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Kentucky Bourbon Festival Recap

With the Kentucky Bourbon Festival two days behind me, my blood alcohol level is finally fighting its way back to legal levels of sobriety.  And while I may abstain from bourbon flights and bourbon pancakes for a few days, I left Kentucky, the drinking man’s mecca, with a renewed appreciation for bourbon. Check out some highlights from this weekend:

Day One

Life slows down when you’re sipping bourbon with the “Colonel” at the historic Chapeze House in Bardstown, KY.  Each glass of rare whiskey begets a story from the Colonel, which in turn spawns another story and likely another healthy pour of bourbon.  Drinking with the Colonel is a must for anyone traveling to Bourbon Country.

Day Two

Touring the Maker’s Mark distillery with Master Distiller Kevin Smith was an incredible opportunity to learn about the distillation process of bourbon from the man responsible for making it.

After the tour, I attended a party at the home of Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels.  It was a rare opportunity to talk with the son of Maker’s Mark founder T.W. Samuels and to tour his home, a veritable museum of memorabilia that included rare pre-prohibition bourbons and the personal pistol of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Day Three

Day three started early with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Jim Beam distillery.  Led by Master Distiller and Jim Beam descendant Fred Noe, the tour was a telling insight into the sheer volume of bourbon produced at this booze factory.

After the tour we tasted a brand new batch of Booker’s, a barrel-strength, small batch bourbon clocking in at a whopping 130.1 proof.  Although it’s the most potent of the Beam portfolio, Booker’s exhibits a remarkably smooth quality with sweet, tasty notes of vanilla.

Friday night included a visit to Fred Noe’s house for a barbecue and some live entertainment.  Noe was a generous host, and the bourbon flowed freely.  He even led us through a tasting of each of Beam’s small batch bourbons — Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, Baker’s and Booker’s.

Day Four

Continuing to eschew such social norms as sleep and non-alcoholic beverages, my troupe headed to Louisville for lunch and–you guessed it–bourbon.  Lunch meant a trip to the Brown Hotel for the famous, heart-stopping “Hot Brown,” a dish consisting of hot, melted cheese, bread, a thick slab of turkey, more cheese and several pieces of bacon.  While I appreciated this unparalleled gastronomic experience, this surely took years off my life.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival culminated with the Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting and Gala.  The attendees’ tuxedos and evening gowns were no impediment to their swilling bourbon with no regard for their livers.  With 10 distilleries present and dozens of bourbon brands represented, there was something for everyone.

At the gala I tasted the rare Parker’s Heritage 27 Year Old, the oldest bourbon on the market.  This gorgeous spirit is complex, yet well-balanced and mellow.  Another highlight was sipping the William Heavenhill 225th Anniversary Edition, aged 18 years and nine months.  With only 225 bottles originally available, all at the same location–Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY–it’s the most expensive bourbon on the market and will set you back $500.

If you’re still thirsting for some bourbon, check out coverage from day one, day two and day three of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

Written by Kevin Gray

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