Kentucky Bourbon Festival
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival ends with a bang, otherwise known as The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting and Gala. (I call it the Bourbon Ball.) For those of you who haven't attended the Bourbon Ball, I can explain it as something akin to a liquor-lover's prom, where drinking is not only allowed but encouraged.
As limos and shuttles pull up to the activities center in Bardstown, Kentucky, a line of tuxedo'ed and coiffed liquor vendors, distillers and other afficionados forms down the block. Diamonds are sparkling and everyone is eyeballing the person next to them. It's the Beverly Hillbillies living on Wysteria Lane. It's JR and Sue Ellen, had they lived in Louisville instead of Dallas. It's a who's-who of bootleggers and moonshine makers, generations after Prohibition.
In short, its a hoot!
Upon entering the hall, each person is handed a red canvas bag. Turns out that Bourbon's major players have set up tasting booths around the hall. In addition to offering up tastes of their product neat, on the rocks or with water, most also have featured cocktails. And, each booth has its own glass, which attendees stash in the red bag, and take home. It struck me as a rather dangerous proposition - sticky glasses clinking against one another in a bag, as we all wander from drink to drink. But, it worked out ok, and I actually got my collection home, in tact.
Some companies create themes for their tasting booths, as did Maker's Mark. They decided to play on the word for whisky and created the Whi-SKY experience, creating an airplane ambiance. (Need I tell you how this delighted my pal, Alberta Straub, hostess of OnNetwork's Cocktails on the Fly).
Guests were handed "boarding passes" while waiting in line, which featured the Signature Cocktails for that year. Master Distiller David Pickerell (pictured with me here) also has a passion for Mixology, so he created this year's Signtaure Drink appropriately named the Mile High Manhattan.
The booth looked like the hull of an airplane, and the servers were dressed as air hostesses. The glasses were dipped in the red wax which identifies the Maker's Mark bottles.
Even Billy Samuels, son of Maker's Mark founder Bill Samuels, was part of the fun, and welcomed party go-ers in a pilot uniform.
I made my way around the room sampling Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, and so on. Purely for educational purposes, of course. I mean, it would have been rude not to try them all, no?
My favorite cocktail of the evening was the one made with Booker's bourbon. Booker's is one of the small batch bourbons made by Jim Beam.
Fred Noe is the seventh generation Master Distiller in the Jim Beam family. In fact, his face has just been added to the label, alongside his forefathers. His father's name was Booker, and I learned each of the small batch bourbons are named for sentimental reasons. (More on that in my Jim Beam distillery tour coverage, coming soon...)
So, if the Kentucky Derby isn't enough to lure you to America's heartland, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival should be added to your drinker's to-do list. I can assure you - it's a ball!