American Whiskey
ber 14 - 17, 2000 -- The Kentucky Bourbon Festival 

The Ninth Annual
Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Bardstown, Kentucky

MOST PEOPLE KNOW how important Kentucky is to the bourbon industry. In fact, many people believe that whiskey must be made in Kentucky in order to be called "bourbon". That isn't so (Tennessee whiskey must be made in Tennessee and bourbon must be made in the United States, but it can be made in any state), but the fact is that no matter what it says on the label, any bourbon you can actually buy in a store was originally distilled in Kentucky. It's easy, however, to forget that the opposite is also true... bourbon is vitally important to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Beginning in 1992, this importance has been celebrated every September in the small (population around 6,500) but significant community of Bardstown, about 35 miles southeast of Louisville and just off the Bluegrass Parkway. And this year we are attending it for the third time.

So why is the Kentucky Bourbon Festival held here every year? Well, one good reason is that this was historically a very important center for bourbon whiskey production ever since the Beam family settled here and started raising descendants, nearly every one of whom seems to have gone on to become important to the history of bourbon-making. It was David M. Beam, already three generations into commercial bourbon-making, who moved the family distillery here in 1854 in order to take advantage of the new Louisville & Nashville railroad. The L&N was an attraction for many distilleries and at one time there were 14 of them along its path through Nelson county alone.

Bardstown was not exactly an overnight industrial railroad boomtown, though. By the 1850's, Bardstown already had over seventy years of history behind it. Founded in 1780 as Salem, it is one of the oldest communities west of the Appalachians. In fact, when it was incorporated eight years later and renamed Bardstown after its founder, the next sizable community (known as "Falls of the Ohio") was still seven years away from becoming Louisville. Wealthy and influential people lived here (and still do), including landowners and important political figures, and in a time and place of frontier and wilderness, Bardstown sparkled as a center for social graces. That wilderness has been replaced in many areas by industrial parks and shopping centers, but the social gentility and grace of Bardstown has not diminished at all. Even if it were not as important a center of the bourbon industry as it is (four of the only ten existing commercial bourbon stills are located in the immediate area), it would be an appropriate center for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

The festival is held around the third week of September each year, but the exact length appears to vary. In 1998, the first year we attended, the event ran all week, with most of it open only to media and industry people and the festival itself occupying the final four days. Last year it had been shortened to just Thursday through Sunday, with most of the display tents going up on Friday afternoon. This year it began on Wednesday and when we arrived Thursday evening the festival tents were already set up. For four days these display and souvenir tents are tended by the various distilleries, and also many local artisans and craftspeople. Most of the shops in town decorate their display windows with bourbon themes and exhibits. Music fills the air as local and regional bands play blues and rock 'n' roll, country and cajun, for people to dance. Demonstrations of barrel-making and other crafts are held. Food, ranging from hot dogs and ice cream to grilled steak sandwiches is available. Like most such civic parties, beer is available for adults, but at this festival a multitude of different bourbon whiskeys can also be purchased.

There are hands-on demonstrations of cooking (using bourbon of course) by some of the finest chefs in Kentucky, car races at the Bluegrass Motor Speedway, and a free top-name country music concert, this year starring John Michael Montgomery and Michelle Wright. There is a barrel-handling contest in which 500-lb. whiskey barrels are rolled into position on a specially constructed rack, with points given for speed and accuracy. Among Bardstown attractions not directly connected with the festival, the Civil War Museum hosts a show, and a great attraction known as My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, open all year, puts on a special dinner for the festival and also runs a separate ride where robbers hold up the train to the excitement and delight of younger visitors.

The festival is also a time when upper management, owners, and master distillers from across the entire industry can meet with buyers, major hotel and restaurant management, and other VIPs. In addition to the street fun, there are some rather pricey events held at local hotels, a $100-per-person golf tournament, and the very elegant $125-a-plate black tie Kentucky Bourbon Tasting and Gala (reservations for which are sold out months in advance). We aren't really accustomed to attending formal affairs, especially fundraisers with such high admission prices, but after attending our second Kentucky Bourbon Festival last year, we decided that we need to experience this event, so we reserved our tickets early and have been planning all year for this dinner, held on Saturday evening.

