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Jon's Jottings: Say it ain’t so Jim; Say it ain't so

A bronze statue of Frederick Booker Noe II (1929-2004), Kentucky’s great ambassador of bourbon, is located at the Jim Beam Visitor Center and Distillery in Clermont, Ky. Booker Noe, who was Jim Beam’s grandson, served as a master bourbon distiller for more than 40 years. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Jon Echternacht)

The late Booker Noe is most certainly turning over in his grave.

For the uninformed, Booker Noe (Fredrick Booker Noe II, 1929-2004) was the master distiller at Jim Beam Distillery for more than 40 years. He was also the grandson of Jim Beam himself.

It was recently announced the iconic American spirit label, Jim Beam Bourbon, was sold to a Japanese company.

Booker dedicated his life to making and extolling the virtues of bourbon and more recently, small batch bourbons, the first of which just happens to be named Bookers.

A statute of him in his rocking chair is located with a vessel of his favorite spirit at the Jim Beam Visitor Center in Clermont, Ky., about 16 miles northwest of Bardstown and south of Louisville just off I-65.

Bourbon is the true American spirit and Bardstown is the center of its heritage and keeper of its history. The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History is there.

Many travelers on the Bourbon Trail start by heading south from Louisville to Jim Beam at Clermont then hit Bardstown, sometimes using the friendly town as a headquarters to head out to the other distilleries on the "Trail" including Heaven Hill on the south edge of town, Makers Mark near Loretto, also a Jim Beam property sold to the Japanese, Labrot & Graham near Versailles, Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg.

I traveled the trail very early in this century. It rained every day in Kentucky at the time, but I still remember it as one of the best little driving vacations my wife and I ever took.

We returned last November after spending a little time in Louisville. We thought a loop down to Clermont was in order on our way back home to Wisconsin. Besides, the sun was shining and it was a pleasant fall day in northwestern Kentucky just before the gripping early cold of pre-winter weather set in.

Now a large foreign conglomerate, Suntory Holdings, Inc., owns Jim Beam, distilleries and visitor center. The sale price was listed at $13.62 billion in a Jan. 14 news article. Some of the Beam descendants, I would hope, will get a piece of the action.

One of the great things about the Bourbon Trail is when you stop in the parking lot of the various distilleries and open the car, immediately the aroma of aged spirits that have been steeped in new charred oak barrels for a number of years embraces your nose.

Bourbon is produced under strict guidelines that make it such. Bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

The rules state, among other things, bourbon has to be made in the United States, from at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred-oak barrels, distilled at no more than 160 proof, entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof and bottled like other whiskey at 80 proof of more.

Bourbon has a long history tied to the development of America.

The first whiskey distillers arrived in Kentucky in 1770, when America was still a series of British Colonies. Jacob Beam and others set up in Bardstown and in 1780 their whiskey became known as bourbon.

In my older years, I became a bourbon aficionado, however in my underage years I was known to slip away with a few drams of Jim Beam from my father's liquor cabinet which consisted of the top shelves above the frig in the kitchen. Those episodes were not to savor the taste of a finely stilled spirit but a more earthly purpose of numbing the senses.

When I became of drinking age, the finer spirits were out of my price range and thus began a long period of beer as the alcoholic beverage of choice when the situation called for one.

But late in life, savoring three fingers of the American Sprit, on the rocks with a splash of water at the end of the day worked its way back into my life and just in time to savor the new marketing experiments of small batch and specialty distilled bourbons from Kentucky.

At home, we also delved into the culinary aspects of cooking with bourbon. In fact bourbon bonbons have become a Christmas specialty over the last decade or so.

But now, the international corporate world has taken the true American spirit. I suppose if I ever get to Japan, I know I can find a wee dram of bourbon. But I still have a nice sized jar of Evan Williams on hand, one of the best kept secrets in Kentucky, and in the basement is a bottle of Makers Mark encased in not the traditional red sealing wax, but Green and Gold for the Packers waiting to be opened for the next special team occasion -- Super Bowl, maybe???