Gimme a Break

By Hyacinth Miles

When I first went to Japan I brought gifts for my hosts. I got a few boxes of bourbon balls—the good kind, and passed those around, figuring chocolate is always welcome.

Wrong. The bourbon balls were not a success. It’s interesting to watch someone who has just taken a bite of food you’ve given them try to keep themselves from spitting it back in your hand.

By the time I left I’d learned better. This time I gave people the bourbon straight up. They were impressed with my sophistication, or pretended to be. Bourbon is very popular in Japan, far more popular than it seems to be in, say, Minnesota. It enjoys a certain bourgeois acclaim, the way that very good Vodka does here. As further evidence of my sophistication I even hunted up a couple bottles of Maker’s Mark. Most of the bourbon in Japan is the Four Roses, Jim Bean variety. My friends were impressed but also a little disappointed. “I like Wild Turkey.” they’d say.

“Never heard of it.” I responded.

But really, the bourbon drinkers in Japan were extremely sophisticated compared to those I met in New York.

“Bourbon’s from Kentucky?” one said.

“Most of it is.” I said. No laws say that bourbon has to be from Kentucky, although most is, and Kentucky is the only state allowed to put its name on the bottle. Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn (65% - 75% is much more common) and aged for at least two years in new, charred white oak barrels.

“You mean like Jack Daniel’s?”

“No,” I said patiently. “Jack Daniel’s is from Tennessee.”

“I think I met someone from Tennessee once.” She said contemplatively, and wandered away in a haze of cigarette smoke and self-awareness.

To be fair the people I know who know the most about Bourbon aren’t from Kentucky either. A friend has a boss in Pittsburgh who is a huge fan of one of the small batch bourbons sold mostly in Japan and in about four places in the US, two of which seem to be the local Liquor Barns. He asked that she pick him up a bottle when she came to Lexington for a visit and somehow I ended up in the Liquor Barn at 11:30 on a Saturday night.

“I’m looking for a bourbon called Rowan Creek.” I said to the clerk. “I think it’s supposed to be rare and sort of nice. Something you can’t get in Pittsburgh.”

“Never heard of it.” he said. “You sure she don’t mean Knob Creek?”

“Is it likely she wouldn’t be able to buy Knob Creek in Pittsburgh?” I asked.

But persistence paid off. I found the single bottle of Rowan Creek that Liquor Barn stocked on a high shelf in a fancy wooden box.

That box didn’t save me. Somehow the bottle wasn’t sealed properly and by the time my friend picked it up it had leaked all over the seat of my car.

“What am I going to do?” she asked. “My boss wanted this bourbon.”

“What am I going to do?” I asked. “My car smells like a speakeasy.

So I ended up trying to take the bourbon back, meaning it sat on my kitchen table for about three months instead. When I finally got around to tracking down the Rowan Creek manufacturers I was amazed at how difficult it was to find them.

I am a child of the information age. I spend a fair amount of time and attention trying not to be noticed (and subsequently harassed) by corporations. If, for God knows what reason, I ever want to find some sort of company, that information is never more than a Google away.

Not so with whoever made Rowan Creek Bourbon. They were impossible to track down. Thanks to the guys at I finally found that their parent company was excitingly named Kentucky Bourbon Distiller’s Ltd.

The master blender at Kentucky Bourbon Distiller’s Ltd. is a man named Even Kulsveen, bourbon mixing genius, recluse and legend, at least according to John and Linda Lipman, who run a webpage called “Adventures in Bourbon” which details how they stalked Mr. Kulsveen for an afternoon hoping to meet the legend face to face.

What makes Mr. Kulsveen so intriguing? Well apparently the number of actual bourbon distillers is very small, only seven total. Most bourbon brands are either lines from those seven distillers or are combinations of various types of bourbon bought from them and blended to achieve specific flavors. Blending bourbon is an art form in and of itself and of those who practice the art, Even Kulsveen is an undisputed master. He’s something of a marketing master as well, most of his products are marketed only over seas—which explains his obscurity in this country (or at least this city).

Unlike John and Linda Lipman, I actually got to talk with Mr. Kulsveen. Or at least, I think it was him. The phone was answered on the first ring.

“Hello.” said a cranky sounding man.

“Uh. Hello. I was trying to reach Ky. Bourbon Distillers Ltd.” I said. “Is this the wrong number?”

“No.” he said.

Well so far so good. I explained about the leaky bottle. He listened patiently and then asked me to repeat myself.

“The wax seal has a little hole in it.” I said. “It’s leaking.”

“That’s not possible.”

“I don’t know what to tell you sir.” I said, “There’s bourbon all over my car.”

“Well I’m not calling you a liar.” He paused, to consider whether or not he indeed wasn’t calling me a liar, then continued. “Perhaps we can make an exchange.”

Coming from a famed bourbon recluse this sounded exciting.

To be continued next week....n

As always, email can be directed to [email protected]