Bourbon and I are old friends. We first got to know each other back in my 20′s and we’ve been enjoying each other’s company ever since. Sure, at first I thought bourbon was a little out of my league. I was intimidated by his reputation and some of his friends seemed a little cooler-than-thou if you know what I mean. But the more I got to know him, the more I liked bourbon. Sure we’ve had our ups and downs but I’ve forgiven him for the hangover from my 30th birthday and he’s forgotten all about how I used to mix him with coke. If you have yet to become acquainted with bourbon I can recommend no better place than the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar on Main Street in Covington, Kentucky.
The OKBB is less of a bar and more of classroom devoted to one of the true American art forms: Bourbon. You go to the OKBB to be educated and if you come out with a buzz, that’s just a happy coincidence. Actually the bar is dedicated to American whiskey of all kinds, but there is obviously a heavy focus on bourbon. The OKBB is small, clean, and modern looking on the inside. The seats at the bar fill up quickly these days, mostly because if you come to drink bourbon here there is a good chance that you want to talk about bourbon as well and the bar is the place to do it. I sat down with the bar’s owner Molly Wellmann while I was there last and learned that one of the reasons for this is she started hand picking and training her staff for this bar six months before they opened and they have had very little turn over since then. The result is that the bartenders are all incredibly knowledgeable about the entire process of making, drinking, and mixing whiskey.
Of course knowledgeable is important but I also love that they are very approachable. If you don’t like the taste of whiskey by itself the staff knows many excellent cocktails, like the Horse’s Neck or the Manhattan, to give you a taste without overwhelming you. But if you do already enjoy bourbon this is a great location for discovering new things. On my first trip I got to try a selection of much older bourbon than I could usually afford. Since then I’ve been able to explore the world of rye whiskeys, blends from upstarts like High West and Watershed distilleries, rare bottles like Angel’s Envy cask strength, and even some Pappy Van Winkle. In addition to the top shelf bottles, the bartender was also very helpful in pointing out some good “everyday” bourbon that were surprisingly strong for their price. The quiet atmosphere, talkative staff, and chance for trying new things together also makes the OKBB ideal for a date night.
The other great thing about the OKBB is that because it is the only bar devoted entirely to whiskeys in the Cincinnati area, the distributors and distillers always seem to make a point of stopping there. Earlier this year, I was in the area and going to stop by for a quick drink before heading on to another appointment and found that one of the owners of High West Distillery was setting up for a tasting and talk about their products. This past year they have hosted Smooth Ambler, Middle West Spirits, and Town Branch Bourbon to name just the few that I am aware of.
As you may have guessed from the classroom metaphor, this is not a place you come to get drunk. If you are looking for cheap shots or to grab a beer after work this is not the ideal place to go. But if you have an hour or two to spend exploring some new whiskeys and talking about the latest developments in bourbon, you are in the right place. Any bourbon lover who finds themselves in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area would be foolish to miss it.