Whisky'mentary: Bourbontucky (2015)

America’s native spirit owes itself to the Whiskey Excise Tax which brought in a flood of Irish and Scot immigrants most of whom settled in Kentucky. That means there’s no better place than the birth land itself to document the beautiful journey of bourbon. Bourbontucky does a fine job right from a voyage through the copper stills in the county to demystifying the myths and unveiling the truths about bourbon bars. The narrative is amply sprinkled with tête-à-têtes of bourbon aficionados and creators alike.

Directed and produced by Kirk Mangels and DirectTV, Bourbontucky is one entertaining and incredibly informative documentary any beverage enthusiast would love. Note that David S. Morrison, cinematographer for the documentary, did a splendid job too.

Here’s what the film entails:

It begins with the quaint bourbon history painted with beautiful brown stills, golden, plump grains of corn falling through the grate and age old traditions of fermenting and distilling. This picture remains persistent across distilleries—be it Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark or Buffalo Trace. After the camera pans across these stills, the corn farmers, the still makers and finally the distillery owners add their valuable insight. It is their words of wisdom, stemming from their years of experience that make Bourbontucky a brilliant documentation of the bourbon making process. These are the people who make every dram of this fiery liquid come alive.

While Bluegrass notes chime creating a positive ambience, we are also drawn into intriguing conversations with retailers and famous distillers like Jimmy Russell, Chris Morris, Jim Rutledge, Fred Noe and Harlen Wheatly who have seen the rise and fall of the spirit over the years. One of them actually touted that what some years ago was an affordable beverage when there were hardly any takers, now accrues a price that is incredibly off the top yet worth every drop of it. A distiller also mentioned that while people may want to dismiss them on a political note, they wouldn’t be able to shirk off their quality products with just as much grit.

The effortlessly smooth narrative is suddenly stirred up with the clipping of the fire that broke out when a lightning bolt hit the Heaven Hills distillery in 1996. The day started with 44 warehouses and ended with 37 of them left untainted. The tragedy is said to be responsible for losing anywhere between 2% to 6% of the world’s bourbon. The legendary distillers of Jim Beam offered a generous amount of the amber liquid to Heaven Hills following the fiasco. The whole episode is one that leaves behind a sense of intense warmth at how the entire fraternity came together at the helm of this daunting incident.

The narrative then pans over to the recent years where bourbon has been gaining incredible momentum—less perceived as a grandpa’s drink, instead more ignited as an increasing number of younger generations explore and experience the varied shades of this liquor. Some brands opened their doors wide to flavors, imbibing their bourbons with botanical hints, while others pledge to stay loyal to their traditions keeping their bourbons indelibly sacrosanct. 

In the midst of innovative recipes and tale telling, women, as we come to know, play an undeniably essential role in bootlegging bourbon and moonshine during the Prohibition period. With zero chances of being frisked, this brave yet stealthy battalion first brought in the liquor, then got to crafting it themselves before making it their preferred spirit.

This new era saw the influx of newer distilleries cropping up not just in Kentucky but all around the world. Celebrities like David Beckham are gearing up to own the world’s finest whiskies. While bourbon spreads its golden wings and burgeons, the state of Kentucky now celebrates its humble beginnings declaring September as its National Bourbon Heritage Month.

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