It’s no secret – I LOVE BOURBON.
Growing up, my father was and actually still is, a Jack Daniels man. So when I became of age to drink, Jack Daniels was my drink of choice. From Jack Daniels, I bounced around to Bacardi, Crown Royal and Grey Goose Vodka. Did I enjoy them, yea I did. After all, I could mix them with juice or coke, and besides, everyone else was drinking them too.
Ten years ago, I made a switch to bourbon, and I’ve never looked back.
When I started working at the Louisville CVB in 2007, we had just begun marketing bourbon as a tourism product. My third day on the job was spent at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Talk about being thrown into the fire… Our message back then was simple, “see the distilleries throughout the state of Kentucky by day, and come back to stay in Louisville at night.” In 2008, without having an open bourbon distillery experience in Louisville, I was fortunate enough to help launch the Urban Bourbon Trail (UBT), which was a collection of bars and restaurants that had a minimum of 50 bourbons on the bar, and also embraced bourbon on their menus and in their atmosphere. There was an accompanying passport program in which we wanted individuals to visit the various stops along the UBT, and then turn in your passport for a FREE t-shirt. Those initial marketing efforts helped spur the growth of the distilleries in Louisville today, as well as the Mayor’s term of “bourbonism.”
Obviously, I couldn’t market a product without knowing the product.
I spent countless hours learning about bourbon, networking with industry partners and bourbon aficionados, touring bourbon distilleries and attending bourbon dinners, tastings and seminars. The more I learned about the history of bourbon and its place in Kentucky, the more I fell in love with it. And the more I fell in love with it, the more I would share my love of bourbon with others. Being in the tourism industry, every destination needs a hook, and when I was in Louisville, bourbon was it. But now that I work in Lexington, bourbon is still the hook. Every conference I go to, I share the bourbon gospel with other destinations, talking to them not just about the drink itself, but the lifestyle that accompanies it. And everywhere I go, I look for the best bourbon bar and invite people along for the ride.
The main reason I love bourbon is because of the history.
Ninety-five percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, a fact that we tout in all of our tourism marketing efforts. We have more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky than we have residents, another fact that we tout in our tourism marketing efforts. But once you visit the distilleries, talk to the Master Distillers and distillery staff, you begin to realize that all bourbon is made differently, and each distillery has their own story. Hearing the stories from Bill Samuels, Jimmy Russell and other Master Distillers is captivating. Chatting with bourbon experts like Mike Veach, Fred Minnick and Tim Knittel opens your mind on how to sip bourbon and where bourbon started. I’ve been fortunate to come into contact with many bourbon industry experts from historic distilleries like Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace to newer distilleries like Angel’s Envy and Castle & Key.
Nothing needs to be added to bourbon.
Differently from other spirits, bourbon stands on its own. All you really need is a single ice cube, and even that is debatable. Each bourbon has its own flavor profile, and everyone will smell or taste a different flavor depending on the maturity level of your palate. On a recent bourbon tasting I did with Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris and Kentucky Chef Ouita Michel, Chris informed us that Woodford Reserve has more than 200 individual flavors that can be identified.
As we have seen bourbon grow exponentially over the past several years, industry experts do not see a slowdown in sight. With that growth, more and more of my friends have decided to come over to the bourbon side, especially women. Men have long been bourbon drinkers, but women are now the fastest growing segment of bourbon drinkers. With men and women able to enjoy bourbon together, it’s a pairing made in heaven.
I wouldn’t be doing my part if I didn’t invite you to tour a bourbon distillery. You can start with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, or you can pick a distillery that is not part of either of these programs. All in all, there are more than 20 working bourbon distilleries, so there are plenty of options to choose from, but whatever you choose, drink responsibly – Cheers!