The Good Life: Bourbon…what’s in a name?

Steve Palec on Bourbon


I once purchased a dozen gas station roses on sale for $5 that were the exception to the rule that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Gas station roses don’t smell like anything known in nature. But removing the price tag and bringing them home was pretty smooth on my part.

The lyric “you’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey” is an apt metaphor. Maybe you know the song “Tennessee Whiskey” and versions sung by David Alan Coe, George Jones or Chris Stapleton? Interestingly, many people first heard the song when Kentucky native Stapleton performed it live with one Mr. Justin Timberlake of Memphis, Tennessee.

And while technically not always bourbon, whiskey with the Tennessee moniker has much in common with Kentucky bourbon.

- Advertisement -

A while ago I was on a flight and was offered the choice of Woodford Reserve or Jack Daniels in one of those little airline bottles.

“I’ll take the bourbon,” I said.

The guy next to me then proceeded to tell me they were both bourbons. I thought he was wrong but nodded my head politely and put my headphones back on.

- Advertisement -

But the more I thought about bourbon, the more I came to realize he was right…but still not going to get my armrest.

Tennessee whiskey has about as many rules as the true definition of straight bourbon. Long, long story short, suffice it to say that Tennessee whiskey involves specific charcoal filtration and must be made in the state. Tennessee did legislate that label and upset some smaller distillers, since the rules sounded too much like the process used by the biggest outfits.

Certainly, there is consumer confidence with known definitions, but I’d drive a Kirkland car if Costco ever figures that one out. In other words, I am much more concerned about the product than the prestige. Whatever your personal taste is among the choices available should be your guideline.

While Kentucky bourbon makers generally use less corn than their friends in Tennessee, with a few production tweaks here and there, what Jack Daniels and George Dickel call Tennessee whiskey could pass any bourbon test.

There are a number of bourbons from Tennessee that hold their own anywhere. And no other state produces more bourbon than Kentucky.

I like them all. I also like BBQ and KFC. So, if you go by me or limit yourself to terminology, you may be missing out on some new discoveries.

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

Sign up for the BizTimes email newsletter

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

What's New


Sponsored Content


Stay up-to-date with our free email newsletter

Keep up with the issues, companies and people that matter most to business in the Milwaukee metro area.

By subscribing you agree to our privacy policy.

No, thank you.
BizTimes Milwaukee