that the Crimson Tide could have easily lost late. Tomorrow’s game is not expected to follow that model, but this has more to do with bad luck than any disrespect to the Wildcats.
Kentucky is rather banged up. Their best defensive player, Micah Johnson, missed practice this week with a painful case of turf toe and, even worse, their quarterback suffers from a case of being Mike Hartline. So even though Alabama must respond to Dont’a Hightower’s absence in the linebacking corps, the overall talent margin still favors the Tide.
It’s important to know what you’re good at--love your fate, as Nietzche would say. The river tributaries and limestone foundation make Kentucky a great place for distilling bourbon. Alabama’s a place to play football.