By Darren Paltrowitz
The longest-running bourbon brand on the market today, Old Forester, is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey produced by the Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corporation. Beyond holding the distinction of being the first bourbon sold exclusively in a sealed bottle, Old Forester’s bourbon was one of only ten brands authorized for lawful production during Prohibition—for medicinal purposes, of course. In turn, Old Forester holds the distinction of being the only Kentucky bourbon to have been produced before, during, and after Prohibition by the same family.
Another staple of Louisville is the Kentucky Derby, which is widely known as the greatest two minutes in sports, and Old Forester is one of the brands that is synonymous with the world-famous horse race. The 2020 Kentucky Derby takes place on September 5th at Churchill Downs. Those on-site at Churchill Downs are likely to enjoy an adult beverage or two, and one of the more popular cocktails among locals and visitors alike is the Old Forester Mint Julep.
On the eve of Old Forester’s 150th Anniversary, I had the pleasure of speaking with Old Forester’s Master Taster Jackie Zykan. We caught up with her recently to find out a bit more about what’s in store for Old Forester.
What was it that brought you to Louisville?
I arrived in Louisville from Missouri about ten years ago. I stayed in Louisville because I had a fantastic career in a local hospitality group, and they had become my family. The bar industry is so close-knit here, and there is always something new happening in Louisville. Bourbon was reviving, and opportunities were popping up left and right to grow my resume, and honestly, it’s a little oasis. I fell in love with the city.
Bourbon is a very serious thing in Louisville, of course. Was bourbon always your preferred spirit?
It would be unfair to say it was. I am a pretty diversified imbiber. I was never against drinking bourbon; I had my fair share. We didn’t have the selection ten years ago in Missouri that we do today in Kentucky. I was a blended scotch drinker for a short stint, also went through a quick rum phase, a gin martini month, wine, and beer are omnipresent, of course.
It’s not a cop-out, no two days are ever alike in this job. I travel quite a bit for this position, and with that comes distributor training, consumer events, media opportunities, bartender mingling, and tons of educational seminars and tastings. My time is split between our corporate campus, our new distillery, and our warehouses in Shively. Some days you’re covered in cobwebs and char, and some days you are making a cocktail for a magazine photo shoot.
Is there an accomplishment you are most proud of?
Since joining Old Forester, I have created multiple philanthropic programs to raise money and awareness for women in marginalized situations as well as mental health initiatives for our industry. I am a firm believer in giving back and always finding a creative way to do so within the brand growth strategies already in place.
What do you feel are misconceptions about your job?
I find there tends to be a misperception of roles in the alcohol industry in general. It is assumed to be a party—that we all drink for a living. When alcohol becomes your career, your relationship with it must transition from that mentality to a professional one. Yes, our industry is fun, but many people don’t realize I’m the only one in the room at an event that cannot get drunk because I’m working. When your job is to serve as a voice of authenticity for the brand, which was founded on principles worth fighting to protect, you cannot accomplish that unless it’s done responsibly.
What is on the horizon for Old Forester?
This is an epic year for the brand, as we are celebrating our 150th anniversary. We will be releasing a limited offering three-part anniversary series, which will be our first unfiltered batch-proof collection. I have personally designated three blends from a reserved lot of 150 barrels, which Master Distiller Chris Morris set aside years ago.
We will also be refreshing our single barrel program, taking what was always a 90 proof product to two new options: 100 proof or unfiltered barrel strength. And, of course, always keep an eye out for the Birthday Bourbon 2020 vintage in September!
When not busy with Old Forester, what are some of your favorite pastimes in Louisville?
I have found in my years in this industry that I need to take time for quiet time and fresh air. I’m very fortunate to live in a place that offers incredible options for hiking, camping, and kayaking within a short drive. I am incredibly grateful to have the job I have, which allows me to experience some of the world’s best bars and restaurants, so when I’m off the clock, I make it a point to regroup with my dog and my son, Bennett. I highly recommend exploring Cherokee Park, designed by Olmsted. It’s a fantastic place to escape within the city.
Finally, Jackie, any last words?
Be kind to each other, and for a peek into what life as a Master Taster looks like, follow me on Instagram @jackiezykan.
For more information on Old Forester, visit oldforester.com.