We arrive in Bardstown Thursday evening (September 14th) after a very busy and eventful day of visiting Heaven Hill's Bernheim distillery in Louisville and two in nearby Shively, Early Times and the now-closed Stitzel-Weller distillery. Checking into our room at the Best Western General Nelson Motel we ask if our friends the Spencers have arrived yet. During this past year we've discovered and been active members of a bourbon discussion group on the internet and of course, as September approached, it wasn't surprising that much of those conversations turned to the upcoming Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Several were planning to attend the festival, and a few of us arranged to meet and enjoy the weekend together. Some, such as Mike Veach (historian for the Getz Museum of American Whiskey History and a major figure in the organization of the festival), Bettye Jo Boone (of ABC Embroidery and Heaven Hill), and Julian Van Winkle III (owner of Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon and the Old Commonwealth distillery) would already be involved. Some others have found and reserved rooms at two motels directly across from one another on Stephen Foster Avenue. Linn and Vickie Spencer of Virginia will be staying at the General Nelson, where we always stay. Greg and Jo Kitzmiller of Indiana will be arriving tomorrow and have a room in the Old Kentucky Home motel across the street. 

An unanswered call to their room indicates that Linn and Vickie are already out somewhere, so we have no one to go to dinner with. Although we could certainly have gone without accompaniment, we decide to just order a pizza delivered, relax from our day's adventures, and enjoy being back in Bardstown again. Before long (we hadn't even called for the pizza yet) there is a knock on our door, and upon opening it John is met with a blinding flash of white light. No, it isn't a thermonuclear attack on Bardstown, Kentucky; it's only the flashbulb of Linn Spencer's camera as he records our first meeting on film. We invite them in and learn that they've had some wonderful experiences of their own, the latest of which was dinner with Mike Veach at the historic Talbott's Tavern and a conversation with Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell and his wife. As we had arranged in online conversations and emails, we'd each brought some particularly interesting samples from our collections with us to share, and we started the General Nelson Impromptu Bourbon-and-Moonshine-Peach-Tasting event right away. About midway through the selections we were smart enough to complete our call to the pizza parlor, or we would never have stayed conscious long enough to finish!


WE AWAKE this morning at the crack of dawn... and instantly decide that since dawn's cracked we might just as well go back to sleep. Around 10:00 or so we wake up again and actually start the day.

Our first interest is to walk over to the Getz Museum in Spalding Hall and find Mike Veach. We also want to visit with Mary Hite, but we don't see her. In fact, we end up missing Mary the whole time we are here, although we understand that she's around and doing fine. We just keep not running into one another. We find Mike, though. He and Flaget Nally are setting up seats and tables for the Bourbon Heritage Panel to be held this afternoon in the chapel room. We help out (a little) until everything is set up, and then invite Mike to join us for lunch at Talbot’s Tavern. This historical inn, America's first stagecoach stop, dates from the 1700's and has been visited by the likes of Gen. George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, and exiled French King Louis Phillipe (with his entire entourage). Also Abraham Lincoln and his family. And also Jesse and Frank James, who grew up in the area and were known to use the murals for target practice. The original tavern burnt down the year we first discovered Bardstown, and has been slowly and painstakingly restored to its original condition, reopening only recently. John immediately notices that (like the Labrot & Graham distillery restoration in Versailles) the finished work looks brand new, like it did in 1790, rather than like a two hundred year old antique.

But first Mike invites us back to the museum office to sample some of the rare bourbons he has. We're especially intrigued with a bottle of Early Times Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Unavailable in the United States, you can easily see why this whiskey is so popular in Japan and Europe where it is sold.

On the way to the Getz Museum, we stroll among the festival tents. We come upon a familiar figure, seated on a park bench along the brick sidewalk. We had first met Sam K. Cecil two years ago at the 1998 festival, when he was a member of the Bourbon Heritage Panel that year. Sam was the master distiller at Maker's Mark from just a couple years after it opened in 1953 (after the death of the original master distiller, Elmo Beam - yes there's another Beam again) until he retired sometime around 1980. Sam knows just about everyone in the bourbon world and is the author of a book, The Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry in Kentucky, which is a goldmine of old photos and notes on distilleries long vanished from the scene. Following the trail of characters as they move from company to another, from one location to another, and from one brand to another is difficult and really illustrates how hard it can be to keep track of American bourbon history. We have a copy of Sam's book which we brought with us and he later signed it for us. We speak with Sam for awhile. He's such a pleasant man, and he seemed genuinely surprised and happy that we would remember him.


