When it comes to bourbon bona fides, few can match Peggy Noe Stevens. The world’s first female master bourbon taster and a 2019 inductee into the Kentucky Distiller’s Association Bourbon Hall of Fame, Noe Stevens has been immersed in the brown spirits scene for more than 30 years as an in-demand speaker, brand guru, and event planner. With her latest book, Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon: Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties, which debuted earlier this month, the author shares how to create memorable experiences centered around Kentucky’s finest. Here, she shares some tips for maximum bourbon enjoyment, her dream tasting, and what her fans can expect when event season kicks in again.
What about bourbon makes it ideal for entertaining?
Bourbon style and culture is approachable and friendly, not to mention diverse in how you prepare it, whether it be in a cocktail, or culinary application. I always have considered bourbon as the “universal welcome,” as I traveled around the country and internationally, conducting tastings and seminars. People know that bourbon means quality mingled with rich heritage and tradition.
What’s the most memorable bourbon tasting experience you’ve been a part of?
No doubt, it was conducting a tasting with Julia Child when she visited Kentucky. She was inducting Kentucky into a chapter for the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) and I was the incoming president. We held the opening event, which I coordinated, at a distillery. She wanted to learn about bourbon, so I conducted a tasting for the grand dame of the culinary world. I was completely intimidated, knowing that I was probably boring her, or could not hold her attention with all the intellect she had. Lo and behold, she was like a student, curious and diligently taking mental notes as her eyes gazed on me with every motion I made and description I conveyed. She taught me that we never stop learning about the food and beverage world. She was so very respectful and genuine.
What advice do you have for newcomers to bourbon?
Learn the basics by starting with an easy cocktail like an old fashioned and become familiar with some low proof products first. When you feel like you start to crave more robust taste (like graduating from goat cheese to gouda), move to some small batch, higher proof. You can also begin putting it over the rocks, or with a splash of water to taste it in pure form.
During this challenging time, how are you fulfilling your need to entertain?
I have not cooked in my kitchen like this since my two boys (now 26 and 21) were young. I am baking, trying new recipes, hosting them for countless dinners, because cooking is my therapy. I also began my vegetable and herb garden, which is always a joy for me, knowing that I will benefit from the herbs and vegetables produced all summer. My oldest son and I having been having fun shooting bourbon demonstrations, both cocktail and culinary and posting on social media (Editor’s note: Here’s a Bourbon Pineapple Pound Cake).And the new book has kept me busy with a myriad of podcasts and interviews.
What three bourbons would be on your dream tasting list?
Any Maker’s Mark bourbon from the 1980s, and being able to hand-select a private Elijah Craig barrel strength or Colonel Edmond Taylor bourbon to my taste.
What is your favorite way to drink bourbon?
I adore a black Manhattan. It’s a traditional Manhattan with a splash of amaro, which brings out some licorice and cherry notes. Otherwise, over the rocks is just fine by me.