Whiskey writers and a young newspaperman in Arkansas
Monday, January 2, 2017 7:36 PM
“I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening. It helps me sleep. I don't much care what they say about it.”
J.L. Thompson is shown in his Prospect Road business office in 2012. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan.)
– Lillian Carter, mother of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Cheers. On this second day of the new year.
There’s an old saying that if “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name” and if that place happens to be a liquor establishment, you just might be an alcoholic.
Unless, of course, your name is Norm, as in George Wendt.
After receiving a recent New York Times article from my first son-in-law and Highland County’s favorite sportswriter, however, it might be time to rethink that last observation. (In fairness, I probably should point out that said son-in-law also made a nice gift of a bottle of Maker’s Mark to his favorite father-in-law – thus far.)
Robert Simonson writes in the Dec. 30 NYT that we are now in the midst of a “Golden Age for American Whiskey Writers.”
In fact, the newspaper has a photo by Cole Wilson of the “whiskey writers:” Heather Greene, Noah Rothbaum, Fred Minnick, Lew Bryson, Liza Weisstuch and Clay Risen.
“If you haven’t been to a liquor store in a while, you may be surprised to find the shelves of whiskey groaning with American bottles,” Simonson writes. “Now the same transformation is playing out at the bookstore.”
Drinking and reading and writing? Who knew? Next, they’ll be saying that John Steinbeck had a fifth with him every day while writing “Travels with Charley” or that Ernest Hemingway had his own bar stool in Key West.
“I liken covering American whiskey to covering sports,” said Fred Minnick in the Times’ article, who writes about whiskey full time and is the author of three books on the subject. “Sports teams have these very rabid fans. Bourbon fans are the same way. They want to know every single thing.”
The New York Times’ story jolted my memory, and I asked myself, “Haven’t we covered this ground before?”
A quick online search of JL Thompson at www.highlandcountypress.com provided the answer.
Yes, indeed, we plowed this rye whiskey field five years ago.
In case you missed it, we wrote about Highland County’s own whiskey writer, J.L. Thompson, in May 2012.
J.L. is a bourbon connoisseur and authored "The Common Man's Guide to Straight Kentucky Bourbon" in 2012. The book was published by Savannah-Knox Publishing and edited by Carol Cartaino of Seaman.
J.L. told me at that time the book was intended to be "conversational" in style and practical in its application to Kentucky bourbons.
An Army veteran and the owner of Wings and Strings on Prospect Road, J.L. said, “Friends would tell me, ‘You know so much about bourbon, why don't you write a book about it?’”
And he did.
Through his research, J.L. graduated from the Bourbon Academy at Woodford Reserve Distillery. He's also an ambassador for Maker's Mark Distillery and a member of Wild Turkey's Rare Breed Society. He's also a member of the Hillsboro AmVets Post 61 at Rocky Fork Lake, the Highland County Honor Guard and the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1161.
Among the Kentucky bourbon distilleries referenced in his book, Maker’s Mark is the only operating distillery in America to be designated a National Historic Landmark. Originally built in 1805 as a grist mill distillery, it became the home of Maker’s Mark in 1953. Today, it is the oldest operating distillery on its original site.
J.L. mentions more than 100 bourbons and admits to being fond of the hard-to-get George T. Stagg, 143 proof, that is aged 17 years and seven months. It is distributed only once a year (in most years).
"If you were fortunate enough to get a bottle, enjoy," he says. "If not, I'll see you in line next year."
For those who would like to know more about Kentucky bourbon, Thompson recommends attending the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, held in September in Bardstown, Ky.
Copies of the reasonably priced “Common Man's Guide to Straight Kentucky Bourbon" are available at Wings and Strings on Prospect Road, just west of Route 73 near Berrysville, or call (937) 416-5367. For more information, go to: http://s-kpublishing.com.
Popcorn Sutton would drink to that. So would Rock Roosa.
* * *
And then there was this gem, courtesy of HCP columnist Jim Thompson, formerly of suburban Marshall.
It seems a teenager in Arkansas just bought himself a newspaper.
Welcome to the Fourth Estate, Hayden Taylor. (A word to the wise: You might want to avoid the whiskey writers for at least a couple of decades.)
According to a story by Lindsey Ellefson at www.mediaite.com, “A teenager just bought a local paper to challenge social media’s stronghold on news distribution.”
Ellefson begins: “Throughout the election season, you may have heard that journalism is dead, the media is full of scumbags, and there isn’t a shred of integrity left in the whole industry. Well, meet Hayden Taylor. The 19-year-old just bought the Central Delta Argus-Sun’s assets and is now preparing to beef up the paper, which serves Arkansas’ Brinkley and Monroe counties. His family has been in the area for five generations, but he is taking the newspaper over from a woman who has been running it for just a little longer than he’s even been alive.”
Ellefson adds: “As for why he wanted to do this in the first place, he said, ‘My friends think Facebook is where they can get local news, and I just don’t believe that. That ‘news’ isn’t always news, and it’s hardly ever really local.’”
From the mouths of babes…
I wish young Master Taylor all the success in the world. If he follows the work ethics of former Arkansas Razorbacks coach Lou Holtz and his pal, Coach Woody Hayes from OSU, he might have a chance.
If he doesn’t, failure is a given – unless he has generous relatives with deep, deep pockets.
That’s the downside of the profession. (And, yes, it is a profession, not an industry, much to the chagrin of public officials nationwide.)
On the upside, the new and youthful Arkansas media mogul has some bright ideas. His comments on social media are steel on target. Social media is not news. It is the often-distorted regurgitation of others’ genuine efforts, particularly those of newspaper writers – where, for the past two centuries – most real news of substance has originated in these United States.
On another positive note, it’s encouraging to see any 19-year-old interested in newspapers, be that reading them or buying them. My advice to the new owner would be:
• Don’t ever be discouraged by anyone. You alone control your own fate – good or bad.
• Your competitors already hate you and the free publicity that you have received.
• Be committed to your craft, work hard, work smart and seek the advice from other independent newspaper owners.
• Avoid anything and everything about corporate-controlled groups of newspapers, radio stations, etc. Once you’ve been there, you’ll understand.
I wish you success. Give me a call if you need any assistance. I am familiar with Arkansas as far as the dog track in West Memphis. Good luck.
Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.
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