The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar serves up whisky and whisky cocktails for everyone to enjoy.
Hanging above the door of a small Covington storefront is a round wooden sign that reads: “Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar.” The OKBB, despite its name, is the newest addition to the Mainstrasse Village entertainment district, and, according to owner/mixologist Molly Wellmann (co-owner/mastermind behind craft cocktailer Japp’s in Over-the-Rhine) is quite simply a “very small bar for drinking and celebrating American whisky.”
The counter-to-ceiling shelving behind the bar is stocked with 127 different American whiskys. Wellmann purposely avoids using the word “bourbon” when describing the spirits because “they’re so much more,” she says. All bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon. To be considered bourbon, the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits dictates (along with several aging and proofing requirements) that the spirit be at least 51 percent corn whereas whisky, on the other hand, can also be made with a variety of grains including barley, rye and wheat.
At the OKBB you’ll find rye whisky, white (or raw) whisky, experimental whisky, blended whisky, two scotches, two Canadian whiskies and three Irish whiskies. “So we can pour you a Jameson,” says Wellmann, “and then get you on to trying something new.”
And this isn’t just a bar for men. Wellmann not only wants to celebrate the American whisky she carries, she also wants to celebrate women’s newfound appreciation for the spirit. “The first time you try whisky, all you taste is the burn,” says Wellmann. “But then your palate adapts to tasting all the flavors. Women have a more detailed and complex palate than men. In fact, more women are taste testers for beer and liquor companies than men.”
Wellmann’s favorite whisky is Bulleit Bourbon because she finds it has a chocolate finish. Another favorite is Old Forester with its earthy flavor. And then Angel’s Envy, an artisan bourbon from Louisville, which you’d be hard pressed to find at any other local bar. “It has an almost tart taste,” says Wellmann. “It’s alive, bright and beautiful.” But everybody’s palate is different, she emphasizes, and each whisky will taste different to you, especially as your palate adapts.
So what’s her recommended way to enjoy whisky? “Any way you like it, that’s the way to drink it,” says Wellmann. But she suggests you try it straight first so you can start to experience the taste. And if you can’t stand the burn, try it in a Seelbach Cocktail.
- Ice or water
When you order, ask for your preferred bourbon or whisky straight — and if you don’t have a preference, the knowledgeable bartenders at the OKBB can help you select one. Order a couple of ice cubes in a separate glass and a side of water. Try a small sip of the whisky first and if it’s too strong or the burn blocks the taste, put an ice cube in the glass and let it melt for about two minutes. “The water opens up the flavors and helps take out the burn,” says Molly.
THE SEELBACH COCKTAIL
The Seelbach Cocktail was created circa 1917 in Louisville’s famed Seelbach Hotel, but was lost (most likely during Prohibition) for many years. In 1995, during hotel renovations, the Seelbach hotel manager rediscovered the recipe and the cocktail entered popular consciousness. “It’s still a cocktail not everyone knows how to make, but it’s a great bourbon cocktail for women — and men!”
- 1 sugar cube
- Angostura bitters
- Peychaud’s bitters
- ¼ oz. Triple Sec
- 1 ½ oz. bourbon (Molly frequently uses Jim Beam Black or Old Forester. “Never use rye whisky,” she says.)
Instructions: Place the sugar cube in a mixing glass. Add five dashes of Agnostura bitters and five dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Allow the sugar cube to dissolve into the bitters. Add the triple sec and bourbon. Stir, with ice, and strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne.