People

Bourbon tastes

Spent any time in Kentucky and you'll soon come across Jeff and Ann McMichael. Dominic Roskrow reports
By Dominic Roskrow
Kentucky is renowned for its kindness, politeness and hospitality, but nevertheless it still bowls you over when you reacquaint yourself with it after a long period of absence.Back in January I flew to Louisville to interview various people for my The World’s Best Whiskies book at a time when Jeff and Ann McMichael were away.But almost as soon as I arrived I received a message to drop by the Oscar Getz Museum in Bardstown.There I was given a beautiful engraved box, containing a bottle of Bulleit and a set of smart branded glasses – a gift from the McMichaels from their new ‘taste of bourbon’ business.They have form for this sort of thing. On more than one occasion Ann has driven to Louisville to collect me off late night flights and take me back to Bardstown. They have driven me to distillery events, introduced me to influential folk around their home town, and often provided first class photography for little or no fee, just to help out. I’ve know Ann as long as I’ve known Kentucky, and Jeff just a little time less – and if ever anyone deserved the title of unsung heroes, it’s them.Ann was born in Bardstown so bourbon is in her blood.“I’ve been around the bourbon industry all my life,” she says. “I have numerous relatives employed in the industry, at distilleries such as Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Barton.” Jeff’s parents are from the area, too, and although he lived away and never called the town home, he visited regularly. He started work in television after college and has worked for most of the major networks. Finally he moved to Atlanta, but while visiting Bardstown on one occasion he called in on the television station Ann was working at. They not only ended up getting married, but set up a business together, filming and photographing the state, its whiskeys and its people.Their work includes making a promotional video for Four Roses and working with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to film all the state’s distilleries for promotional purposes. For them it has been a natural process, and one which doesn’t create issues.“We work together very well,” says Ann. “People often ask who the boss is, but for us it depends on what the project is. We both listen to one another and respect the other person’s opinions and ideas. When we are on a photography shoot I usually take the lead; when it’s a video shoot, Jeff does.” Jeff still travels away three or four times a year and over the years the couple have noticed a significant increase in interest from across the States in bourbon. Often Jeff is asked to bring some with him to shoots, and takes great pleasure in introducing people to the drink. That’s reflected by the growth of the annual bourbon festival held every September. The couple volunteer to help out each year, and have watched the event grow first hand.“The Kentucky Bourbon Festival has given us our favourite memories,” Ann says. “We get to share our love of bourbon and its culture and we’ve made life-long friends because of it.” And they’ve built a business from it too. Their e-commerce site www.tasteofbourbon.com provides people across America with bourbon related products such as chocolates and sauces.“Because the bourbon industry is centrally located it still has the small town feel. If we need information from Jimmy Russell or Parker Beam, we have their numbers and can give them a call.It all feels like an extended family.It’s more than drinking bourbon, it’s about the culture of the people.Everyone knows the smell of the cooking mash in the air, everyone understands the magic of our limestone water and the weather cycle. It’s great to be part of that – and we’re very proud of it.”