As I've been writing about all week, I went to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival this September. I've talked about the Jim Beam and Maker's Mark distilleries, but now it's time to talk about the festival itself.
In advance of the event, people who've gone in previous years made it out to sound a bit... trashy, but I didn't see that at all. I went to several events- a bourbon dinner, a huge country music concert, a guided tasting, and the grand gala event. All were fine, and most of them hugely fun.
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival takes place each year in Bardstown, not far from Louisville. Bardstown is ridiculously adorable, the typical "small town America" you see in the movies.This year there were about 40 events ranging from county craft fair type stuff to the grand ball. On the first night we went to a dinner and cooking-with-bourbon demo. As the only vegetarian in Kentucky, I just had the sides.
The next day, after the Jim Beam distillery tour, we went to Booker Noe's house where his wife still lives for a guided tasting of the Small Batch Bourbon collection and a barbecue. Fred Noe, who lives next door, led us through the tasting. Then we all gathered 'round to watch Fred braise... some piece of meat, I can't remember, with bourbon and light it on fire. As the only vegetarian in Kentucky, I just had the sides.
That night we went to the Barrels of Country music concert, a huge event under a tent. We first had a VIP dinner (I had sides) and a few drinks before heading over. Someone named Kellie Pickler was supposed to perform but was ill, so someone else named Blake Shelton played twice as long instead. After the concert, the group went back to the hotel and had a little sing-a-long with some guys and an acoustic guitar. I haven't had that much irony-free fun in a long time.
The following morning we had lunch at Maker's Mark (I had an actual sandwich!) then some free time before the Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala. The gala is a strange event- first everyone enters a room where all the bourbon brands have booths set up giving out tasting samples and cocktails. You get to keep the glass from each station, so people make a point out of getting as many glasses from as many different stations as possible. By the end some people are just dumping out the cocktails to get the glasses (and I hate to see good drinks go to waste) but everyone is pretty well toasted before the grand tented ball room area opens.
In the ball room there is a buffet dinner (I had a roll), an open bar, and a band playing mostly 1950's cover songs. People are dressed mostly in tuxedos and long dresses, and they start getting down on the dancefloor after the buffet is over. By the end of the night, the event goes exactly the way you'd expect it to go with people in tuxedos and an open bar. People grabbed small flags out of the table centerpieces and started dancing with them, waving them around, and generally being hilarious. It was definitely the social highlight of the week.
If you're thinking about making a trip to visit the bourbon distilleries (everyone plans vacations about distillery visits, right?) then the week of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival seems to be the perfect time to go. I *so* want to come back next year. And if I do, I'll bring snacks.