People

Royal flush

Kate Portman plays a hand of poker with Buffalo Trace's Master Distiller, Harlen Wheatley.
By Kate Portman (nee Ennis)
Q:What is your preferred bourbon serve when playing cards?A: Asweet Manhattan served on the rocks.Q: Does your drink choice change depending if you’re winning or losing?!A: Yes, I usually don’t have a drink unless I am winning. If I am losing, I stick to water.It also probably depends more on the location. If I’m playing in a casino, I would usually order bourbon on the rocks because it is simple to make. If it is a private occasion then we could get more elaborate with an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan.Q:When did you first learn to play poker?A: When I was about 16 and played occasionally with friends.I only started playing poker tournaments about 10 years ago.Q: Describe your most memorable game - good or bad!A: It was a tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. There were about 140 players and I won the event with an ace high heart flush on the river. My victory there is the reason I named my dog Ace.Q:Where’s the best place to play poker in Kentucky and why?A: Unfortunately, there are no professional establishments in Kentucky however we have riverboats on the Kentucky River that are actually owned by Indiana copmanies. I usually travel about an hour to Belterra Casino in Indiana. It is a small but friendly crowd with great competitions.Q: So how many times do you bluff to win a hand?A: Now that wouldn’t be wise to tell!However, I would say that there is usually only one ‘make or break’ bluff in a tournament.Q: Do you have any tips for poker novices?A: The number one competency in poker is to be patient. You have to wait until the right time to put your money in the middle and when that time comes, you will know it.Q: How do you think I fared in my first game of poker?A: I think you were a tough player to figure out and did fine, you just have to catch some cards to advance which is the luck part of it.Q: Do you think there has been any element of luck and chance in getting to the career position you have today or did you have it all planned out?A: I certainly think there was an element of luck. When I graduated from college (Northern Kentucky University) and looked at all the options, luckily the distiller-intraining position at Buffalo Trace was available for me to fill. Once in the door, it was up to me to advance and progress both the position and myself.Q: As only the sixth master distiller since the American Civil War, you have a long tradition to carry on at Buffalo Trace.What does that responsibility mean to you and what do you hope to achieve during your time in charge?A: I take the responsibility very seriously and consider it heavily in all my decisions by looking at things long term. My mission is for Buffalo Trace to be recognised as a distillery and aging warehouse that produces high quality, award-winning spirits in a safe, efficient, desirable, and well-maintained environment by building on historical successes, developing employees, integrating cutting edge technology, and continuously improving. I believe we have already gone a long way in achieving success in all these areas.Q:What are the benefits of working for an independent company like Buffalo Trace?A: It gives you the freedom of operating as you would with your own business, only without the financial burdens. I also believe the smaller company has more compassion for its employees than a larger, corporateowned facility.Q:What’s the best thing about working in the bourbon industry?A: It’s heritage and tradition – carrying that on is the key.Q: Is the modern world changing things?A: We are much more concerned with the environment and the impact of our operations. Of course the global economy is something at our doorstep. The advances in technology have allowed us to become for consistent and manage our processes more effectively.Q: Is there still a close knit community feel among the distillers of Kentucky today?A: Yes, most of us talk regularly about industry issues and we all realise that we are all in this together. It isn’t a winner take all situation like poker!