The panel this year is made up of Fred Noe, public relations spokesman for Jim Beam Brands (and Booker Noe's son), Jerry Dalton, who is now the master distiller at Jim Beam (following several years as chief chemist at Barton Brands), Sam Thomas a noted bourbon historian, Mark Waymack, author of The Book of Classic American Whiskeys, Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill, Charles Medley, and Sam Medley, owners of Charles Medley Distillery in Owensboro. As always, Mike Veach is the moderator and he starts the session off right away with a direct challenge. Mike noted that next year will be the 100th anniversary of the first bourbons to be released under the Bottled In Bond Act of 1897 (whiskey stored the minimum of four years would have been first bottled in 1901). This law provided a way to give consumers an assurance of product quality by allowing a substantial federal tax deferment for distillers who were willing to comply with certain quality regulations, such as age, purity, and accountability. The deal was that a distiller could store his barrelled product in U.S. Government Bonded Warehouses and he wouldn't have to pay federal tax on the whiskey until he took it out for bottling. Since the normal taxation method was to tax the whiskey the moment it comes off the still, even though it won't be sold for at least a couple of years, this was a substantial break for those reputable distillers who would comply. The whiskey had to qualify as Straight Whiskey, which already carried its own set of quality standards. It then needed to have been made all at the same time, by a single distiller. And it had to remain in bonded storage for not two, but four years minimum before it could be taken out and bottled. And it had to be bottled right there and then, and at exactly 100 º proof. The idea was that the tax break would allow quality whiskey to better compete with the awful trash that was being sold and drive it out of the market. Ultimately, it wasn't successful -- the Whiskey Trust, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and Prohibition succeeded better,  and Reagan's deregulation of the industry removed a lot of the advantages of storing in bonded warehouses, but it did establish a quality standard that all bourbon makers today either meet or exceed. Although it was the desire of many reputable and quality-minded distillers, the driving force behind the Bottled In Bond Act was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle and Glen's Creek whiskey-maker Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. The two gentlemen lobbied hard to pass the law and succeeded.

Mike especially wants to know what Jim Beam Brands, who produce Old Taylor bourbon, are planning to do in honor of Colonel Taylor and Secretary Carlisle. He even has some suggestions for the commemorative label. A slight muttering of confusion among the panel members indicates that no one had given thought to this before, and then Mike looks directly at Fred Noe and asks, "Well, Fred, this is certainly a public relations topic and you're the public relations guy. Are you planning to do something with this?"

Some shifting in the seats can be heard in the audience during a moment of silence that is probably shorter than it seems. Then Jerry Dalton takes a pen and notepad from his pocket and says, "We weren't, until you brought it up; but you can bet we'll give it some thought now". Audience chuckles and the tension diffuses. 

There is a better turnout this year than in the past, and the audience is quite ready to ask questions. One that is asked early is, "What is it about Kentucky, and Bardstown in particular, that makes it so right for bourbon-making. Why have bourbon distillers in other areas not done as well?". That question pretty much sets the theme for this year's discussion, with widely varying views from different panel members as well as different audience members.

After the panel discussion, we get a chance to meet Greg and Jo Kitzmiller, our other internet friends we had arranged to link up with. We also get to say hello to Jim Harris, Mark Waymack's co-writer, to John Hansell, who publishes The Malt Advocate and has written several articles that brought John into this hobby in the first place, and to Lew Bryson, who is both a writer for that magazine and also a valuable contributing member of the online forum.

We invite Charles and Sam Medley to our room for samples and conversation. Since we visited their distillery  in Owensboro we've acquired a rare bottle of Wathen's. It has the Owensboro label, rather than the newer St. Louis, Missouri label, and it was bottled from barrel number 3. Both Charles and Sam sign the label for us. Sam really enjoys our website, and we take the opportunity to fire up the ol' laptop and view it so that Charles can see it. Charles good-naturedly points out a whole pile of errors that have probably been corrected by the time you read this. This is the first year that Sam and his father have participated in the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and they're particularly interested in whether it would be advantageous to be represented at the Bourbon-Tasting and Gala next year. We tell them we'll get back to them after we go tomorrow night and let them know. They leave for the long ride back to Owensboro after spending nearly an hour with us. We are again reminded of just what a wonderful and enjoyable person Charles Medley is, and his son is exactly the same way.

