The Good Life: Down to the last drop

Steve Palec on Bourbon

Steve Palec

Last updated on April 10th, 2023 at 01:37 pm

If you are reading this, I thank you…and note that we obviously share an interest in bourbon. I’d call mine an obsession.

When I do something, I tend to go all in. I spent over 35 years as a commercial real estate broker. I hosted the same history of music radio show for 34 years. I wrote a blah, blah, blah book. I have loved sports my whole life and even spent some time as a sportscaster. A few years back, I took on the role of telling stories as a chief marketing officer. And I’m one of those guys who live to eat, not eat to live. I’ve consumed the entire McDonald’s menu in one sitting, and I’ve been blessed to dine with James Beard award-winning chefs.

Any of us who eat food have probably been asked that fascinating question: What would you have as your last meal?

We can save that for another time, because the story of what former First Lady Barbara Bush did in her final moments has always intrigued me. She had a bourbon!

Just to be clear, there is nothing political about this column. Barbara Bush and Abigail Adams were the only two women that were both wives and mothers of United States presidents. This is not about those guys. I don’t need any Federalists or Whigs accusing me of favoritism. Especially the Whigs. You know how they can be.

I recall at the time of Mrs. Bush’s death in 2018, at the age of 92, that family sources reported she was alert, took phone calls, engaged in conversation and had a bourbon. I thought that was awesome. Plenty of people forgo additional medical treatment to be with their family, but you don’t often hear about a lot of folks asking for a last bourbon.

There has, of course, been a lot written about her and her family, not just on her husband’s side. Her father was president of the company that owned Redbook magazine. They ran a hot toddy ad back in March of 1936 for Four Roses bourbon that was aimed at women. I believe I read somewhere that the Bush family favored Jim Beam bourbon, but I definitely recall reading that her husband, George H.W. Bush, had a vodka martini while the beloved First Lady enjoyed her bourbon.

But, I wonder, what specific bourbon did she choose? After all, a decision this momentous is akin to that age old question of getting to choose your last meal.

I must have looked at 100 articles following her passing looking for that answer. I didn’t see it in any of them.

Susan Page is the Washington Bureau chief for USA Today and the respected author of a number of books including, “The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and The Making of an American Dynasty.” So, I asked her if Mrs. Bush had a specific choice, and she said, “Barbara Bush did enjoy bourbon, including in the final days of her life. But my understanding is that she didn’t have a particular brand that she favored.” Page, who has covered seven White House administrations, said that Mrs. Bush “tended to buy what was on sale! This would be consistent with her general lack of pretense.”

I can say the same for my last meal choice. That would be spaghetti and meatballs. But I would request a pour of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon with it. How about you?

Steve Palec is chief marketing officer of Milwaukee-based commercial real estate development firm Irgens. ‘The Good Life: Steve Palec on Bourbon’ lifestyle feature appears regularly at

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