I spent my teenage years in Atlanta, so I’m familiar with the humidity, hospitality, and formality of the South. From the age of 13, I was taught that all sentences should end in “ma’am” or “sir”; that despite 100-degree heat and 99 percent humidity, women “glisten” instead of sweat; and that every self-respecting Southerner drinks her liquor brown.

It was that final lesson that refused to take. Even as I tried not to perspire in the sweltering temps at University of Georgia football games as an undergrad, I couldn’t choke down the Jack Daniels offered to me by those who’d snuck it inside the stadium and mixed it with Coke.

After years of declining (“No, thank you, sir”) to drink the nectar of Dixie, I migrated to Colorado—the promised land of craft beer. Or so I thought. Soon, local bourbons, ryes, and myriad other whiskeys began sidling up next to IPAs on bar menus. My friends would order bourbon cocktails—and smirk when I, a Southerner, asked for an Avery White Rascal.

Then, one day this past fall, two co-workers speculated that I hadn’t been properly educated. Maybe a bourbon tasting would bring me over to the dark side? We started with an old fashioned made with Woodford Reserve (a gateway bourbon, they said) and a Manhattan made with Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey. I gagged on both. Then one of them had a thought: Maybe you don’t like bitters and mixers? Shall we try it straight?

I shrugged. My bartender poured two fingers of A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon over a king cube. I took a sip, and…I didn’t hate it. In fact, I can honestly say I would sip a two-ouncer of the Colorado spirit on a chilly winter night. It was a revelation—and a relief. But the irony was not lost on me that a Southerner had to come to Colorado to learn to drink bourbon straight.