Later, Linn and Vickie stopped by, followed shortly by Mike. We did some more tasting in our room, then we all went over to Linn & Vickie’s for even more. Their room isn’t one of the smoking-restricted ones, so they could have cigarettes and Mike could smoke his favorite pipe.

We all head off to dinner at Dagwood's, stopping off on the way to prowl the festival grounds in search of Greg and Jo. They, along with Lew Bryson and John Hansell, had last been seen in the museum office being introduced to Mike's private collection. We learned later that the Kitzmillers, unable to find us, went on to have dinner at Dagwood’s themselves and had probably just left before we arrived. The specialty of the house at Dagwood's is one of our favorite meals and it felt good to be able to suggest it to our friends. it consists of a sirloin steak marinated in 12-year-old Elijah Craig Bourbon, broiled to perfection, and served, smothered in mushrooms, on a charred oak plank with a flaming mushroom cap on the side and a melon garnish.

After dinner we walk back to explore the distillers’ tents at the festival grounds. At Heaven Hill we meet Bettye Jo Boone (another who we know from the bulletin board) and her sister Connie. We also meet Heinz Taubenheim, (known as Taubi) from Germany. He claims to have the world’s largest collection of American whiskey, and from the photos in his album, we believe it. While we're talking, Linn and Vickie take off to find Greg and Jo and Mike, and after a quick look-around for them we walk on back to our motel room. Linn and Greg show up at our door a little later. They had been on a quest to find the "lost Michter’s still" which turns out to reside, not next door to the General Nelson Motel as we’d thought but next door to the Kentucky Home Motel where Greg and Jo are staying. In fact, the building where it’s kept is just downstairs from their room. We, like Jo, however, are done for tonight, so they go back over by themselves to take in more of the festival. We do agree to meet tomorrow morning for the pancake breakfast.


THIS MORNING WE MEET at Greg & Jo’s motel before breakfast to examine the Michter’s still and take pictures. The story of this particular still and the reason Linn especially considers it the "holy copper grail" begins with the Michter's distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. Well, at least it used to be there. It's been abandoned since the early 1980's. Michter's was the last operating distillery in Pennsylvania and its passing brought an end to what had once been the most successful whiskey-producing area in America. Of the hundreds of abandoned, decaying heaps of rubble that once were active distilleries, only a handful bring tears of nostalgia and sorrow to the eye of the bourbon-lover. And Michter's is certainly one of those (Stitzel-Weller is another). Linn recalls having once visited this proud distillery and is fascinated with such things as what ever happened to the works and could the plant ever be made to function again?  

In the last couple years before its final plunge, Michter's had set up what they billed as the world's smallest commercial distillery. They had closed down everything but the visitor's center, and in that they set up a complete distillery with a miniature pot still, doubler, fermenting tanks, and all the items needed to produce one barrel of whiskey. That's all they ran at a time, and it was mainly for the entertainment of tourists. It would be a great idea, in a place where there are bourbon-drinking tourists. But in off-the-beaten-track Schaefferstown it wasn't enough to keep Michter's alive for long.

Once, while reading Sam Cecil's book, John saw a passage that concerned the miniature still and the General Nelson Motel. And he remembered that later when Linn was considering whether to go to the Bourbon Festival. In an e-mailed message, John quoted Sam Cecil's book, "The Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry in Kentucky"... (page 33)

"David Beam, son of Carl, was employed at James B. Beam RD #230 until he retired in 1996. He grew up on the premises and was a distiller there for nearly thirty-seven years. He now owns and operates the General Nelson Best Western Motel in Bardstown. Since the whiskey business was so ingrained in him (we call it a "blood disease") he decided to pursue it further.

The Michter Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania had gone into receivership, and the equipment was sold. Tom Sherman of Vendome Copper in Louisville had constructed a new pot still and allied equipment for them as a miniature type operation. It was designed for a ten bushel capacity, or one barrel a day. This equipment included the mash tub, fermenters, condensers, and everything necessary for a complete distillery. David was able to purchase this distillery and move it to his premises next door to the motel and is preparing to put it in operation. The only thing lacking at present is a boiler plant and registration, and he is ready to go."

