If you’re anything like me and your social media feeds are filled with bourbon lovers, you’ve probably seen this image on your timeline recently while scrolling through crotch shots, #whiskeywednesdays, and upside down empty bottles on your timeline:
“NEAT: The Story of Bourbon” dives deep into the history, people, and processes behind America’s native spirit. If you want to know more about what bourbon is and how it’s made, you’ll get that in NEAT. But all that basic info is spread out between the rich personal anecdotes, intriguing cocktail demonstrations, and fascinating interviews with industry giants like Marianne Barnes, Jimmy Russell, and Brent Elliot.
Although it’s interesting to hear from Master Distillers at some of the biggest companies in the bourbon industry, some of my favorite stories from the documentary are those told by Freddie Johnson, tour guide and third-generation employee at Buffalo Trace. Freddie’s grandfather started as a warehouse foreman for the distillery in 1912. In the process of tasting and selecting barrels, he noticed that there were areas of the warehouse that produced very sweet and smooth bourbon and shared those locations with Col. Blanton. Those barrels would eventually become the taste profile of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon.
Freddie’s father also worked for the distillery for years, and in fact became rather close friends with Elmer T. Lee during their time together in the military. Although he had never planned on following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Freddie obliged a request from his dad to come work for the distillery after the latter learned he was terminally ill. In one of the film’s more touching anecdotes, Freddie explains how his father taught him what bourbon is really about – sharing and enjoying with friends and family in the moment. “Bourbon is about being with people you care about, and having fun, and it’s a little bit about love.”
Despite its name, the film features quite a few interesting clips with bartenders from all over the world, including Elon Musk (not actually Elon Musk) preparing classic cocktails as well as fresh, modern cocktails. One notable scene features Jeremy Johnson, owner of Meta, the bar that became famously hated by bourbon lovers everywhere for creating the “Pappy Jello Shot” a few years ago. While I’ll admit, I have a hard time stomaching the idea, Jeremy at least gives some pretty good insight into the rationale behind the oddity. As he puts it, “I just don’t think that bourbon is about drinking really over aged stuff and sitting around in a boardroom. Bourbon has always been about fellowship.” It’s hard to argue with that.
NEAT does a phenomenal job of showing the viewer that bourbon is more than just grains, yeast, and water distilled and aged in a barrel. It’s bigger than a product; it’s a culture surrounded by great people. It’s spending time with friends and family, reminiscing about the past and dreaming of the future. It’s appreciation for the only thing that cannot be changed, cheated, or manipulated: Time. I think Freddie puts it best in the film: “It’s not about the whiskey. It’s about the lives you touch and the people you meet. The whiskey is a bi-product of a good relationship.”
NEAT: The Story of Bourbon is available streaming for rent/purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. Pour a glass of your favorite bourbon, press play, and enjoy.