The Good Life: Eyes on the Prize…identifying bourbons on TV and in the movies

Steve Palec on Bourbon

Steve Palec

Most of us have at least one extraordinary or unique skill that has been born of necessity, or honed by repetition. Mine, derived by years of only ordering bourbon in social drinking situations, is an ability to walk into an establishment and discern, from across the room, what they serve simply by the shape of the bottles. A few people have been impressed.

I guess you could green-light a superhero movie role for any skill. Not to diminish it, but Hollywood has a knack for making anything, even the traits of an insect, into a recurring franchise.

Sylvester Stallone walks into a bar and asks, “Do you carry Bulliet bourbon?” When his character was informed, in the 2012 movie “Bullet to the Head,” that the bar did not, he tells the bartender it’s OK, since he carries a bottle with him, and hands over $20 for the use of a glass. Classic.

My bourbon bottle recognition vision also comes in handy when watching TV. I can spot what my favorite characters choose to drink, even if it is seemingly an afterthought.

Larry David plays himself on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I think I heard somewhere that he uses his actual office for the office scenes on the show. I once saw him at “home” on the show with half-full bottles of Blanton’s and Buffalo Trace on the table behind him.

Charlie Sheen’s character, Charlie, on “Two and a Half Men” often headed toward a bottle of bourbon in his kitchen, and I have no doubt it was Woodford Reserve…except for the time he wouldn’t let his brother drink the “good stuff.”

What I don’t know is if these were examples of product placement or coincidence.

Old Forrester Statesman had a role in the film “Kingsmen: The Golden Circle.”

J.R. Ewing Private Reserve was undoubtedly a way to exploit the popularity of the show “Dallas.”

But watching “House of Cards,” I saw Blanton’s more often than not. And given close proximity of power and drinking in Washington D.C., I can tell you firsthand that was total accuracy.

The loving family on “Succession,” in which there may be a lack of kindness but no shortage of riches, enjoys Blanton’s. “Yellowstone” recently had a scene in which Beth pours Weller 12 Year to her dad in a car. Not recommended for anyone but a passenger, but a good choice of bourbon nonetheless.

The show “Justified” has featured Blantons, Wild Turkey, Elmer T. Lee and Pappy Van Winkle.

A few other examples include Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson celebrating with 20-year Pappy (which, as an aside, I think is even better than 23 year Pappy, in case you are ever celebrating but not buying). Four Roses shows up in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Chandler was offered some Basil Haydens to set someone up with Rachel on “Friends.” Michter’s fine bourbon is on “Billions.” I can tell what Stephen Colbert brings out from behind the desk to share with select guests on his show from the shape of the bottle. “Star Trek”: Picard has a bourbon called Bourbon II, brought all the way from Ft. Collins, Colorado.

When Jack Nicholson had a daytime drink and started flapping his arms yelling “nick, nick, nick” in “Easy Rider,” that sure looked like Jim Beam. The folks at Beam make some exceptional products, but their bottom shelve stuff would also make me say “nick, nick, nick.”

And while I can’t speak to his ultimate choice, I do know that John Wayne agreed to be paid in bourbon for a 1967 appearance (Season 5, Episode 20) on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

And while it is subjective, I can tell you what I think about a few bourbons I have in my collection that have TV ties:

The Walking Dead Spirits of The Apocalypse, named for the “Walking Dead” TV series, was not half bad for a $20 bourbon. But the show’s fans bought up the limited run, and you don’t see it anywhere anymore.

Truthteller 1839 was conceived to coincide with the Fox drama “Monarch,” about a country music family and its patriarch Albie Roman. It is aged twice, and nicely done, but it is expensive.

The aforementioned Old Forrester Statesman is a little on the sweet side, but I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Yellowstone bourbon has nothing to do with the TV show by the same name, but they do run TV commercials and they are correct…it is pretty good.

I don’t expect to win Terry Bradshaw’s money during the NFL season, but I did buy his bourbon and was pleasantly surprised.

Actor Matthew McConaughey was involved in the creation of Longbranch, but that partnership ended late last year. Still, it remains an exceptional bourbon for the price.

And finally, one day I saw an ad for James T. Kirk bourbon. I’m not a Trekkie, but I was intrigued by what the captain would drink, so I ordered it online. It turned out to be a phenomenal 12-year bourbon from Tennessee. Unfortunately, I never saw it available again. So, if you come over to watch TV with me, I’ll share something with you, but I can’t break out anymore Star Trek elixirs.

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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