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Whiskey Professor Takes Bourbon Lovers to School

Whiskey Professor Takes Bourbon Lovers to School
Text by Jill Warren Lucas / Photos by Lillie Elliot Photography and Briana Brough

It doesn’t take much effort to get a Southerner to drink bourbon. A veritable classroom of enthusiasts at The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, N.C., were glad to do their homework when self-proclaimed Whiskey Professor Bernie Lubbers took them to tippling school.

“To be patriotic, you really have to drink bourbon,” says Lubbers, whose rhinestone-studded belt glistened as he regaled the crowd with raucous stories of the all-American beverage’s journey from bracing clear corn whiskey to Heaven Hill’s Larceny label, a smooth sip that elicited erudite hoots and hollers.

Servers hustled to ensure that patrons had all five scheduled samplings, and a bonus taste of Elijah Craig Small Batch, arranged on a paper chart that guided the tasting. The party started as soon as folks walked through the door, however, when owner Gary Crunkleton handed off Whiskey Bramble cocktails scented with a dash of rose water.

Among Lubbers’ admirers was Will Hannah of Chapel Hill, who plans vacations to include distillery tours. He thinks Crunkleton stocks the best assortment of bourbon outside of the Seelbach in Louisville, scene of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding reception in The Great Gatsby.

“I guess you could say bourbon is my hobby,” Hannah says while waiting patiently for Lubbers to autograph his copy of Bourbon Whiskey, Our Native Spirit. “Trying a new bourbon is kind of like taking a ride on a nice day. You never know where it might lead.”


Photo by Lillie Elliott
Gary Crunkleton pours bourbon samplings for a capacity crowd gathered to learn about the spirit's storied history. / Photo by Lillie Elliott

 Photo by Lillie Elliott
Gary Crunkleton displays a bottle of Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon. / Photo by Lillie Elliott

Photo by Lillie Elliott
Paper mats guided tipplers from though a history-filled sipping, starting with bracing corn whiskey and finishing with smooth Larceny bourbon. / Photo by Lillie Elliott

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