Festivals and Fun: A September Week in Kentucky

While I was in Kentucky, I attended events where I had been comped tickets to write about the event. They include: From Field to Fermentation and The Science of Maturation at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival as well as Bourbon and Beyond.

As you may be aware, I’ve spent a large percentage of the last week and a half in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. While I was there, I attended a couple festivals, did a bit of shopping and snuck off to have some fun that had absolutely nothing to do with bourbon. If you’d indulge me, I’d like to tell you about it.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: From Field to Fermentation

The first thing I did in Kentucky was attend From Field to Fermentation… Actually the first thing I did in Kentucky was visit my friends Paul and Merry Beth at MB Roland. They have been friends of mine since before BourbonGuy.com was even a thought in the back of my brain and since my visit was a social call, it is completely off the record.

So backing up, the first official thing I did was attend the From Field to Fermentation event at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The first thing I noticed about this event was that it was a bit hard to get to. It was held in Bardstown’s Spalding Hall and as we walked up, the Great Lawn was in the process of being set up just outside the front door. But that didn’t deter me! I had some learnin’ to do.

And learn I did. This was a fascinating seminar. It was hosted by Moonshine University and, as the title says, it covered everything from the rules of whiskey to the selection and milling of grain all the way to yeast and fermentation. If you are the type of person who thinks that the distilleries gloss over everything when they tell you how whiskey is made, then this is the event for you. It had charts and graphs and talked about microbiology. I highly recommend this one. We even got to taste some things. In this case, new make. We had four distillates: 100% corn, 100% rye, 100% wheat and 100% malted barley. I actually finished my 100% rye new make. It was quite tasty.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: All-Star Sampler

I’ve been to the All-Star Sampler before. In fact, I’ve been there almost every time I’ve gone to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. And I think that was my problem. I had a “been-there, done-that” sort of vibe this time around. I made the rounds, I tasted a few whiskies I hadn’t had before, and introduced myself to a couple craft distillers that I hadn’t met yet. All in all, I got bored a bit early in the night.

BUT. And this is a big but. This is all because I’ve been there so many times. This is a great event for people making their first trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. You get to meet the Master Distillers of most of the big distilleries. There is music, good food and and you can try most distilleries’ entire line of bourbons (or at least a large swath of it).

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: Let’s Talk Bourbon

Let’s Talk Bourbon is my favorite paid event at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. First off, it is held on the beautiful grounds of the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. Secondly, they serve a great breakfast. Eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and this is where I realized that I really like garlic grits for breakfast. On top of that, you get a high-level view of how bourbon is made. If you think that the From Field to Fermentation event sounds a little too in-depth for you, then this will be right up your alley.

Castle and Key Tour

I’m not going to go into too much depth on this one since there will be an entire photo post about it next week, but I’m just going to say that this is probably the most fun that this history geek has had on a distillery tour in a long time. It ranked right up there with the visit I took to Old Crow a few years back and the good news is that everyone can take this tour.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: The Science of Maturation

If you can believe it, this might have been even more in-depth than the From Field to Fermentation event I’d attended earlier in the week. It covered almost everything that you’d want to know about maturation including the anatomy of a barrel, what toasting and charring a barrel each does to a whiskey’s flavor, what happens in a barrel, how warehouse variations affect how a whiskey ages, the effect of entry proof on bourbon and more. Plus there was a how-to on sensory evaluation of whiskey as well as a tasting of a whiskey through the aging process from new make through two, four and six years. And to top it off we tasted three single barrels bourbons that were from the same lot and that aged right next to each other for the same amount of time. That was fascinating!

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: The Master Distiller’s Auction

Now this is my favorite event at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. I’ve written about it before so here are the Cliff Notes. All the items are donated. All the money goes to fund the Oscar Getz Museum. This is their main source of income for the year.

Now onto the highlights from this year:

  • First and foremost, the long-time auctioneer of the Master Distiller’s Auction passed away since last year. He was very entertaining and you could tell that he loved doing this auction. I didn’t know him, but I will miss him just the same.

  • The Auction raised over $25,000 for the museum.

  • $11,000 of that came from the five bottles in the Van Winkle line.

  • My wife spent $175 of our bourbon budget on a basket because she liked the diamond necklace in it. Much of the rest of the basket are things that I will be giving away in the next month or so (stay tuned!)

  • Someone paid $85 for a bottle of Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6-year old! That makes the half case up in my closet…something I will still happily drink.

Bourbon & Beyond

This year, Bourbon and Beyond was on the same weekend as BourbonFest. And to my eye, it looked as if it really bit hard into the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s attendance. And I can see why, three days of music, food and bourbon is hard to beat. This was a great event. I had multiple delicious cocktails. I heard great music. It was fun, even though there were so many people there that it triggered my anxiety (I don’t do well with crowds).

Even though once you were inside the event it was a great experience, I do have some constructive criticism from the perspective of a non-native of Louisville. The parking experience was terrible. There were two to four events going on that day and there was no signage on how to get to the festival grounds from the parking. Helpfully, they provided free shuttles to the event from the parking lots, but they didn’t provide them to get back to the parking from the event. I walked a half hour back to my car and needed to use google maps to point myself in the right direction because, once again no signage.

Bottom line, this is a great event. But they assume that you have been there before and know where you are going. Which, as a visitor is more than a bit stressful. Luckily there is bourbon inside.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

I have driven past this place for years. This trip, I finally decided to stop in and visit. It was great! This nature preserve was started by none other than Issac Wolfe Bernheim, whiskey man. You might recognize him as the IW in IW Harper and the Bernheim in…Bernheim Whiskey. This was a lovely and peaceful place to wander around, feed the fish and turtles and see a set of really cool sculptures called the Forest Giants. My vacation to Kentucky can be a little hectic as I try to pack it as full as possible. I might need to plan a stop to the Bernheim Forest from now on to allow myself a structured chance to chill.

Newport Aquarium, Newport, KY

My last night in Kentucky, I traveled north to the Southern suburbs of Cincinnati. I usually make the trip up there to visit the Party Source, but I’ve never stayed there before. I decided to this time because I realized that it took the same amount of time to come home from Shepherdsville, KY as it did from Newport, KY. While I was there I decided to check out the Newport Aquarium. While this isn’t as big or as cool as the other Newport Aquarium that I’ve been to (Oregon), it is still a nice way to spend an afternoon. I love aquariums so I really enjoyed it and would recommend it. Plus it is about 5 minutes from the Party Source so you can do a little shopping afterward too.

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