Friday morning was ugly. I wasn't hungover, precisely, but I did feel like 270 pounds of hammered dogshit after my first day at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival
But you gotta do what you gotta do, so I showered and dressed, got a bowl of Cheerios at the motel office and drank water. John and Amy, my partners from Malt Advocate
magazine, came by, and we headed up the Blue Grass Parkway for Frankfort and the Buffalo Trace Distillery
We really like Buffalo Trace. At Malt Advocate
, we've picked two of their brands for our American Whiskey of the Year award, and have given them our Distillery of the Year award twice. They're the most innovative bourbon distillery going.
We walked around the grounds a bit with sales and marketing guy Kris Comstock. Kris played football at the University of Kentucky. He's about 6'8" and is down to about 260 pounds. I like being around Kris. He makes me feel small (especially the new, miniature me
is really nuts about bourbon and rye whiskeys
, and they have about 1,500 experimental whiskeys aging right now. Why?
"We've never tasted the perfect bourbon," said Mark Brown, the distillery's president. This is experimentation on an unprecedented scale in the bourbon industry, where tradition is god.
The master distiller, Harlan Wheatley, took us through the distillery, which is huge, built to supply the needs of a much bigger industry back in the day, and Wheatley's pretty damned proud of it. When we'd seen it all, we went to the tasting lab, where they had about 18 whiskeys lined up for us to taste. We did what we could, and really enjoyed the two newest additions to their Antique line, the William Larue Weller cask-strength bourbon and Thomas H. Handy, a 9-year-old cask strength rye
that's coming out next month. This kind of stuff is why we love these guys: They're bottling the whiskeys we'd make if we ran a distillery.
We had lunch with Comstock in Frankfort, and after feating on grilled salmon and artichoke hearts, I felt a lot better. We went back to the distillery for the Bourbon Hall of Fame inductions. Yes, they have a Bourbon Hall of Fame. After that, it was back to Bardstown for the Bourbon, Cigars & Jazz night, put on by Heaven Hill
We're good friends with the folks at Heaven Hill. They make some real nice whiskeys, and I got a glass of Very Old Fitzgerald, a wheated bourbon that I really enjoy. There were a lot of those pretty women in hot dresses drinking bourbon at this event, and I drank fast to keep the heat down. We ate crawfish, listened to the jazz and then went inside and got some damned good smoked brisket.
After a couple more bourbons and some good chat with the Heaven Hill folks, we headed down to Toddy's Liquors and its Bourbon Cave. You'll find stuff here you won't find anywhere else, and the stock is at its height during Bourbon Festival. I picked up some of the good whiskeys you can only get in Kentucky (why the distilleries do this, I do not know; I'd be happy to buy them at home in Pennsylvania), and we got a six-pack of Avery IPA to drink right away.
We had another, much quieter session back at the motel: a couple beers, some Heaven Hill Bonded and the rest of Drew's rye. I was in bed by 12:30, resting up for Saturday.
Saturday morning, I got up early and walked down to Keene's Depot and Country Store
. I'm nominating this for the Official Store of the Cold, Hard Football Facts. They cure their own country hams
, which are delicious, and you can get them whole, in the cloth or sliced and ready to eat. They have sugar-cured hams, thick-cut bacon
. There's a big selection of hot sauces, hot jellies, barbecue sauces and rubs, and a bunch of bourbon candies. They have the biggest beer selection in town. They also carry the cheese-and-bourbon-soaked fruitcake from the local Trappist monastery.
But Keene's is just getting started. They also carry cast-iron cookware, smokers, grills, fishing gear and archery supplies (including a wicked-looking hunting crossbow), as well as guns and ammo – pistols, rifles, shotguns, whatever you might need.
There's testosterone all over the floor; they gotta mop it up every night.
I managed to restrain myself to a ham sandwich – two slices of white bread, three slices of country ham, no butter, no mustard (cuz country ham don't need it), stuck in a Ziploc bag. They sell these things like crazy. There was a stack of about fifty of 'em. I also grabbed a soda, some cheese, about a pound of sliced ham, some hot jelly and a newspaper.
And now I'm finishing up here in the coffee shop. Pretty soon, it's going to be time to get my tux on and head for the Gala. That's just nuts: Every distillery in Kentucky puts a booth in the tasting area, fancy, crazy – last year Maker's Mark had a 25-foot-long bar carved out of a solid block of ice – and they want you to try everything they have. It's one of my favorite nights of the year, because everyone in the biz is there. It's a great chance to hang out with all my bourbon pals.
Oh, and the endless flowing bourbon's not bad either, and the eye candy is heart-stopping. One year, there was a young hottie who did something with adhesives and lightweight fabric that left the bottom of her bosom exposed. Thank God for adhesives and lightweight fabric. Another year there was a woman who had some lycra thing on that looked like a snake was swallowing her from the feet up – and there's always plenty of leg showing. God bless 'em.
I'll let you know how it went later this week. After about five cups of coffee, I can barely keep my hands on the keys anymore.