Interview with Brian Haara (Bourbon Justice)

Interview with Brian Haara (Bourbon Justice)

We had the great opportunity to interview Brian Haara, author of Bourbon Justice (feel free to check it out on Amazon) - Bourbon Justice

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how your whiskey journey started?

I moved to Kentucky to attend law school at the University of Kentucky, and then moved to Louisville to start practicing law. I’m a partner with the law firm Fultz Maddox Dickens, where I solve problems for businesses and entrepreneurs, whether they’re involved in litigation or they’re trying to avoid litigation.
Part of my practice involves representing clients who own or want to start distilleries or brands, or who need legal advice on distilling, blending, or selling spirits. Sometimes that involves bourbon trademark litigation, which happens to be a prominent part of my book, Bourbon Justice: How Whiskey Law Shaped America. Bourbon Justice tells the history of bourbon through American litigation and how American business developed around—and
because of—whiskey. Old bourbon lawsuits tell the real story of bourbon history, and those stories are better than marketing tales.  I’m also the author of the bourbon blog, Sipp'n Corn® and I gained national recognition for winning summary judgment in Sazerac v. Peristyle, which established a groundbreaking
expansion to the fair use defense to trademark claims.

What, if any one particular bottle, was your revelation bottle that sparked your journey?

Getting into bourbon was actually an evolution for me. My first taste of bourbon that I remember was in Commonwealth Stadium during a UK football game—and it was awful. I think that it was probably Jim Beam white label. I was used to cheap beer and it tasted terrible tome. Then later in law school I tried Maker’s Mark and realized that bourbon was better than my first experience.
Over the following years I tried plenty of different bourbons but probably never had more than two bottles at a time. By the early 2000’s, I knew what I liked and always had Elijah Craig 12 and Weller 12 on hand and I was beginning to discover the magic of Four Roses. Then, in 2011 for my birthday, I was given a bottle of Jefferson’s Presidential 17 year, which had been distilled in 1991 at Stitzel Weller. We opened it that night and I was in awe. I’ve been in with both feet ever since.

What bottle/s will always be in your rotation (doesn't have to be just whiskey)?

Four Roses is one of the most dynamic distilleries because of their 10 recipes and what they can do with blending those recipes. Everyone else has to rely on age and warehouse location. In addition to Four Roses, I’ll always have Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof and some version of Old Forester in my rotation. I’m a big fan of Old Forester 1920, but just the regular 86 proof has a long run as my house bourbon.

Given your legal background, are there any laws on spirits that you would change, and how/why?

I would dismantle the three tier system as an archaic attempt to hold onto the remnants of the failure of National Prohibition. It adds an unnecessary layer and unnecessary costs to an industry that is already burdened with too much taxation.

Is there any legislation currently being lobbied for or against that will affect the spirits world?

There is always something in the works related to spirits law. The nation’s first excise tax was in 1791 and it taxed the sale of whiskey. Then the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897—even though the finer details have changed over time—became one of the mainstays of American law. It was our nation’s first consumer protection law so it deserves its place of prominence not just in bourbon lore, but also for American history. It hasn’t slowed down any for spirits
laws since then. Bourbon Justice covers other cases that had a lasting impact on American history too, like establishing and expanding trademark rights, setting limits on the ability to use your own surname in business, protecting people from unreasonable searches and seizures, fostering workplace safety laws, and much, much more. Bourbon law really provides the fabric of
today’s laws. Currently some of the spirits laws that I’m following in different states relate to the direct shipping for spirits from distilleries and efforts in other states to adopt vintage spirits laws like Kentucky adopted.

What are your thoughts on the rise of RTD/canned cocktails?

Personally, I haven’t been a fan of them because I like to make my own cocktails, but I don’t begrudge RTDs. Plus, they’re a great place for distilleries to be able to get rid of their over-aged and less than ideal whiskies. I’m too picky about what bourbons I use in cocktails (I tend to go high-rye and high proof) and what ingredients I use. If I drink something from a can it is probably beer.

What is your go-to daily sipper?

This has really changed for me over the years and it changes from year to year and season to season. Wilderness Trail—especially the Rye—is one of my favorites. The bourbon that I’ve probably bought the most of has been Four Roses Single Barrel, both the 100 proof option and private barrel selections. And lately my go-to sipper has been Pursuit United by Pursuit Spirits.


Are there any emerging trends or innovations in the whiskey industry that you find particularly exciting?

While I’m a huge fan of the return to lower entry proof, it’s really the art of blending that I’m most excited about. Four Roses has really been the only brand that has ever paid attention to blending because of their 10 recipes. Distilleries with just a couple mash bills can be pretty boring because they’re one dimensional, even though they release different brands at different ages or they focus on different warehouses. Pursuit Spirts is the new brand that I’m most excited about because they are blending bourbon and rye whiskey from different distilleries in different states together to form truly unique whiskey that is better than the sum of its parts.

Conversely, any trends you want to see go away?

Yes—please stop masking bad whiskey with secondary finishing barrels. While I tend to like a second toasted or lightly charred bourbon barrel, the trend of using cognac, gin, rum, tabasco, and other finishing barrels doesn’t do much for me.

Is it possible to train your nose and/or palate to become better at recognizing and articulating tasting notes?  Any best practices that you can share?

Absolutely. I have a couple of Nosing Kits from Nose Your Bourbon and they really help you to identify aromas. Sometimes the most difficult part is having the courage to say what you’re smelling or tasting. I encourage people to think back to their personal aroma and flavor memories. What do you remember about your grandma’s kitchen? What do you remember about playing at a farm on a hot summer day? What do you remember about camping in the woods? You can draw upon all of those personal memories to find aromas and flavors in bourbon.

Do you think there’s a glut/bubble coming in bourbon?

Given the exponential increase in production, unless India and China markets open up, we’ll be in a glut within just a couple of years. But if those markets open up, we may have even less whiskey than we do now for the domestic market. I thought that we were in a bubble and that it was going to pop by 2015; I was dead wrong so maybe I’m still wrong.

Someone writes you a blank check to start a whiskey brand.  What kind of whiskey are you making and what different expressions would you want to make?

The first thing that I’d do is hire Jim Rutledge, then I’d work with Vendome to build my stills. I’d ask Jim to start with a Rye Whiskey. Then I’d make a high-rye bourbon. Nothing wheated. We would use low entry proof and heavy charred barrels. Since I have a blank check, I wouldn’t mess with vodka, gin, or rum to keep the lights on. I wouldn’t sell any whiskey until it was six years old and except for truly exceptional single barrels, everything would be bottled
in bond.

What is your “go to” drink/cocktail that does not contain whiskey?

Wait, what? I’d have to defer to beer. I’m a big fan of many barrel aged imperial stouts, but don’t like them when they get too syrupy.

Dead or Alive, if you could meet one Master Distiller, who would it be and why?

Although he was not a “Master Distiller,” I’d like to meet Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. He had an overabundance of litigation that would be fun to talk about but I’d be even more interested in talking about his vision for Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, his marketing genius, and what he thought about the current state of bourbon. I also have to go with a dead guy because I’ve been blessed to have gotten to know the current day Master Distiller legends who are responsible for the resurgence of bourbon—Jim Rutledge, Jimmy Russell, Eddie Russell, Chris Morris, and Fred Noe, along with the next generation, like Dr. Pat Heist and Shane Baker, Elizabeth McCall, and Brent Elliott. I take every opportunity that I get to learn from these titans of the industry.


Brian, thank you so much for your time, we loved speaking with you and all the wonderful insights you shared with us!


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