Bourbon Woman: Jean Neighbors

Meet Jean Neighbors, bartender at Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar in the Galt House:

Whether you are a bourbon aficionado or a complete novice, Jean will steer you right. For one thing, she has a lot of bourbon behind her. Jockey Silks has an inventory of 150 brands (although they were just on the verge of making an order the night we visited and were down to “only” about 130). For another, she has been bartending for 40 years, 35 of them at the Galt House. “We were bourbon before bourbon was cool,” she says.

Jockey Silks, a stop on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, has a cozy, clubby atmosphere, with lots of padded leather armchairs, wood paneling, racing memorabilia and an impressive “wall of bourbon” behind glass.

Which of the bar’s bourbon cocktails is her favorite? “None of them: I like real bourbon,” she says. Her preferred pour is Elijah Craig 18-year. “That’s my favorite that I can afford.” If you’re buying, it’s Pappy 20-year-old. (The house brand is Woodford Reserve.)

Jean recommended some selections for bourbon flights – three half-ounce tastes for half the single-drink price. I tried a couple of rye whiskeys and Kentucky Vintage:

But our favorite was a bourbon she suggested to my husband – Johnny Drum 4-year. Smooth and sippable, it was the first bourbon we’ve sampled that had notes of banana.

Jean has seen lots of changes from behind the bar, including an increase in the number of women who are drinking bourbon. Most of them are ordering it straight up these days, maybe with an ice cube or two. In her experience, “women either hate bourbon or they love it.”

One of her saddest days, she says, was the day she arrived to discover that a new bartender had opened the bar’s prized 2005 limited-edition bottle of Maker’s Mark commemorating Affirmed’s Triple Crown win. “I came in and saw that and I cried,” she says. “He doesn’t work here anymore.”

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