As the fall chill starts to creep in, there’s nothing better to warm up with than sipping on some old-fashioned bourbon, especially when it’s paired with modern barbecue. Thankfully, local restaurant owner Jay Thane decided the Bozeman community needed just that—bourbon and modern barbecue. Wanting to share his love for both, Thane proudly opened the doors to Bourbon last summer. Located at 515 West Aspen, Bourbon offers over 75 different types of American bourbons and whiskey. With neighborly kindness, Thane recently invited me to talk more about this modern barbeque establishment.
Sadie Woller: How was Bourbon conceptualized?
Jay Thane: For me, there’s a couple of different loves… a love of barbecue that I’ve had my whole life that really got going in my late 20s. I started cooking, and experimenting with what barbecue is, which is smoked meats. It’s not going out in your backyard and grilling a hamburger. In the South, barbecue is slow-cooked… slow ribs and brisket, pork, that sort of thing. I really got into it in my late twenties when I was involved in owning another restaurant. After that, I thought; ‘how does another restaurant in Bozeman work’? There’s a really bad labor crunch right now but, in Bozeman, there’s always been a bad labor crunch, especially when you’re talking about the back of the house. Barbecue made sense, because it’s a labor of love. You put all this love into the meat, but then, at service, it’s slicing brisket and portioning and building sandwiches. So, you don’t need a super high-end, highly skilled line cook to execute it. We’ve got some great highly skilled line cooks, and we’ve also mixed in some kids who are really green and just like to be in the kitchen, and they are hard workers.
The bourbon part is just my love of bourbon. I love American whiskey, and I love great cocktails. So, to mix those two makes sense to me, because they’re both kind of southern. And you can mix them and do these great, awesome bourbons and really awesome cocktails, but still have a casual barbecue kind of backyard atmosphere. That’s really what we’re going for.
SW: What would you like people to experience when they walk through your doors?
JT: I want people to feel comfortable and happy. I tell my staff that every customer is here to celebrate.They’re here to celebrate friendship for a happy hour with somebody—maybe a co-worker, maybe somebody they haven’t seen for a long time. They come to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. They come to celebrate Tuesday. So, when people come in the door, I want them to feel comfortable.
SW: What do regulars keep coming back for?
JT: Brisket and bourbon. For sure. We’re kind of doing what I call modern barbecue. We’re not just putting brisket on a plate with mac and cheese and beans. Right? Last night we had a molé taco special that we built with brisket. Oh my, it was fantastic! But that’s not something you’re going to find at True, which is an amazing place in Houston, Texas. At True, you get brisket on a plate, and pulled pork on a plate. You wait in line for an hour because it’s that good.
But we’re doing some modern stuff; people come back because they can get different things. We’re serving tacos and sandwiches, and we’ve got a Cubano on the menu made with pulled pork, brisket, and our pimento cheese that is just bomb—so good! So, we’re being creative with our barbecue proteins, and I think people need to come back and try everything on the menu. They look at our menu and say, ‘I need to have that and that.’ And then some days, they just want brisket and ribs.
SW: What is your personal favorite menu item? What’s your favorite bourbon?
JT: I don’t have a favorite daughter, and I have two of those. They’re young, but some days the younger one is super sweet to me, and some days the older one makes me laugh. And so, I would say that if it’s on the menu, we’re proud of it. It’s there because we think it’s really good. It’s hard to pick something that’s my favorite. Last night, one of the guys that was on sliced off the very end piece of brisket. That’s like the traditional burn end, right? And I love that. It’s so good… my favorite bite and barbecue is probably that first little perfect piece of brisket that has all that smoke flavor on it.
There’s a different whiskey for every day. I like to try things that aren’t on the back bar, and that’s what I seek out. Right now, we’ve got an old Forester. That is what’s called a barrel pick. And man, it’s got great flavor—it’s fun and complex! It’s not just the same old stuff; it’s fun to taste something that’s just a little bit different. So that’s what I usually go for.
SW: What would you say makes you unique in the local food scene?
JT: Barbeque is regional, right? There’s a whole hog in Texas. It’s brisket, it’s seasoned with salt and pepper. But at Bourbon, we do a little bit of everything. Our ribs are very Memphis-style. It’s a baby back rib with a sweet sauce. Our brisket is Texas, just salt and pepper. So, I think barbecue makes us unique; we’re doing some different things with our proteins and building the tacos—and especially the sandwiches, but at the same time doing it traditionally. And our wings are just fantastic!
I think it’s also the atmosphere that makes us unique. We’re combining this casual kind of fare—barbecue—with something that you can spend some cash on, which is a really great pour bourbon. You can also find a great deal, not overly expensive bourbon paired with fine, nicely crafted cocktails, but in a place where we’re just trying to be a neighborhood bar.
SW: What do you personally enjoy most about being part of the greater Bozeman community?
JT: I was born and raised here, and I’m very proud of that. I’m proud that I’ve been able to make my way in Bozeman, a tough town. I’m proud that I made some good decisions. Like, I worked my tail off in my twenties and in my thirties. I’m 44 right now, and I’m still working my tail off! I’m slowing down a little bit, for sure. But I’m really proud that I’ve made a place for myself in Bozeman. I am super happy that I get to raise my kids here.
SW: Do you have anything coming up that you’d like readers to know about?
JT: I think line dancing and swing dancing on Saturday nights is really fun! It started out in Gateway at The Jump, and they have an awesome location out there to do it. So, we’re just trying to get our little piece of that, and it creates a really fun atmosphere! On Friday November 4 we’ll be hosting An Evening with 710 Ashbury, you can dance the night away to your favorite Dead songs, and come early for some amazing BBQ. Get tickets in advance at www.sellout.io/. Cats vs Griz is coming up, and it’s in town November 19th. We’ve got a band playing here on Friday night before the game. We’re working on some other live music coming up early in November. But we also have regular singer/songwriters Tuesday nights starting at 7:00 pm. We’ve got a great stage here, and we’re slowly finding ways to fill it up the right way!
The cocktail menu will certainly change and go a little bit more seasonal. We’ll probably get Oktoberfest beer within the next week or so. I bet my wife will come and put some cobwebs into the corner!
As the fall chill starts to creep in, there’s nothing better to warm up with than sipping on some old-fashioned bourbon, maybe enjoy a casual game of solitaire, and/or some live music, especially when it’s paired with modern barbecue. Or with its southern ambiance, it’s the perfect place to cowboy up, sip bourbon, and learn to line dance!