A Tribute to National Bourbon Day from Our Founder, Erica Fields
June 14th is my birthday. There have been too many of them for me to keep count, but ever since I was a kid my parents would celebrate my birthday by telling me how lucky I was to have it fall on a National Holiday. That holiday was Flag Day. As I got older it became more of a humorous aside on my birthday since as holidays go, Flag Day is not in the same league as say, Memorial Day or the Grand Dame of US Holidays, the Fourth of July. Still, to know that your birthday was a highlighted date on everyone’s calendar was pretty cool.
In 1978, several years post college graduation I went to work for Burdick Grain Co. where my Dad worked. He was nearing retirement and had become a bit of a legend in the grain trade. I had always loved hearing about his stories of the trade, especially of his work in supplying rye to the distillers in Kentucky and Tennessee. Several times a year whenever one of his associates from the major distillers would visit, he would bring them to the house and along with my siblings we would get to hear the stories of Kentucky and their colorful lives. There was Doc Shipman from Brown Forman, Sam Dudley from Seagram, Fred Geist from Schenley. There were more but those were the characters that I remember best. Dad always told me what Sam Dudley would tell him in his Kentucky drawl “Brooker, I may not always be right but I’m always the customer!”
When I was in college majoring in theatre my parents were a bit concerned about what my future would be. When I told them that I was planning to go to mime school in Paris my father decided it was time to step in. He got me a summer job in the QA lab at Burdick, better known as the sample room. My job required me to bring samples of rail car shipments to the trading floor. I got to go on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange trading floor in 1974 during the heart of the largest commodity bubble to date after Russia bought almost all the wheat available for export from the US. We still refer to it as the Great Russian Grain Robbery. Markets were wild, closing “limit up” for days on end. The pit traders frantically waved their arms shouting as they bought and sold millions of bushels. As an actor the spectacle on that stage was incredibly exciting and ultimately, I went into the business.
By 1978 I had spent a couple years working for a multi-National old school grain company and as Burdick had become a part of another major firm, the opportunity to go back full time and work with my Dad supplying rye to the Distillers came about and my career and love of bourbon began.
From 1978 to the mid 90’s bourbon was not what it was today. In fact, the industry had shrunk to a mere shadow of what it had been just decades before. During that time, I got to know many of the legendary master distillers we revere today and listened to their stories and tales from the time when bourbon was king among whiskeys in America. It took the collective creativity of them all to ultimately come up with ways to reinvigorate the industry and between the new product lines and the nostalgia created for some of what was the old cocktail culture the industry has become what it is today. A thriving growing and amazing amalgam of new products, craft distillers and a renewed love of this distinctly American whiskey.
Somewhere along the line National Bourbon Day was established on June 14th and I now have a new holiday to celebrate on my birthday. Happy National Bourbon Day everyone!