Living in the heart of bourbon country, it came as quite a surprise to me that there was only one month out of the year we officially celebrated our bourbon heritage. Then I realized something: Bourbon Heritage Month is for everyone else. Here in Kentucky we really do celebrate our bourbon heritage every day, often times without noticing it.
We give directions based on landmarks such as Distillery Commons or Whiskey Row. Brown-Forman keeps our community in amphitheaters and college scholarships. Four Roses sponsors the Great Steamboat Race at The Kentucky Derby Festival and The Kentucky Bourbon Trail sponsors Forecastle Festival’s Bourbon Lodge. No matter where we go or what we do bourbon is always in the background.
So it can be difficult to relate to anyone outside the state who can’t pick up 75 different bourbons at their tiny corner liquor store. What do you mean there’s no Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond in your state? You’ll just have to travel to Kentucky to enjoy fabulous bourbon that’s $12 a bottle. Not $12 a dram, but $12 a bottle. And yes, it’s good.
We do celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month in Kentucky by taking a break to have some fun. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival takes place every September in Bardstown, Kentucky. This week-long festival includes a black tie gala, a bourbon barrel rolling competition, The All Star Sampler, and much more. Old Forester releases its Birthday Bourbon every September 2nd to mark the birthday of founder George Garvin Brown. Jim Beam Day is Thursday September 15th and they will celebrate by hosting an Old Fashioned cocktail class in the T. Jeremiah Beam house in Clermont with Bourbon Ambassador Beth Burrows. Brown-Forman also just released an excellent new bourbon brand, their first new bourbon brand in 20 years – Cooper’s Craft – which celebrates the role of the cooperage and those who work there (Brown-Forman has operated their own since 1945).
That’s not to say there aren’t fabulous distilleries outside of Kentucky. Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn has been making bourbon whiskey since 2010 in New York’s oldest operating whiskey distillery. Garrison Brothers is the first legal whiskey distillery in Texas. In 2009 High West opened the first legal distillery in Utah since 1870. Hillrock Estate in New York state is pushing the boundaries of bourbon’s definition with solera aging (and winning medals in the NY International Spirits Competition for their efforts!). Craft distilling has taken off nationwide; a testament to the spirit of distilling that thrives in so many. Before you roll your eyes at that next bottle of unaged whiskey or flavored moonshine, ask yourself if you can afford to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a minimum of four years to wait for an aged product to make it to the shelf. These craft distillers are pouring their hearts and souls into the rebirth of whiskey. Some will make it, some will not. All will add something to the American whiskey landscape.
At the Whiskey Row media preview of Old Forester’s latest Birthday Bourbon at the Frazier History Museum.
There are also fabulous bourbon bars outside of Kentucky. Bourbon Historian Michael Veach describes The Century Bar in Dayton, Ohio as a “control state marvel,” boasting 150 bourbons in a state where bourbon can be hard to come by. Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C. has a counter on their webpage to keep track of spirits bottles on the wall. At press time, it’s at 2,687, many of which are rare and dusty bottles of bourbon. Canon in Seattle, Washington boasts the Western Hemisphere’s largest spirit collection at over 3,500 labels. The American whiskey section alone is 40 pages long and features numerous pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, and dusty offerings.
No matter where you are in the United States (or in the world, for that matter) there’s always a way to take the time to celebrate our Native Spirit.
All photos by Maggie Kimberl.