I'm a Dad and a Bourbon Taster: Here's How I Talk About Alcohol With My Kids

I make my living around alcohol and I never hide that from my young kids. Here's how I teach them about responsible alcohol consumption in the process.

Bourbon expert
Photo: Kailey Whitman

When holding Oscar Leo in my arms for the first time, I looked down into his fresh-out-of-the-womb eyes and said out loud, "Welcome to the world. I can't wait to have a bourbon with you." I handed him to his mother, Jaclyn, who soon asked thereafter, "Did you bring the Booker's?"

Yeah, we love bourbon.

I make my living around America's spirit as a critic, historian, and entertainer. For the past 15 years, I've weaved this passion into books, podcasts (The Fred Minnick Show and Bourbon Pursuit) with guests like Peyton Manning and Ludacris, and private tastings for Google, Amazon, Home Depot, and many other companies.

At the core of my success is understanding the true meaning of responsible alcohol consumption and respecting the history, legacy, and creation of bourbon. I teach this ethos to my two children—Oscar, 8, and Julian, 3—and here's how you can, too.

Having Honest Conversations

When he was a toddler, Oscar's big blue eyes just watched me take in whiskey's aromatic properties, and he asked what I was smelling. Instead of letting him smell bourbon, I took him to our spice rack and we both practiced smelling herbs, sugars, and spices with our eyes closed. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had offered him the gift of tasting.

He later took his curiosity to tasting candy, doing reviews for the camera just like his dad. We filmed a couple of episodes of the "Oscar Leo's Candy Taste-Off," and he did a chicken nugget dipping sauce blind tasting in which honey mustard clearly won.

As one can expect, he also wanted a sip of bourbon. After all, children desire what their parents have. But instead of hiding my profession or not having a cocktail at dinner, Jaclyn and I used this as an opportunity to educate him about the dangers of drinking before the brain is fully developed, which led to a lengthy lesson on how the brain worked. We've since also spent a good deal of time discussing physiological issues of drinking too much, as well as the legal and emotional ramifications that can come from intoxication.

Starting Those Conversations Early

Experts say it's never too early to talk to kids about alcohol and drugs (as long as it's age-appropriate) and it's best to start these conversations before they're exposed. Our first alcohol talk with Oscar was at 2, when he likely retained very little, then again at 3, when he quickly wanted to know if T. rexes drank bourbon. We had another conversation about it again when he was 4 and knew more about dinosaurs than I did at 40. Then he wanted to see where bourbon was made. So he and Jaclyn joined me on a special tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery, where Oscar slapped a barrel and said, "Daddy, look this is bourbon."

By the time Oscar was 5, he knew about bourbon tax structures and its core ingredient—corn—and today loves watching me talk on TV about my passion. Meanwhile, Julian's not into science or numbers like Oscar at his age. Julian loves to dance, sing, and play piano. Thus, my approach for the burgeoning artist will be a little different than with our number-crunching Oscar, but the idea of starting early and often won't be any different.

Teaching by Example

Bourbon is a point of pride in our home. It's in nearly every cabinet, shelf, closet, and occasionally the garage. Between my office and house, I receive 200 to 500 samples a month of distilled spirits from all over the world. Even if I wanted to, I could not hide alcohol from my kids.

My wife and I imbibe often, too, in front of our children, but we do not get intoxicated. We simply believe it's important not to hide who we are and teach our children responsibility through example. It lays the foundation for our kids to have a healthy relationship with alcohol down the line.

But there's always the elephant in the room: drunkenness. That's why drinks professionals sometimes struggle to educate the public on responsibility versus abstaining. But by showing our kids responsible drinking and through the conversations we have with them at home, we are hopefully teaching them the right way to handle liquor. We are letting them know that bad decisions equal consequences, and they seem to understand this concept extremely well.

Going Easy on Ourselves

My wife and I both also know there is no perfect way to raise children, and we will be thrown curveballs as they grow. And we can only hope that the talks we've had about drugs and alcohol, and the model we've tried to set, keep them from falling for whatever ill-advised temptation comes their way in the future.

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