Well, one look at that and Linn was ready to go. Last night he and Greg met David Beam and learned that the still is stored in a garage at the Old Kentucky Home motel. He told them they could open the garage door an look at it, which they did. This morning, we open the door again and John gets some pictures. If we were expecting old, tarnished, dull greenish, banged up, dented stuff like what's on display in the museum, we were sure wrong. The copper gleams as if David Beam goes out there and polishes it regularly. Kitchen equipment in the finest restaurants are no cleaner or shinier. The pot still is there, along with the doubler, the tailbox, several other pieces of equipment, and one of the tiny cypress fermenting tanks.

After the photo opportunity, we all walk up the street to St. Catherine’s for the Kentucky Bourbon Breakfast, consisting of Sour Mash Pancakes, Kentucky Sausage, Bourbon butter and syrup, Bourbon coffee, and non-Bourbon orange juice. We eat outside and the weather is a bit cooler than we like, but at least there are no bees this year.

After breakfast, Linn & Vickie went off to Versailles to visit the Labrot & Graham distillery and we spend some time with Greg and Jo looking at the display tents. At Linn and Vickie’s motel room John had noticed they’d bought a pair of wooden Elijah Craig trays and we thought one of those would look good in our collection, especially as they aren’t very expensive. We buy one from Bettye Jo at the Heaven Hill tent. Then we walk on back across the street to the motel for awhile.


This afternoon is the 4th annual Master Distiller’s Auction at the Getz museum. When we arrive, Mike (who also presents this event) introduces us to Marvin Franz, a collector who is also from Cincinnati. Marvin is known as the man who single-handedly kept the auction alive the first year it was held. Greg and Jo are there, although the Spencers never get back in time (it turns out that the Labrot & Graham tour was mobbed). Taubi is here, too. We bid on several items, and John buys a bottle of Old Forester, signed by Lincoln Henderson, for thirty dollars. Then they offer a bottle of the brand new Wild Turkey bourbon, Russell’s Reserve, which won’t even be released to the public for a couple more weeks. It's signed by both Jimmy Russell and his son (and master distiller heir apparent) Ed Russell. Linda can’t resist getting it as a gift for our collection, even though she has to pay $100 for it.

This morning the weather is calling for temperatures in the low fifties tonight and Linda is concerned that she’ll be cold and uncomfortable at the gala. Earlier this afternoon we did look through a couple of consignment shops to see if she could find a wrap, but there were none. During the auction, Linda leaves to see if she can find something in town. Flaget Nally recommends a little boutique on 3rd street and Linda goes there. The woman is just closing up as Linda arrives, but says she's closing early because she has three wraps to make quickly before the gala and she could make a fourth just as easily. Linda pays a small deposit and agrees to pick it up at 4:30 this afternoon.

After the auction, Linda leaves to pick up her shawl and I bring the Kitzmillers back to our motel room to sample some of the bourbons we’d brought with us. It's really fun watching them discover everything. Linn and Vickie are old hands at this, probably more than we are; but Greg and Jo only began getting into bourbon as a hobby a couple months ago and they remind us so much of ourselves. It was only two years ago that we sat in the front row of the Bourbon Heritage Panel audience and it was Linda who had to take pictures because John was so awestruck he could hardly move. In our description of that first Bourbon Festival (1998), John described the feeling as, "... a lot like being at a party where you got to talk and even jam with Eddie Van Halen, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Pete Townshend, and maybe Johnny Cash and Phil Spector, too". We can see the same excitement in Greg and Jo. Well, in Greg anyway. In much the same way as Linda,  Jo seems content to simply enjoy and keep it all together, while letting her husband be the one to do all the bouncing around. That pretty well describes us, too. Except that Linda started out not really liking bourbon (it grew on her), while Jo drinks hers straight and can taste-profile as well as any, and better than some.

After sampling for awhile, Jo and Greg leave so that we can start getting ready for the gala. Linda hasn't returned from the boutique yet, so John drives over that way to see if he can pick her up. He finds her walking down the street... with no shawl. It turns out  the shop owner had never shown up. After having waited for awhile, Linda finally just left, leaving two other upset women still waiting. And indeed they're still there when we drive by again later. While Linda showers and gets ready for the gala, John takes one more drive past the shop, but the woman apparently never showed up and the other customers have also gone now. He heads back to get dressed and try to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of making himself look debonair for the event. Because tonight he has the honor to be the escort of a stunningly beautiful blond woman dressed in a gorgeous black gown. A stunningly beautiful, and potentially cold, woman... who has no shawl.

