Bourbon scene blowing up in SETX
It took one tiny sip of a $90 shot of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old bourbon to convince Johnathan Richard he had been wasting his time with Jim Beam.
“It was a game changer when that beautifully aged, caramel goodness hit my tongue,” he said Richard.
A maintenance worker in a refinery by day, the 36-year-old Vidor man is one of the men behind the SETX Bourbon Scene Facebook group.
Richard and his friends began hunting down, collecting and sharing bourbons, getting more into the scene after that fateful sip. When they realized other areas had Facebook pages were people who love bourbon could chat and compare notes on different bottles, they decided to make one for Southeast Texas.
“There are a couple people in our area that are very knowledgeable on bourbons, scotches, ryes, you name it — but so many more people are in the same boat we were in and only know of Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Crown,” Richard said. “We wanted to make a community that would spread knowledge, talking about the better-tasting spirits that we’ve had since really getting into the hobby last year.”
Even people who know nothing about bourbon can join in the conversation, Richard said. They understand that there are “bourbon snobs” out there, but have taken steps to ensure everyone feels welcome. Heck, you don’t even have to like bourbon. They talk about all different kinds of liquor — beer included.
“We wanted to make a page where no one would be bullied or trolled for a lack of knowledge. We encourage anyone and everyone to talk about and post pictures of what they like and why they like it, whatever it may be,” Richard said.
The reviews don’t have to be fancy, either.
“If it’s good, say it’s good. If you taste cherry, vanilla, wood or spice, say that. If its fire-hot and you want to pour it down the drain, be sure to tell us that. We want to hear it all — and from regular people like us.”
It’s not all about the pricey and rare bottles, either.
“People get too caught up in wanting to find that allocated $300 bottle to drink when there are so many that we talk about daily on the page in a $30 to $50 price range that taste just as good,” Richard said.
Richard says J Wilson’s bar has the best bourbon selection in the area, but other places like Luke’s and Rikenjaks have started carrying a larger selection of spirits at the request of page members.
The Facebook page, which was started in January, has more than 500 members, and new ones are added all the time.
“A liquor rep in the Houston area said that the page is doing so well and growing so fast because of the way it’s managed,” Richard said. “If there is confrontation or trolling, it’s dealt with promptly. On the other side of things, we have great local liquor store owners that we have been working with to help spread the word and keep bringing in great products for us to create a buzz about.”
The SETX Bourbon Scene group teamed up with Longhorn Liquor, helping them select a WhistlePig Rye whiskey to promote in store with a “SETX Bourbon Scene” label. Richard said he hopes to team up with more retailers and restaurants in the area, but his ultimate goal for the group is to host charity events with tastings and auctions.
“The second thing I would think would be pretty fun is to turn the hobby into a career — be able to open a bourbon-driven bar like they have in the bigger cities, with all our own picks and local store picks on the shelf,” he said.
For now, the group is planing meetups like the “SETX Bourbon Scene Brunch Takeover” at J Wilsons. The plan was to fill the entire bar area with page members, and bartenders offered specialty bourbon flights specifically for the event. The restaurant had not done that before.
“It’s about the community,” Richard said. “I just want the culture to expand and so everyone wanting to gain knowledge about bourbon or scotch or rye will be able to gain it. Hopefully this will give the Golden Triangle the push it needs to accept a little change and bring in some bars or speakeasy-type establishments.”