Many Louisvillians know Susan Reigler from the years she reviewed restaurants and covered spirits for The Courier Journal.
And now, she continues to write — although not for the CJ — but she’s whittled down what she prefers to cover, and that, of course, is Kentucky bourbon.
Reigler is a renowned author, educator, speaker and overall authority of all things bourbon, and you’ll often see her leading tastings for Bourbon Women, moderating a panel with master distillers or signing her numerous books.
Her latest project has been sampling more than 350 bourbons for the second edition of “The Bourbon Tasting Notebook,” which she co-writes with fellow bourbon expert Michael Veach.
The first edition of the handy little book came out in 2015 and featured tasting notes on 215 different bourbon brands. This one, which came out this week, adds 135 more to the roster.
G. Clay Whittaker of Men’s Journal reviewed the book and referred to Reigler and Veach as “the Lewis and Clark of the bourbon world … giving just enough input to steer you in the right direction.”
Reigler tells Insider the bourbons in the book are indexed by price range, style and proof, so it makes it easy to look up one of your favorites, or one you’re contemplating trying. She says that while the tasting sessions with Veach were fun, the authors had to limit themselves to four or five per meeting, accompanied with plenty of water and palate-cleansing crackers.
“For the updated book, we met several times a week until we had as many as we could find,” she explains. “It was a great help that Chris Zaborowski and Richard Splan, the proprietors of Westport Whiskey & Wine, allowed us access the the bottles in their tasting room. Many craft distillers sent us samples.”
Reigler recalls writing about bourbon in the early days of its comeback, in the mid-1990s, while she was at the CJ. She was the first journalist to cover the opening of a distillery — the Labrot & Graham, which is now known as the Woodford Reserve Distillery.
“And I interviewed personalities in the bourbon world including Michael Veach (now a friend and co-author, of course) and the larger-than-life Booker Noe, with whom I drank barrel-proof Booker’s bourbon at his oak kitchen table one morning. He cut it with Evian water, by the way,” she says.
But her affinity — or awareness, we should say — for bourbon came much earlier in her life, when she would spend Saturdays at Churchill Downs with her family.
“The track in those days always smelled of old wood, cigars, popcorn and bourbon — quite a special combination,” says Reigler.
As for her favorites, it’s hard to narrow down, of course, but here are a few she prefers: Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style, Elijah Craig Single Barrel Cask Strength 12-Year-Old, Booker’s Bourbon Kathleen’s Batch, I.W. Harper 15-Year-Old, Michter’s Small Batch Toasted Barrel Finish, 1792 Full Proof, William Larue Weller, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, Four Roses Elliot’s Select, Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, and Angel’s Envy Cask Strength.
“Hmm, I seem to like those high-proof characters, don’t I?” she jokes.
Reigler and Veach will host their first signing of “The Bourbon Tasting Notebook” on Friday, April 27, at The Wine Rack on Frankfort Avenue from 6-8 p.m.
Before Reigler pours herself a nip of bourbon — which she prefers with a single cube of ice — we asked her some very important questions …
What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?
I have had a long-term goal of seeing every one of Shakespeare’s plays performed live. I have 21 of 38 so far. I’ve seen them here (Actors and Shakespeare in the Park), in England (Stratford, the Globe and the Barbican in London, gardens of Oxford colleges) and in Chicago and New York. The three parts of “Henry VI” are going to be tough to see since they are seldom performed. (Shakespeare was such a propagandist for the Tutors!)
What poster was on your wall in junior high?
No posters. But I had (and still do have) a framed color photo of Jane Goodall.
If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?
Kathy Cary, chef and owner of Lilly’s: A Kentucky Bistro. She is more responsible than anyone for the rich culinary scene we enjoy here and is truly our Alice Waters, as she was the first to emphasize what we now call “farm to table” dining and used local farmers’ products.
What are your preferred pizza toppings?
Sausage, pepperoni, green peppers and green olives.
If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?
40 — I had to walk through a horrifying store in the Mall St. Matthews called Forever 21 to get to my destination. I thought “Why not a Forever 40?” Then it dawned on me that that’s where I was headed, except it’s called Brooks Brothers.
What famous person do people say you resemble the most?
Kermit the Frog. (Voice!) Does he count as a “person”?
Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?
Neil deGrasse Tyson or Cate Blanchett. I’m sure both would be fabulous interlocutors and each has a great sense of humor.