THE GREAT KENTUCKY Bourbon-Tasting and Gala is held on the grounds of the My Old Kentucky Home State Park. After winding our way, bumper-to-bumper, up the long amphitheater driveway, our car is taken by the valet and, through a covered walkway, we enter an enormous tent where the tasting portion of the festival takes place. Here a large crowd of finely gowned and tuxedoed bourbon-lovers are mingling around tables of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, such as spiced meatballs, chicken marbella, salmon mousse, cheeses, fruits, and petite fours. There are several of these throughout the center part of the tent, and along the four outer walls are the display areas of each distillery. These are quite different from the ones at the lawn festival. Each of these is an elaborate production for the display and tasting of the distillers’ finest products. The decoration is really first-rate and of course each is designed around a bar. Samples are offered at all of them, and at many they're served in beautiful souvenir glassware. On entering the tent, we're given lovely red roses to be worn as boutonnieres and corsages. We're also met by the boutique owner, who has Linda’s wrap all ready and waiting for her.

We visit with Julian Van Winkle in his painstakingly built reproduction of his grandfather's study, complete with mahogany or cherry paneling and real paintings and furniture, and we taste again his new Pappy’s Reserve 20 year old. This is the same whiskey he'd let us sample when we visited the Old Commonwealth distillery in the spring. It won't be released until later this year, but he's previewing it here tonight. His sister, Sally Van Winkle Campbell is also here, offering copies of her wonderful book , "But Always Fine Bourbon" for sale. We talk with her awhile and are amazed that she remembers us. We also stop in at the Wild Turkey pavilion for a chance to taste the brand new Russell’s Reserve. It, too, won't be released until later this year.  The signed bottle that Linda bought at the auction this afternoon will remain unopened, so this is our first opportunity to taste it. We're impressed.

At Labrot & Graham we are served Manhattan cocktails, in beautiful cocktail glasses with copper-colored stems and discreet images of the three copper pot stills that symbolize that distillery. Next to it is the display for the other Brown-Forman brands, and we get a chance to visit with master distiller Lincoln Henderson for awhile. He had just finished talking with some Japanese gentlemen, and while we are there, our German friend Taubi arrives. Events like these certainly have a "world feel" to them. John talks with them about visiting Taubi in Germany, not realizing that Taubi seriously would like us to visit -- next week!  And Lincoln sounds like he just might show up!!

We meet Bill Samuels, owner of Maker’s Mark at their pavilion. Bill, who is well-known as the Renaissance Man of the bourbon industry, is not wearing a tuxedo this evening; he is costumed as a 15th century painter (Leonardo Da Samuels? T. William Rembrandt?) and his display is similarly designed. All the rest of the men in the Maker’s Mark group are wearing black tuxedos, but with an important distinction… each also wears a black top hat dipped in red wax, dripping down the sides. That group, as a whole, also appears to be having more fun than anyone else at the affair.

There is so more wonderful bourbon available than can be reasonably tasted without passing out, so many opportunities were missed. We had wanted to try all the Four Roses bourbons that are not normally available in the United States, but alas, by the time we made it to their area John is feeling as though one more drink would be the end of him for the evening. In fact, since he wants one of their neat Bulleit Frontier Bourbon glasses, he actually asks for one with only ice water in it!  All this drinking and crowd-mingling is also enough to exceed Linda’s cigarette-denial threshold and she actually finds herself asking another woman there for a spare cigarette! John, not be outdone, picks up a complimentary cigar and smokes about two puffs from it before putting it out for the evening.

The dinner and dancing part of the gala is held in yet another tent, similar in size. The two are side-by-side and access is directly through a doorway created by simply raising a wall panel when it is time to go in. We never have to go outdoors, and the tents themselves are quite warm with that many people in them, so it turns out that Linda never wears the custom-made wrap at all. The center of the dinner/dancing tent is devoted to a large stage and checkered dance floor, and a beautiful fountain. Surrounded by floral arrangements and lit with ever-changing colored lights, the fountain sparkles. In fact, the spotlights that illuminate the rest of the tent also cycle continuously through different colors, providing an ever-changing mood to the whole scene. On either side of the dance band area are many tables, each set for nine persons. We speculate as to why the odd number and decide that they just look better that way. Each place setting includes a lovely belled shotglass from Heaven Hill, poured with Evan Williams 1990 Single Barrel, a tall shotglass from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival itself, filled with Very Old Barton (with a full 750-liter bottle at the table for refills), and a miniature bottle of Booker’s. Interestingly, the dessert, Evan Williams Bourbon Chocolate Cheesecake, was already in place as we arrive.

