Caroline Paulus went from being an archaeologist to working as both the whiskey historian at Justins’ House of Bourbon with locations in Louisville and Lexington, as well as the senior editor of The Bourbon Review. It’s safe to say that today, she is a wealth of information on all things whiskey-related. Meet our inspiring new FACE of Louisville, Caroline Paulus!
How did you start your career in the world of whiskey?
It started about five years ago. I had moved to Kentucky for a job as an archeologist, and I was spending time here in Lexington on the weekends, because that’s where my lab was located. I found this really great bourbon bar called Belle’s Cocktail House, and I started going to little events there — bourbon tastings and such — and I began getting to know the people that were running those events. Over time, I became really good friends with a group that included Justin Sloan and Justin Thompson — the owners of Justins’ House of Bourbon. I was doing archeology work, so I started writing some history articles for their magazine. Then, when they opened a vintage whiskey shop, they hired me to be their full-time historian.
What was it like switching gears from archaeologist to whiskey historian?
Archaeology and whiskey are actually very comparable. When you think about it, all of the bottles of whiskey are artifacts; surely, some of the pieces that we have are legitimate pieces of history. You’re not going to find very many liquor stores that have bottles that are more than 110 years old. So, it really is similar in the sense that you’re looking into the culture of how and why these things were made. Who made them? Why did they drink them? It’s very similar research — I just feel much better after I do the bourbon research.
What’s a typical day like in the life of a whiskey historian?
My job is to help curate and research the largest collection of vintage bourbon for sale in the entire world. A typical day for me here at Justins’ House of Bourbon would probably start with me coming in with a few single barrels to taste through. I do all the tasting notes for our single barrels here in the shop — so sometimes, the drinking does start bright and early. If I have research to do for different historic bottles that have come in on collections, that also takes up a big part of my days. We’ll sometimes have bottles come through the door that no one has ever seen before, so I have to kind of figure out where or when they might have come from. Part of my job is also helping clients that come in. Whether they’re long-term clients that want a $10,000 bottle or brand-new clients that just want a fun, $30 bottle, I help them find something that’s really special for them that they’ll leave here with a story about.
What’s the best part of your job?
Trying everything, of course! We’ve had some incredibly rare bottles that are open on our bar for tastings. I’ve certainly gotten to try some things that are way above my pay grade, but I’ve truly enjoyed learning bourbon through not just the research, but the drinking of it.
Do you have any tips for bourbon newbies?
I would always recommend starting with low proof. Basil Hayden’s or Four Roses Small Batch are bottles that are easy to get into; they won’t burn you up too much, but they still have a really nice flavor. I would also not go crazy spending. If you’re brand new to this, find a couple of $30 or $40 bottles to start off with. Figure out what your taste profile is before you go for big names or big labels and end up just blowing money. And my third tip would probably be to come see us here. We’re happy to spend hours with you, talking about all the different options for both newbies as well as for people who have been into bourbon for decades.
What is the best advice you’ve been given or received?
I would say the best advice I was ever given came from my father. He told me once after I’d had a bad day at school, that this is the first day of the rest of your life. So, every single day, you should look at it as though you can take a completely new course. You could start a new habit every single day because it is the first day — every time — of the rest of your life. I think I definitely took that advice when I made such a drastic career shift. I thought to myself that this can be what I do for the rest of my life.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
I cannot live without my dog Toddy; he is my best bud. He’s a miniature Bernard poodle, and I love him very much. He is named for the toddy cocktail, so that would be number two. I have to have a hot toddy almost every night — and I had a doctor go on record to say that they’re excellent for your health. Number three would probably be cheese. I’m from Wisconsin, and I love good sharp cheddar or a good soft cheese.
Thank you, Caroline! All photos courtesy of Justins’ House of Bourbon.
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