Teeming with #shamelessselfies and “influencer” hopefuls, Instagram is the social media platform of choice for personal brand-building. As evidenced by an obscene 40 million Google hits on the topic, becoming Insta-famous is top-of-mind for many users. A rare feat, cracking into this upper echelon proved no difficult task for one Vestavia Hills bourbon buff.
Attention-seeking behavior may be strongly correlated with Instagram success, but Charles Murrell has amassed a significant following sans personal plugs. Apart from serving as the hu-manager for his chocolate lab Max’s ‘gram (@maxthedrover), Charles has been, until recently, light on the social media. But at the urging of his wife Mandy and daughter Madison, he caved and created a @bourbon__man Instagram account. That’s two underscores, mind you.
Having taken notes on his father’s and uncle’s drinking habits at family gatherings, Charles’s been sipping bourbon neat since his college days at Auburn University—an uncommonly sophisticated vice for a young fraternity brother.
“I enjoy it for the taste,” Charles clarifies. “What I love so much about bourbon is that under that classification there is such a wide range of offerings, tastes and flavor experiences. Bourbon isn’t one thing, like Coke or Sprite. There are almost infinite possibilities to explore.”
It was his wife Mandy’s talent for gifting, specifically during Christmas in 2015, that started Charles down the rabbit hole of collecting the original American spirit.
“I’m sort of an eternal student, which I believe comes from my dad,” says Charles, who was named after his father. “I’ve always felt like if I was going to have an opinion that was important enough for me to share with others, I needed to form it myself and truly understand what I was talking about.”
In the five short years Charles’s bourbon collection proliferated, so did his lexicon. Behind each bottle is a story, which he’ll tell enthusiastically, if permitted. Charles could fill a book with his knowledge on distillation processes, the names of and uses for various glassware, how heat or barrel charring impacts flavor profiles, innovations in finishing methods, the history of bourbon’s big names, the rise of craft distilleries…just to name a few topics.
According to Charles, bourbon collectors choose to spend money or time in the chase for the taste. Unwilling to squander a small fortune on $1,000 bottles in the secondary market, he opted to invest in the latter.
“This is the result of years and years of hunting,” says Charles, gesturing to his enviable stockpile of bourbon on display in his—for lack of a better term—man cave. “I love seeing people’s reaction when they walk into this room because obviously this is the fruit of a lot of effort.”
Charles’s painstakingly piecemeal collection, and the extent to which it’s been showcased, have received acclaim from friends, family and more recently, the online community of fellow bourbon enthusiasts. A clinical neurophysiologist turned healthcare business executive, Charles prioritized privacy when he launched the anonymous “Bourbon Man” Instagram handle in May of 2019. He didn’t want his colleagues to get the wrong idea from his daily bourbon beauty shots.
“I don’t want to ruin the illusion, but I don’t have a drink every single day,” Charles admits.
Nor does Charles tout himself as a connoisseur. Unfortunately, his busy work schedule hasn’t allowed for enough time off for him to become a certified bourbon steward, which is much like a sommelier or cicerone. Bourbon stewards attain their titles after completing the Stave and Thief Society bourbon certification program, the official bourbon education course of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
“I don’t do very detailed reviews, because I don’t want to present myself as an expert when I haven’t officially been recognized or trained as such,” says Charles.
For Charles’s 12,000 (and counting) Instagram followers, his lack of formal training is of no consequence. Bourbon Man can craft a winning post with a few simple ingredients: bourbon, the raw cedar wood coffee table he built, his leather chair and a discussion-worthy caption.
“I love a good polarizing bottle because that’s what starts the conversation,” Charles explains. “I don’t begrudge anyone for drinking anything.”
It’s through Charles’s brazenly authentic approach to the ‘gram that he won the double-tapping hearts of his followers. His top advice for the bourbon novices that slide into his direct messages is: “Don’t chase names on bottles. Don’t waste the money. Figure out what you like first. It doesn’t have to be great for anyone else.”
