Sun | Oct 21, 2018

The Missing Piece | Bourbon, beer and rum

Published:Monday | April 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMImani Duncan-Price
Michael Cowheard of Brown-Forman's Cooperage explains the toasting process for the bourbon barrels to Eisenhower Fellow, Imani Duncan-Price who travelled to Kentucky to learn about success factors for the Bourbon Cluster.

On her Eisenhower Fellowship, Imani Duncan-Price will be travelling to 10 cities in the United States to learn different approaches to developing thriving industries/clusters in music, sports, and entertainment tourism in Jamaica. As she visits these cities - Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Nashville, Louisville (Kentucky), Indianapolis, San Francisco, Colorado Springs, Sedona (Arizona), Bentonville (Arkansas), New York City - Imani will share with you, through The Gleaner, what she has learned.

Applying the principle of focusing on what you are good at and where you are unique, drives Kentucky with the Bourbon Cluster.

Bourbon is a type of whiskey based on a minimum of 51 per cent corn (which Kentucky grows in abundance). Limestone, their surface rock, rids iron from their natural source of water, giving the bourbon a beautiful colour. To be called bourbon, it must be matured in new charred or toasted oak barrels.

While visiting Brown-Forman, one of the largest distilleries in Kentucky, I watched the beautiful creation and toasting of barrels. It intrigued and saddened me that they were automating part of the process to enable a better fit with the pieces of wood for each barrel, driving faster build and less wood waste. Oftentimes, technology improves productivity at the cost of jobs. However, the overall strength of the cluster will likely offset those job losses.

Bourbon tourism: Private sector survival drive

In 1999, the Kentucky Distilleries Association responded to the bourbon industry downturn by creating the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a tour of member distilleries across the state. This kept the market alive and interest growing, as place-based marketing cemented the link between Kentucky and bourbon.

Louisville City then created the Urban Bourbon Trail. As visitors enjoy bourbon-infused cocktails, live music at various bars, and eat at different restaurants where chefs use bourbon as part of their recipes, their special 'passport' gets stamped. Once the visitor gets stamps from six of the many locations, they're awarded an 'Urban Bourbon Trailblazer' T-shirt and an official 'Citizen of Bourbon Country' certificate, so they can proudly display their passion for bourbon to their friends and family.

With low distiller licence fees, aspiring craft distillers can brew their own spirits. This enables a vibrant market for customer segments that love artisanal spirits. Tertiary institutions offer distillation and brewing studies. The Distilling Spirits Epicenter, dubbed the 'Ivy League of Spirits', teaches students the art of distillation, hosts workshops on marketing and distribution, and provides legal advice on regulation and taxation.

Imagine a 'Sprits of Jamaica Trail' with different types of rum and beer in a similar way. Easy to do; it just takes creativity and coordination. Imagine our tertiary institutions, working with the Scientific Research Council, offering such courses to enable young people to create their own ventures and diversify our spirits offering. It's that holistic way of thinking that I hope Jamaica will take on.

- Imani Duncan-Price is chief of staff for the leader of the Opposition, Eisenhower Fellow, a World Economic Forum young global leader and former senator. Email feedback to and