For Bernie Lubbers, whiskey isn’t just a career—it’s a passion. As a national brand ambassador for Heaven Hill Distillery, he spends his days teaching the world about American Whiskey, whether he’s traveling or sharing his enthusiasm on Instagram. And with his deep knowledge, he’s more than earned his self-appointed title of “The Whiskey Professor.”
We asked Bernie to sit down and answer some of your most-asked questions about how to improve your home bar, collecting whiskey and more. So pour a glass of a Bottled-in-Bond whiskey—Bernie’s favorite—and read on to learn more about how you can take your whiskey enjoyment to the next level.
Q: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT MAKES FOR A RESPECTABLE HOME BAR?
I love answering this question because it feeds into my love of Bottled-in-Bond whiskeys. I think a “respectable home bar” should have the rarest and most restricted spirits on the planet, and that would be to carry every Bottled-in-Bond.
Heaven Hill Distillery produces more Bottled-in-Bond products than any other American Whiskey distiller, including many offerings in different whiskey styles. For example, you could have Mellow Corn, Rittenhouse Rye, Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond and Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. These give you four different styles of American Whiskey (Corn Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Wheated Bourbon and traditional Bourbon). Then you can see what styles you enjoy, and branch out from there as you add to your bar.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-HAVE BAR TOOLS?
That really depends on how many cocktails you make at home and which cocktails you make, but the basics are (and these should all be good quality from Cocktail Kingdom or equivalent): bar spoon, a sharp knife, mixing glass, shaker, strainer, jigger and muddler. These are the must-haves, and then you can add to your tool kit as you add to your cocktail repertoire.
Q: WHAT GLASSES DO YOU RECOMMEND PEOPLE HAVE ON HAND?
A good Glencairn is pretty much industry standard for nosing and whiskey tastings. I would also have copper mule mugs, mint julep cups, Old Fashioned glasses, a couple coupe glasses and highball glasses. Personally, I like having some tall, slender glassware from local historic hotels and restaurants that have long closed down. They add to the history of my collection. I try to find them at antique stores, so try searching at your local shops.
Q: HOW SHOULD I STORE MY WHISKEY COLLECTION?
Surplus whiskey that is displayed on your bar should be in cupboards that are not in direct sunlight and in room temperature or cooler areas like a basement. Always avoid sunlight.
[For more of Bernie’s storage tips, listen to episode 16 of Tales from the Hill.]
Q: FOR A TASTING, WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO ORGANIZE THE POURS?
The rule of thumb is low proof to high proof, and lighter or sweeter to bold and full bodied. You could also check out this whiskey tasting guide if you’re looking to get the most out of each pour.
Q: WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO WHISKEY COCKTAIL?
I like an Old Fashioned when I’m out. It’s so interesting to see how many different ways this classic cocktail can be prepared.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR “SECRET” LIQUEUR TO HAVE IN YOUR HOME BAR FOR AN AMAZING BOURBON COCKTAIL?
I have no “secret” liqueur in my home bar, but the most important to me is a high quality and good tasting vermouth for cocktails. You can go to your liquor store and buy a smaller size of a couple to see which one(s) you like. Just remember to always tightly seal and refrigerate them once they’re open.
Q: MY BUDDY IS GETTING INTO WHISKEY. BEST STARTER BOTTLES I CAN GET HIM?
Always start with Bottled-in-Bond, and then expand from there. Mellow Corn, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond, Rittenhouse Rye and Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond are all good bottles to start with.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE HEAVEN HILL BOTTLED-IN-BOND TO HENRY MCKENNA BOTTLED-IN-BOND?
Let’s start with the similarities. They’re both great Bourbons that use the same mashbill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley and 10% rye. And while they’re both Bottled-in-Bond, these two brands age longer than the required four years and feature some of our most diligently-selected barrels.
Now in terms of differences, to put it simply, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond is aged for seven years while Henry McKenna is aged for 10. Henry McKenna is also a single barrel release, which means each unique barrel is bottled individually.
Q: HOW MANY BOURBONS ON YOUR HOME BAR IS TOO MANY?
In terms of organizing, no matter what kind of bar you have, your bottles should be displayed well and not be overcrowded. It should look well organized and tidy. But in terms of enjoyment, there’s no such thing! You’re only limited by how many Bourbons you want to try.