Review by James Lindorf
Straight Up: Kentucky Bourbon is the second film in Director Eric Byford’s documentary series on alcohol and its impact on the region famous for its production. He came up with the idea for the series while in film school which is where he made the first entry, Straight Up: Tennessee Whiskey. His feature on Kentucky Bourbon and its impact on the commonwealth and the country at large since the late 18th century will be available through video on demand services December 4th and you can purchase it here.
The mountain of information presented in the film is taller than any bluegrass foothill in Kentucky. From inception to modern day with speculation towards the future no period or subject is left unexplored. Surprisingly, one topic that didn’t get a lot of screen time was the actual process of making bourbon. When credits roll, you know it involves corn, water, a charred barrel and not much more. Instead, the focus is on the industries’ socio-economical and socio-political impact.
In 1791, whiskey and bourbon became the first items to be taxed by the young American government to pay off debts accrued during the Revolutionary War. In 1897, the Bottled in Bond act was passed regulating the production of bourbon, nine years before the Pure Food and Drug Act. Like NASCAR’s roots can be found in bootlegging during prohibition, thoroughbred racing has its origins in the early bourbon trade. The list of milestone American moments that include bourbon in one way or another is long, and Byford fits it all into his film.
The primary issue for Straight Up: Kentucky Bourbon is that with such an abundance of information to cover some of the more exciting topics feel rushed. It’s possible that for those topics this was all the information Byford was able to extract from his interviewees, and with a limited budget he was unable to secure additional interviews. It could be a lack of experience when keeping them on topic because too often the conversations would veer off track to discuss what a good group of people distillers tend to be. Or, it was merely a poor choice made in the editing room. The film would have been stronger if it really focused in on a few profound moments and not included some more mundane events that would sprout up around large industries.
History buffs, bourbon aficionados, Kentuckians, or anyone looking for a documentary to watch on a lazy Sunday will have a little fun and learn a few things along the way. Byford’s Straight Up, is a series I would be interested in seeing more of. The California wine industry, tequila in Mexico, the feud between French wine and absinthe are all stories rich with history. I believe in Byford as a director and his improvement from film one to two and that whatever topic comes next will be even better.
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