Tom Vernon Answers Your Q&A Questions: Part Deux

In the second half of our two-part series, Brown-Forman American Whiskey ambassador Tom Vernon answers more of your burning questions…

…(please direct any questions about that burning sensation to your physician).

Tom Vernon, mixing a drink using only the power of his mind.

Obviously as we all know during the prohibition in America the selling of alcohol was band. I want to know what was the role of:
 a) bartenders
b) the law
c) whisky during this horrible time?
Also I would like to know what actually happened to the Woodford distillery during this time.

Whiskey remained in-vogue during the prohibition period and was used in many cocktails that are now viewed as classic serves, for example the Julep and Manhattan. During this period many bartenders moved abroad to continue perfecting their skills with many moving to Harry’s New York Bar in Paris or Ciros and The Savoy in London. In terms of distilleries many of these were looted and damaged during prohibition, however it was possible to obtain a license to produce distilled spirits for medicinal purposes as far as I’m aware, with regards to BF, Brown-Forman obtained this government approval to produce alcohol for medicinal purposes during Prohibition.

In 1923 we made our first acquisition, Early Times, but stored the whiskey in a government warehouse (removed only by permit) until post prohibition. In fact, there is/was a plaque to Brown Forman in a now defunct New York Speakeasy called Bill Gay 90s (closed in 2011) which celebrated this.

The Woodford Reserve distillery was one of the ones damaged during this period, however has since been restored to its former glory. Demonstrating the distillery’s interesting history, we recently unearthed a sill from the Civil War which had been buried underground.

Who makes the most interesting Bourbon outside of the traditional South East States?

An artisanal distiller in Texas is producing a smoked corn whiskey that very much pays homage to craft American whiskies. Balcone’s smoked rub Texas corn whiskey is one of the more interesting varieties. It’s bold, powerful and made entirely of roasted Hopi blue corn. It very much reminds me of campfires and still has corn husk notes, sugars and stone fruit. Products like this are still widely unknown but are great for the category as a whole, and like masters collection, they are really helping to push the boundaries of American whiskey.

However with law stating that Bourbon can still be made outside of Kentucky (although it can’t be called a Kentucky Bourbon) there is a range of interesting and delicious varieties on offer.

What’s in store for us from Woodford Reserve in 2013? More innovation?

As I already mentioned, innovation continues to shape the whiskey category, however Woodford Reserve have no new plans to announce as yet.

Product innovation highlights of 2012 include the launch of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which is performing exceptionally well, and the introduction of two new Limited Editions to the acclaimed Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection.  Called Four Wood the new variants have been created to continue to push the boundaries of what Kentucky Whiskey offers by crafting rare and innovative new products.

In terms of support for Woodford Reserve in 2013, we have recently announced a partnership with leading men’s magazine Esquire, which sees the brand go in search of the Great American Cocktail. Created to help drive brand awareness amongst Woodford Reserve’s core target audience of 25 – 35 year old males, the partnership includes print media activity and an on-trade incentive for bartenders to win a trip to the home of American cocktail culture; Manhattan.

What is your opinion when it comes to the difference between a classic and a smokey Old fashioned? To my mind the Classic Old Fashioned is one of the greatest drinks there is, Smokey seems to be more popular though, I can only assume it’s due to being advertised more as it’s quicker to make. Do you think the Smokey Old fashioned has merit as a progression on the Classic, or do you think it’s making a time consuming process more manageable for busier bars?
Classics are classics for a reason. They stand the test of time and are steeped in history.

The modern bar scene will always demand progression and innovation, which is where the Smokey Old Fashioned comes in. It gives customers a more theatrical and multi sensory experience and an progression of flavour. By no means is it an attempt to save time, if anything it’s quicker to make a classic old fashioned. The Smokey Old Fashioned is a clear customer favourite though, The Alchemist in Manchester is a big pioneer of the Smokey Old Fashioned and is highly regarded as a go to drink for northern imbibers.

Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?

No – for a whiskey drinker I’m incredibly quick on my feet!

Where can I learn to smoulder like Tom Vernon?

I call it my ‘charred oak’ look. Achieved by years of whiskey tasting!

How can I be more like Tom Vernon?

Work on perfecting your charred oak look of course.

Why don’t you ever visit our baby?

I’ll see you in court!

Part 1 of this article.