From mint juleps at the Derby to Old Fashioneds at the bar, there is only one spirit that makes these drinks what they are. Bourbon is a beloved spirit, and each bottle is rich with history and flavor. Kentucky bourbon is not to be confused with Tennessee whiskey or Carolina rye, as any Kentuckian will be quick to remind you. It is a centuries-old, time-honored tradition focused on care and craftsmanship. To be considered bourbon, the spirit must follow specific requirements, including that it must be aged in new, charred white oak barrels, a process known as coopering. The art of barrel making, coopering is just that: an art. The charring of the barrels is a paramount part of the process as it is the wood that gives bourbon its color, which is indicative of the aromas and flavors. Brown-Forman, the distiller behind Coopers’ Craft, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s, Old Forester, and more, makes all of their own barrels.
“We have been making our own barrels since 1945,” Heather Howell, director of emerging brands for Brown-Forman, tells us. “Through history, we have determined that this is the most important piece of the bourbon recipe. More than 3,000 barrels are made by hand each day. The barrels are about 50% of the flavor, and 100% of the color.”
Located in Louisville, KY, the Brown-Forman Cooperage (barrel-making facility) is a lively place in which the craft of barrel making is celebrated. “There is such a sense of pride and tradition in the making of our barrels. Inside the Cooperage, through the faces and hands that are making the barrels, you get an essence of the history and heritage, and the passion to keep this tradition alive,” Coopers’ Craft Bourbon Ambassador Michael Ring says. “When you control the process, you can be incredibly innovative.”
In 2016, Brown-Forman released the company’s first bourbon and two decades, showcasing their ability to be innovative. That new-to-the-family bourbon is Coopers’ Craft, aptly named for those who craft the barrels.
Coopers’ Craft is an 82.2-proof Bourbon that is finished with a beech and birch charcoal finishing process, meaning the bourbon passes through three woods before it’s bottled. “This extra step removes some of the burn commonly associated with bourbons and lets the oak flavor come through,” Heather explains. Most bourbon drinkers understand the three-sip method, which allows you to acclimate to the spirit in three sips. The first numbs your tongue, the second has a slight burn and the third introduces the tasting notes. With Coopers’ Craft, the second sip isn’t needed. The finishing process allows the flavors of vanilla and burnt orange to be more forward.
Within the bourbon industry, there is no shortage of aficionados and purists — those who appreciate the storied history and cultural significance as much as the flavor. But Coopers’ Craft is bringing a new approach to the tradition of bourbon drinking. Being an approachable spirit, this bourbon can be sipped neat, or added to cocktails. “We find that the bourbon disappears in Coke, but is a perfect match with ginger ale and ginger beer,” Michael says. He has even gone as far as adding Coopers’ Craft to banana liqueur for a tropical spin on an Old Fashioned. “I like to focus on the versatility,” Michael tells us. “I want to remove any pretentiousness in our industry and in our category. This bourbon is not for aficionados, but it is something any aficionados would appreciate.” Coopers’ Craft isn’t a big, bold, knock-your-socks-off bourbon. It is drinkable and delicious, and it is breaking the mold of how people think of bourbon.
Described by Michael as having a deliciously light and gentle flavor profile, Coopers’ Craft differs from other bourbons in many ways. “We are inviting consumers into the bourbon category,” Michael says. “Brown-Forman had the insight to develop something for the new bourbon drinker and soon-to-be aficionado. We are having fun with bourbon.”
Bourbon — namely Coopers’ Craft — has a place in just about every kind of cocktail. A spirit-forward concoction, such as an Old Fashioned, will allow the bourbon to shine. In more non-traditional cocktails, bourbon provides a sweeter backdrop that can carry a variety of flavors from spicy to citrus-y. Discover how the flavor and depth marry with traditional and nontraditional ingredients (including banana liqueur). Coopers’ Craft was kind enough to share stellar recipes for a Kentucky Toddy and Sweet Winter Heat, so start there!
While this is a bourbon everyone can drink (without feeling intimidated), it is not a bourbon you can find just anywhere. The bourbon is sold throughout the South in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina. Depending on where you shop, a bottle will run you between $21 and $24 dollars. “This price point gives people an opportunity to try it and to have fun with it,” Heather says. Michael suggests getting creative with your cocktails, but also with your cuisine. He recently paired brisket with a bourbon barbecue sauce. “Coopers’ is the right price point for these recipes. I wouldn’t make a barbecue sauce with a Woodfood Double Oaked Bourbon, but Coopers’ is a hip sip and a delight in recipes.”
It’s Friday. Pick a bottle of Coopers’ Craft, open the bottle, discover the gentle flavors, adding it into your favorite cocktails and share it with friends!
These beautiful images are in thanks to Tabitha Booth. Sponsor Coopers’ Craft 21+
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