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‘Neat: The Story of Bourbon’ (review)

Produced by AJ Hochhalter
Written by David M. Altrogge,
A.J. Hochhalter
Directed by David Altrogge
Featuring Steve Zahn, Freddie Johnson,
Marianne Barnes, Jimmy Russell,
Denny Potter, Brent Elliot, Chester Zoeller


Uniquely American. It’s a term that is bandied about a lot. More these days and for most of the wrong reasons, but Neat: The Story of Bourbon is a love story.

It’s a love story about bourbon, family and America, not necessarily in that order. Bourbon is uniquely American and Neat tells us why.

The film takes you though the process of making the bourbon and the make up of the mash.  It explains in detail the importance of the soil, the corn and the other ingredients.

If you enjoy understanding how things are made this will be extremely interesting.  Additionally they give you a detailed tutorial about how the barrels are made. I found this amazingly cool because the charred white oak becomes extremely important to the flavor profile for the bourbon. There is one shot where the viewer is shown how deeply into the wood the bourbon seeps over the years and therefore how much of the wood flavor enters the bourbon. It’s really fascinating.

Every now and again the film cuts to Steve Zahn sitting in a large leather backed chair and he talks about bourbon for a couple of minutes before the transition to the next segment. Steve Zahn is funny. His humor comes so easily and he seems so genuinely amused most of the time it’s really hard not to like him. I am not sure how he wound up in Neat, but he is a little bonus treat.

There is an important lesson in Neat.

Bourbon (and I would say all drinks) are meant to be enjoyed how you like them. There is a lot of arrogance over what the “right” way to imbibe is and frankly, it’s irritating. “You use ICE?? CHARLATAN!!” “You don’t like smokey flavors??? LIGHTWEIGHT!!” If Neat teaches us anything it’s there’s no right way and no wrong way to enjoy a drink, as long as you are enjoying it. The judgmental drinkers can stuff it.

Neat: The Story of Bourbon has a nice narrative. It takes the viewer through the history of bourbon, including a bourbon archaeological dig going on in Kentucky.  We meet a young whiskey maker who is re-opening a long closed distillery. We meet an old whiskey maker who gives us some Yoda like insights about the drinking of bourbon.  That brings us to the central message of the documentary and the reason I called it a love story earlier.

Bourbon is about connection. It’s about the connection between the farmers and the land, the distillers and the ingredients and those who enjoy the results. Bourbon is meant to be enjoyed slowly, with friends over smiles, stories, laughs and tears.

If you are blessed with a fine bottle of bourbon and you open it with friends, don’t save some for the next time. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so enjoy the moment today and be present with your friends and loved ones. They may never pass this way again.

It seems an odd catalyst for connection. However, the heartfelt earnestness of the message from the old distiller is clear and the emotion behind it is real.

3.5 out of 5 stars


Neat: The Story of Bourbon is now available On Demand and Digital HD.



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