We all want to go where everybody knows our name. This is the case with Stephanie Manning, from Commonwealth Tap, who could be compared to Diane on “Cheers,” (without all the drama) but with a serious knowledge of bourbon. So much knowledge that her nickname is the Mistress of Bourbon, and she refers to bourbon as “her boyfriend.” She loves knowing her customers and imparting her knowledge on them. She gives us her picks on bourbon, cocktails and where to eat and drink around town as this week’s FACE of Louisville.
You are known as the Mistress of Bourbon. How did you achieve that distinct honor?
My predecessor at Commonwealth Tap was the Headmistress of Bourbon. I like to joke that bourbon is my boyfriend, so it seemed fitting.
Bourbon societies are male-dominated. What does it feel like being outnumbered in these situations?
It was a little intimidating at first. There must have been a hundred members in attendance at my first Louisville Bourbon Society meeting, but only three or four other women. However, I got pretty comfortable as soon as everyone began nerding out with me, and I’m seeing more and more women join each month. There are several local groups designed solely for women, as well, like Bourbon Women or the Ladies Libation Society.
How can women get more educated about bourbon?
There are a number of excellent bourbon blogs and books containing various levels of whiskey wisdom. I really enjoy Charles Cowdery’s books on the subject, as well as Bernie Lubbers’ book, Bourbon Whiskey: Our Native Spirit. My favorite method: find a great bourbon bar with a knowledgeable bartender and taste to your heart’s content. Figure out what you like, why you like it and what made it that way. Dig into the history and production of it, the grains that produced it, the methods behind it. Then get a ride home.
You remind me of Diane on “Cheers,” working at a neighborhood bar. What do you love about your job?
Everyone I work with is distinctly talented and has a solidly good attitude, and I adore my clientele. It’s a lovely feeling to know most of your customers by name and, beyond that, understand their various palates and preferences.
What’s your favorite drink right now, bourbon or other?
I adore Michter’s 10 Year Rye, but it’s impossible to find. I’d never turn down a neat pour of Colonel E. H. Taylor Rye or a bold, spicy glass of an old Rioja.
Is there any drink you refuse to serve?
No. I’m a firm believer that customer service is far more important than pretension. I may cringe a little if one wants to mix a nice whiskey with Diet Coke and may recommend otherwise, but people want what they want.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
I stay up very late, sleep very late, work and hang out with my boyfriend. My cousins host a family dinner on Tuesdays that I attend, as well.
Who are your mentors and what advice do you treasure?
I never stop learning from the people I work with. Kenny Andreozzi is my wine guru, Adam Sabin my beer master, Matthew Farley my cocktail expert, Reina Shannon my role model for being generally effective and badass. I picked up a lot about bourbon from the owner of Haymarket Whiskey Bar, Matthew Landan, and learned nearly as much from some of my bourbonhead customers. I was once told that the most important part of my job is to always make people feel welcome, so I try to remember that.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my __________.
Contigo. It’s a super-insulated thermos that never leaves my side.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
America. The Diner., The Back Door or Hilltop Tavern for drinks or good, late-night grub. I occasionally go see stand-up comedy at The Silver Dollar on Monday nights. To be frank, I’m kind of a homebody.
What’s your bucket list travel destination?
I studied for a few summers in Europe as a teenager and would love to explore it again as an adult. I’m also intrigued by Iceland.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Total night owl; waking up before noon is a struggle. My quiet time usually consists of lounging in bed with a bowl of popcorn and some form of entertainment.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
I frequently read The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall. It’s fascinating. I’m also reading Supernatural by Graham Hancock. For my birthday, I received Fred Minnick’s book Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey, so that’s up next.
Lightning round! Give us your:
- Candy or junk food splurge: Popcorn, buttery, and in large quantities
- Guilty pleasure song: “I’ve Been Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner
- Tearjerker movie pick: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock dies. Gets me every time.
- Standby nail polish color: I don’t wear nail polish.
- Favorite cocktail: Rye whiskey, neat
- Cartoon alter-ego: Olive Oyl
What are three of your favorite things right now?
Halloween, Star Trek and my brand new baby cousin, Somerled.
Thank you to Adele Reding for her beautiful FACES photography. To see more of her work, click here.
To learn more about Louisville’s Bourbon Societies, click here.