There are thousands of people at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and several hundred of them are attending this dinner. We've met and talked with only a handful. So we're completely surprised and delighted to find ourselves seated at the same table as Marvin Franz and his wife Evelyn. The Franz's, like ourselves, live in the greater Cincinnati area, although we had never met before Mike introduced us at this year's Getz Museum auction. Their friends, John and Brenda, are with them, along with Brenda's parents from London, England. Since the tickets are all sold in advance by mail order, John thinks perhaps the seating has been arranged so that people who live within visiting distance of one another are seated together. At least it works for us... we and the Franz's plan to get together sometime after the festival and try out each other's collections.

The dinner itself is (or at least was intended to be) a wonderful meal, consisting of
  • Mixed green salad with apples, walnuts, blue cheese, and bourbon-honey vinaigrette

  • Blackened beef tenderloin with Booker’s bourbon

  • Ginger bourbon marinated jumbo shrimp

  • Bouquet of baby vegetables in bourbon butter crème

  • Stuffed red bliss potatoes

  • .Sour mash bread and butter


Unfortunately, the actual presentation of the dinner turns out to be somewhat less successful. Although our table’s waitress does a fine job, the dinner doesn’t arrive until after 10:00. By that time many of the other tables have long finished with their meal and the dancing has already begun. Ours is not the last table to be served, either. The food is ice cold. If this had been a regular restaurant, we would certainly have sent it back. It’s a shame that it was such a disappointment, as it is an otherwise beautifully prepared dish. I think the learning here is that the real show, as well as plenty of good hot food, is in the tasting tent prior to the banquet dinner.

As the valet brings our car around to us, she comments that she really loved it. On arriving back at the motel, we stop by Linn and Vickie’s room to show off our fancy clothes, but their lights are out.


THIS MORNING WE CHECK out of the motel and all meet to have breakfast together at the Stephen Foster Buffet restaurant next door. Well, sort of. Greg and Jo woke up this morning to find they have a flat tire. So they have to wait for AAA to show up. The rest of us go on over to eat breakfast, taking a table large enough for all, and they show up later. They eat their breakfast while we go back for seconds.

After leaving the restaurant we say goodbye to Linn and Vickie, as they begin their long drive home. We then walk back over to the festival area for a last look around. Although we're too full to think about it much right now, we would like to attend the Bourbon Barbecue Cook-off to be held later this afternoon, and we're basically just killing time looking at things we've already seen. Greg and Jo find us sitting on a park bench and say they’ve learned that Maker’s Mark was open for tours today. So we all decide to go there. We drive in both cars out to Loretto and take what is our 4th and 5th tour (John went once with Linda’s father) and their first. It's a good tour, a beautiful day, and our guide, Ellen, is both more pleasant and more knowledgeable than some previous ones have been. After the tour, we stop for awhile in the parking lot and share with Greg and Jo a taste of one more item we’d brought along with us, some white dog bourbon.

On our way back to Bardstown, we pull over to the side of the road across the street from the burnt-out remains of the Heaven Hill distillery to take some more photos. We then head on back to the festival grounds to catch the barbecue cook-off. We say goodbye to the the Kitzmillers, as they aren’t sure whether they're going back to the festival or just heading on home. We do later see Greg again, just as we we're leaving the festival grounds. They had taken yet another detour to take pictures at Barton.  So much like we did that first year.

The Bourbon Barbecue Cook-off is basically over by the time we get back, but there's time for us to sample barbecued ribeye sandwiches from the Due West and VJ’s restaurants, and Talbott’s Tavern. Since we're the only people here, we hold our own contest, buying one sandwich from each restaurant and keeping secret score, then comparing. Rating the three contestants, we can’t agree on a single winner, or second place, or third place. But our consensus decision (which means that neither of us agree with any of the results) is that Due West is the winner, followed by VJ’s and then Talbott’s .

Leaving from the festival, we drive up 31E to the Gene Snyder freeway and on to I-71 and home. Freddie and Buster are happy to see us; they purr and meow at us. We believe Krukker and Frostbite may have noticed us briefly on their way out the door. Life is good.


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Story and original photography copyright © 2000 by John F. Lipman. All rights reserved.