Recognizing the subjectivity of taste, Bourbon Man isn’t a proponent of superlatives. Dismissing the notion of universally enjoyable bourbon, he is adept in matching his followers with bourbons that will satisfy their unique palates. But if he doesn’t think a new release is worth the hype, he’ll be honest.
“I’m never going to say anything negative about something that’s a free sample someone sent me; I just won’t review it,” he says . “But you’d be surprised by how many people, when I tell them that, won’t send anything.”
Not once has Charles posted a picture of an unopened bottle—an obvious hindrance to an honest, thoughtful review. His transparent posting practices have earned him the respect of fellow bourbon-heads of Insta-repute, many of whom he’s proud to call drinking buddies.
“I never thought when I was younger that I would have a bunch of virtual friends, but especially during a pandemic, it’s the most responsible and safest thing to do,” says Charles, who’s more than happy to cheers over Zoom.
It was through Charles’s Insta-friend Brandon Hunt that he developed a passion even greater than the one that prompted him to start his account. “Bourbon Man had 4,000 Instagram followers at that point, and I was thinking to myself, ‘This is crazy.’ If I’m going to have a following, I need to do something positive with it,’” he recalls.
Brandon, an Arizona native, had raised money for his father’s and his friend’s child’s cancer treatments by selling off his bourbon collection. Following the fundraiser’s success, he launched the Bourbon Charity in January of 2019 so donors could drink for a change. Bourbon Charity fundraisers benefit five core organizations: Prostate Cancer Foundation, Children’s Tumor Foundation, Fisher House Foundation, Dare to Care and charity: water.
The nonprofit sources bourbon at list price and gives donors a chance to win the bottle via a sweepstakes-style contest. The more money a person donates, the more contest entries they’re allowed. (Entering once is free too!)
Unable to make a significant financial contribution, Charles reached out to Brandon in June of 2019 to offer up his most prized possession, his time, and became director of donor relations four months later. This coming March, Charles will join the charity’s board of directors. With over half a million dollars raised in Bourbon Charity’s first year as a nonprofit, it appears Charles’s talents are going to good use.
Charles plays a critical role in sourcing Bourbon Charity’s swag after developing relationships with manufacturers of high quality products. He negotiates prices with behemoths like Glencairn Crystal company, the Scottish maker and namesake of the iconic Glencairn whiskey glass, for custom merchandise. He also manages Bourbonhood, an exclusive club—with a snazzy logo to boot—for over 300 monthly patrons who support the backend operation via online platform Patreon. Ultimately, Charles says, Bourbonhood helps the charity get closer to their goal of sending 100 percent of public donations to the charities they support.
Charles’s Bourbon Charity affiliation may have helped him come to terms with his unexpected Insta-fame, but don’t expect to see much more of the man on the ‘gram.
“I think I’m going to incorporate a little bit about me, but I don’t want the page to ever be a self-promoting thing. I’m not directing people to me. I’m directing people to a charity,” he says.
It may come as a surprise to some that more than once Charles himself has been on the receiving end of well-intentioned suggestions to check out the Bourbon Man Instagram page.
But he’s not offended. For Charles, it’s about the bourbon, not the man.
Bourbon Man’s Gift Guide
- Libbey Craft Spirits Bourbon Glasses
- Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds
- Aged & Ore Travel Decanter
- Angels’ Share Whiskey Water Dropper
- Aegis Whiskey Decanter Set
Bourbon Available in Alabama at ABC Stores
- Baker’s 7 Single Barrel
- Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel
- Old Forester 1920
- Four Roses Single Barrel
- Chattanooga Whiskey Rye
Great Bottles $49 or Under
These bottles might be hard to find in Alabama though.
- Old Ezra 7 year
- Weller Antique 107
- Hancock’s President’s Reserve
- Heaven Hill Bottled-In-Bond
- Maker’s Mark LE 101
Charles’s Go-To Bourbon Glassware
- The NEAT
- The Cradle
- The Libbey
- Venero Crystal