Ten years ago, you could still find Weller 12 on liquor-store shelves. Ten years ago, most people — Kentuckians included — thought all bourbon had to be made in Kentucky. Ten years ago, only a handful of Louisville bars included the Old Fashioned on their cocktail menus.
Things are quite different now thanks to the bourbon boom. There’s renewed interest in the brown spirit and businesses like Westport Whiskey & Wine, which places an emphasis on bourbon education one customer at a time.
Along with a wide array of bottles available on its shelves, WW&W requires each of its employees to be trained as a Certified Bourbon Steward through the renowned Stave & Thief Society and hosts a myriad of classes each month that help expand both palates and minds.
WW&W turns 10 this year, and it’s celebrating by hosting a bourbon bash from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 16, featuring more than 60 bourbon and whiskey tastings and single-barrel selections from 13 distilleries. While VIP tickets to the event sold out in seven minutes, there are still general admission tickets available for $95, which includes a tasting glass, lunch, discounts and all of the samples.
Insider caught up with WW&W co-owner Chris Zaborowski, who opened the store in Westport Village with business partner Rich Splan in 2008, to talk about the store’s milestone achievement and Saturday’s party.
He says the idea for the event came from his daughter, Emily Meadows, who works at the store as the assistant manager. The idea started out as a fun tasting experience, but it quickly grew into something much more than that.
“We were very humbled by the overwhelming response from our distillery partners, and they have been quick to add to the celebration with great ideas and special bottles to taste,” says Zaborowski. “And, as it came time to put the tickets on sale, we thought the VIP tickets would sell out at some point, just not in seven minutes! That was exciting.”
He believes part of the success of his store is its unique offerings and trained staff, which now includes 12 employees, including him and Splan. After all, there are a lot of rules and nuances to bourbon, wine and really all spirits.
“From the day we opened our doors, we have focused on providing a welcoming environment for our customers. We say here that we are in the hospitality business and happen to have a retail store,” he says. “And we offer the best selection of hard-to-find whiskey in our tasting room. A customer may not be able to purchase some of these elusive bottles, but they can come here and experience them.”
The tasting room features more than 100 bottles — from rare to common — where customers can purchase tastes, and it’s also the location of WW&W’s seminars and events held several times a week.
Zaborowski says he and Splan didn’t anticipate the bourbon boom when they first opened the store, but they made sure their two focuses — whiskey and wine — were well represented in the inventory.
“As the bourbon boom started, we had already had a decent footprint with our single-barrel selections and the depth of product on the shelves,” he explains. “We quickly worked, as we added staff, to incorporate product training and guest relationship building. And we set our store in a disruptive way so that we could engage our customers, helping them learn a bit and discover something new.”
Westport Whiskey & Wine is located at 1115 Herr Lane. Single-barrel selections available on Saturday include Four Roses, Maker’s Mark, Willett, Old Forester, Weller Antique, Knob Creek and many more.