This Affordable Bourbon Made Me a Whiskey Convert


Until a few years ago, I didn’t drink—nor did I enjoy—whiskey.

Like many twentysomethings, my post-college drinking tastes matured slightly in the beer and wine department. I traded out Franzia and Coors Light for craft IPAs and Chiantis. But my taste in cocktails remained solidly in the easy-drinking, fruity department. With the exception of the occasional negroni, my palate steered decidedly toward margaritas, Cape Codders, and other citrus-forward, clear-liquor concoctions.

But that was before I met my fiancé, Zack, a born-and-bred Kentuckian from a large family who loves, stereotypically, basketball and bourbon. Very early on, years before our engagement, Zack gifted me a bottle of small-batch Knob Creek on a visit to my home city, Boston, which he carefully selected as a token of his affection. At the time, I didn’t know how to tell him that, while I liked him, I didn’t like bourbon. That lonely bottle sat on my bedroom radiator, untouched and unopened for months, slowly being ruined by the heat. I kept it around because it made me think of my long-distance love, but I had no intention of ever taking a sip.

I still have the bottle of Knob Creek Zach gifted me way back in the beginning of our relationship.

David Melly

As our relationship progressed, I quickly realized that my aversion to bourbon made me stand out. I met Zack’s family, for the very first time, at a large party. Aunt after aunt greeted me with a warm but wary, “Nice to meet you! Can I get you a drink? I know you don’t like bourbon…” Like it or not, I quickly became known as the East Coast boy with strange drink preferences.

Zack was patient but methodical in his approach to turning me into a bourbon fan. First, we tried whiskey sours, heavy on the sour. Little did I know he was essentially feeding me hard lemonade for months, guiding me to a sophisticated palate. Then he dialed back the lemon and sugar to a more appropriate level, always making sure the bourbon of choice was slightly higher than bottom-shelf. Four Roses was and is a staple of our liquor cabinet for mixing with Coke or prepping a citrus-forward cocktail. Eventually, he moved me onto old fashioneds, at first pouring simple syrup with a heavy hand and then moderating. As our relationship grew, so did I. The stalwart old fashioned is now my cocktail of choice at any bar or restaurant, an American classic that brings out the best in most bourbons and ryes.

Related: We’ve Tasted Hundreds of Whiskeys. These Are the Best in the World

Bourbon became a window for me to learn about my partner’s cultural history, too. We drove over the foothills of central Kentucky to the Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace distilleries, spending Saturdays taking in the Bluegrass State’s natural beauty. I learned about distilleries with single-digit license numbers that trace their roots far back to the 1700s, boasting centuries of rising and falling families and industries, from Prohibition to the “bourbon boom.” I marveled that the Angel’s Envy distillery in Louisville used to be an elevator factory. I was surprised to find that the Seelbach Hotel, once a hub for bootleggers and an inspiration for The Great Gatsby, still pours a fantastic old fashioned—albeit legally now.

Nowadays, I impress my future in-laws by whipping up seasonal cocktails on a moment’s notice. Two variations I invented are an autumn old fashioned, which pairs spicy Sazerac Rye with maple syrup and cardamom bitters, and a “Reese’s Cup,” which marries peanut butter notes of Pinhook Bourbon with Aztec chocolate bitters and vanilla syrup. Zack and I collect Blanton’s bottle tops (we have five of the eight needed to complete the set). And I find myself offering strong opinions on how to prepare a proper paper plane or Manhattan. I can’t yet say I’ve progressed to voluntarily sipping neat, but hey—I have a whole life of marriage to get there. (As we began to plan our wedding, one of our key questions was whether a venue offered proper rocks for cocktails instead of crushed ice.)

That Knob Creek from 2018 has moved with me to three apartments and now lives on a bookshelf in my home office. The seal remains unbroken. But it opened my world up to bourbon in a longer-lasting way than I ever could have imagined. Maybe we’ll put a second bottle on our wedding registry.

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Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

$39 at Flaviar

Related: The Best Bourbons of 2024 to Drink Neat or as a Highball

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