A Visit to the 2014 Kentucky Bourbon Festival

For the last 23 years the city of Bardstown, Kentucky has held it’s annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. It’s a celebration of the town’s unique position in the heart of Bourbon Country and a way to celebrate one of the area’s major industries.

This year was my second time attending the festival and I may have had even more fun this time than I did the first. The festival starts on Tuesday with an event or two each day. It isn’t until Friday, though where things really kick into high gear. The festival itself mainly centers around Spalding Hall, the home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. 

The lawn out front is covered with a variety of exhibitors from local charities and small craftspeople to the heavy hitters of the bourbon industry, distilleries and cooperage. The distilleries have extremely nice, but small and temporary, branded buildings that are set up as extensions of their gift shops. Sans alcohol, of course. The cooperage and the rest of the exhibitors were in tents. I wandered around, bought a few things from a charity, but otherwise just enjoyed the people and the surroundings.

Behind Spalding Hall were the food trucks and the Barrel Rolling. I’ll admit, last time I was there, I didn’t really understand this event. After talking with a few people and reading up on it between then and now, I have a better feel for it. It’s basically a bunch of people who are very good at what they do for a living, showing off and competing with their colleagues. All in all a fun event to watch, though I feel for them since the sun was really hot and those barrels looked extremely heavy.

The museum itself is one of those places that when you first walk in, you aren’t sure if you want to keep going. This is an old building and the exhibits have been there for a while. But, let me tell you, it is well worth a stop. There are so many old bottles, advertising and bits of memorabilia that a whisky/history geek like me is in heaven. Aside from that, on Saturday the museum is the setting for the Master Distiller’s Auction. I attended this mostly because a friend told that it would be interesting. He wasn’t wrong. We wandered in and got a number. I gave it to my wife who is much more responsible than I. There were a few things that we bid on, but nothing that ended up finishing in our budget. There were some really cool old whiskies, such as a prohibition-era bottle of Golden Wedding bourbon. It ended up just under selling for around $800. Of course, the highest prices went for the signed bottles of Pappy. (The 23 was $2100, but all were $500 or over.) I really found the event fascinating. I’ve never watched so many people so casually spend that much money. Luckily, it was for a good cause as the proceeds go to help fund the museum.

Of course, there were a lot more events. Some of which cost money, like the Speakeasy, The Gala or the All-Star Sampler. Some were free, like the barrel making demonstrations, the Ballon Glow and the art exhibits. But my favorite part was the people. I met some new friends, many people that I’d talked to online for just about forever and hung out with some friends I’d met previously. I think as I go more, this part will grow to overshadow all the official events.

If you are a bourbon lover and haven’t been, I’d highly recommend it.