What makes your best weekend: barreling down the road? Or searching for the best single-barrel? Two authors want to show that you can enjoy both (as long as the driver’s sober). Cameron Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess will use their new book “The State of Bourbon” as the basis for teaching a “Fast Class” at the library’s main branch this week.
This volume’s the first in a series that follows up on some favorite topics from their previous “My Old Kentucky Road Trip.” You get history lessons informed by short travelogues. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. But many of the book’s highlights are in the whimsically-chosen-but-thoroughly-researched sidebars — does that seem fitting for a state where bourbon barrels outnumber the residents?
LEO recently phoned Ludwick and found her excited at the prospect of returning to her roots after moving to Austin, Texas, not long ago. She’ll also be getting behind the wheel with Hess, making new fascinating finds. Ludwick describes their road-trip process this way: “I’m probably the history nerd. We see a wild sign that we have to investigate, or there’s something that’s glossed over in a pamphlet, and you have to say, ‘We need to go check that out.’ With “The State of Bourbon,” some of the coolest moments were investigating places like the Falls of the Ohio. You just kinda see an interesting water feature on the river — but really it was a key component to [the history of] bourbon in Kentucky.”
LEO: There are now lots of start-ups and boutique distillers, from all over, creating liquors they label as bourbon. Is there reason to think quality and branding-power of ‘Kentucky Straight’ bourbon might be diluted or otherwise altered?
Cameron Ludwick: Give ‘em 250 years! Kentucky brands have been here since before Prohibition. Since the late 18th century. I’m not too worried yet. You’re talking about an industry where 95 percent of the product comes from one place. Folks across the country appreciate that bourbon is the only native spirit. If some threats arrive in the form of tariffs or other brands, I think [they’ll] step up for the home team.
How are you doing with discovering new favorites?
I’ll be diplomatic and say my favorites are small-batch bourbons. I like to think that single-barrels are for adventurous folks. When it’s from a single barrel, it’s sort of a surprise what the flavor might be. I appreciate that a small batch is a master distiller saying, ‘These three barrels come together for a smooth flavor.’
Has the Commonwealth been a help for those looking for the interesting features on and off on the road?
Kentucky as a whole has done a really amazing job. On any state highway, look for the brown signs and they will direct you — along the Bourbon Trail, or to historic sites. To speak to the way that we’ve set up our book — for us, the spirit of road tripping is really about exploring. It’s great to turn on your GPS and know exactly where you’re going — but it’s also great to stop for a minute and say [for example], ‘I’m driving through Bardstown, I’m going to the Bourbon Festival. But what else is around? There’s a women in the Civil War museum you might miss if you’re just following the instructions. There are so many cool things that you can do if you let your sense of direction be your guide.’ •