Editor’s Letter, September 2022: The Rise of Bourbon

How do we examine the reignition of bourbon’s popularity in our region and beyond?
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There’s a saying in our business that journalism is the first rough draft of history. A magazine like this might contribute a second draft by contextualizing news events and newsmakers in a What does it mean? manner. Book authors, documentary filmmakers, researchers, and other professionals eventually take a crack at memorializing what becomes known as history.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

The tech world has upended this neat schedule, of course, by compressing years and decades of effort into minutes and hours. Take sports, one of my favorite topics. A breaking news story (the Reds trade Luis Castillo) is immediately followed by contextual coverage (what does it mean for the Reds next season?) and historical comparisons (is this one of the top 10 Reds trades of all time?). Which quickly turns into nostalgia. (Remember where you were when you heard about the trade? Yes, I was here on my computer yesterday.)

Bourbon’s rise to its current popularity feels like a compressed draft of history, too. Back in May 2015, when Cincinnati Magazine chronicled local bars, retail outlets, and distilleries contributing to the bourbon boom, this region still seemed like an interloper. The “real stuff” was produced in central Kentucky, like it’s always been, with some expansion to Louisville. All of that’s changed now, as highlighted in “Welcome to Bourbon Country”; today Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati are a legitimate, multi-layered gateway to that signature spirit.

It wasn’t that long ago that New Riff and other area distillers loaded their first barrels into aging warehouses for the long hibernation that produces a top-quality product. Has it already been five, seven, nine years? Just like that, the “real stuff” is now made in Bellevue, Burlington, Independence, Newport, and even on the Ohio side of the river.

A number of area distilleries have been in the game for generations, of course. But it’s fun to witness a time-honored tradition morph and grow right before your eyes. It’s even more fun to sample the new bourbons. Cheers.

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