Virtual program explores Jewish contributions to bourbon

Tom Jones, trying some fermenting mash at a distillery.
Tom Jones, trying some fermenting mash at a distillery. (Courtesy of Tom Jones)

The Kol Shalom Men’s Club will be hosting a virtual event Feb. 18 on bourbon and its relationship with the Jewish people.

Titled “History of Bourbon & Tasting (Interactive Zoom),” the event will feature a discussion led by Certified Bourbon Stewards Tom and Noel Jones, as well as a tasting of several different types of bourbon.

Originally, the Men’s Club had planned to organize a tour of a local brewery in the Baltimore or Annapolis region, according to Gary Weinfeld, board member of Kol Shalom and president of its Men’s Club. The arrival of the pandemic scrapped those plans. Instead, Weinfeld had the idea for a virtual bourbon-themed event. Weinfeld was later told of Tom and Noel Jones by a former president of the Men’s Club, and about how they had participated in a similar event before at a different synagogue.

At least 20 participants have so far registered for the event, said Weinfeld, who is hoping for 25 or 30 participants.

Tom Jones
Tom Jones (Courtesy of Tom Jones)

Tom Jones, a former member of Kol Shalom who received his title of certified bourbon steward from the Stave and Thief Society of Louisville, Ky., explained that the event will devote much of its time to the Jewish community’s past contributions to bourbon production.

Some of this history includes businessman Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, the founder of Bernheim Distillery and the brand I.W. Harper. Bernheim contributed to the founding of the Reform movement’s rabbinical college by endowing their library through his proceeds, Jones said.

Jones said he also planned to discuss Heaven Hill Distilleries, which Bernheim Distilleries was eventually rolled into.

The bourbon industry was a way for members of Louisville’s Jewish community to achieve prominence and wealth in the area, Jones said. It was an industry that was accessible for Jews at a time when many other avenues were closed off. As more temperance-minded Christian communities at the time were hesitant to participate in the liquor business, it became more socially acceptable for Jewish entrepreneurs to move into that industry.

Noel and Tom Jones
Noel and Tom Jones (Courtesy of Tom Jones)

Participants who register for the event can expect to try four separate types of bourbon for the tasting, which will be available for pick up one week beforehand at Kol Shalom, and are covered by the event’s $25 registration fee, Weinfeld said. They include Yellowstone, which Jones described as a good entry point to bourbon; Maker’s Mark 101, which takes out a lot of the dilution and gives a “fuller profile of the bourbon,” Widow Jane 10 Year, from a small New York distillery that incorporates “interesting floral notes;” and Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength, which has a “bold, fruit note to it” and which he expects to be a fun brand to try.

There has been a bourbon boom over the last several years, Jones said. The Kol Shalom event is just another example of bourbon’s growing popularity.

While Jones said the pandemic had “decimated the small craft industry,” he stood by the statement that “there’s never been a better time than now to drink bourbon.”

He speculated that the popularity of the television show, “Mad Men,” may have contributed to bourbon’s elevated profile, as have all the new people that have come into the industry in recent years.

So, what makes bourbon so special? Jones said he enjoys its sweetness, the notion that it is a fundamentally American drink and how it “provides something interesting for you to taste and think about and find your way through each time you open a quality bottle.”


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