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Amelia Islander

For the Love of Bourbon

Nov 07, 2019 12:48PM
By Teri Sopp • Photos courtesy of the Amelia Island Bourbon Society
When local optometrist Dr. Tonia Bradley moved to Amelia Island from Kentucky, she didn’t know anyone, but she had a plan. “I was sad not to have anyone to drink bourbon with, so I created the Amelia Island Bourbon Society to make new friends,” she says. Now Tonia has a lot of new friends and the Amelia Island Bourbon Society is thriving, offering the opportunity to learn about bourbon, taste bourbon, and socialize with others who share the same love for bourbon.
The society is a lively social crew that meets monthly at different bars and restaurants on Amelia Island, and anyone is welcome to be a part of the group. “We are really informal,” says Tonia. “We are just getting around to incorporating and establishing bylaws.”

The Amelia Island Bourbon Society joins a growing group of clubs, societies, associations and bourbon educators across the country. The social media site Meet Up shows 23,000 people interested in bourbon and 103 Meet Up locations.
Bourbon is an American whiskey made from 51 percent fermented corn distilled into a liquid, which is then aged in charred white oak barrels. It is a very broad category of whiskey, including straight whiskey, blended whiskey, and “imitation” whiskey. Bourbon production is largely attributed to Kentucky, but large distilleries can be found throughout the American Midwest. There are many legends about the “invention” of bourbon, including one that names a pre-Prohibition Baptist minister as the first creator of the drink. Michael Veach, the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame historian, disputes this claim as apocryphal.

It is also unclear exactly where the name “bourbon” originated, but much of the 18th century production in America was in Bourbon County, Virginia, which eventually became part of the newly-formed state of Kentucky. Bourbon historians claim that the aging process was developed when Kentucky distillers shipped the product in barrels by river to New Orleans—a trip that took nine months.
In the spring, the Bourbon Society met at The Mermaid Bar at The Florida House Inn to welcome The Greenbrier Distillery representative Liz Epsy. Epsy took society members through the Belle Meade line of bourbons, and the group had the opportunity to taste five of them. Old Forester Bourbon has hosted society meet-ups, and there have been pop-up bourbon dinners at private homes and sunset river cruises aboard Amelia River Cruises.

The society also hosted a sold-out bourbon dinner on a riverboat, where members dined, tasted bourbons, and danced to the sounds of The Honey Badgers. In September, the society celebrated Bourbon Heritage Month, and members of the group participated in the thirty-day bourbon challenge.

Part of the joy of bourbon, according to Tonia, is that you have to slow down to enjoy it. “Life is really fast, you have to slow down your world for a minute to sip a good bourbon,” she says.

Bourbon, like perfume, comes with underlying “notes,” which take careful tasting to enjoy. “You really shouldn’t just throw back a short glass of bourbon,” adds Tonia. Jackie Zykan, Master Taster for Old Forester, says Bourbon drinkers may recognize sweet aromatics like vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, molasses, honey, or chocolate, as well may other “tastes,” such as “grassy, fruity, or spicy.” Zykan does recommend, however, that no one wear perfume while drinking bourbon so as not to confuse the palate.

Everyone is invited to come to a Bourbon Society meet-up. “We have a web page,, and we’re on Facebook as Amelia Island Bourbon Society, says Tonia. “Even if you think you don’t like bourbon, join us for a meeting and listen to us talk about bourbon. You might discover you’re really a bourbon lover at heart!”