Awards & Events

Bardstown remembers Booker

This year's Kentucky Bourbon Festival was the first since the legendary Booker Noe passed away. But as Dominic Roskrowreports, he was remembered in the best possible way – with a whiskey
By Dominic Roskrow
Ivan the Terrible, the Mean Jeanie, Karl the Snarl… America’s hurricane season did its best to put a dent in this year’s Kentucky bourbon Festival, but it failed miserably.Indeed by the time country legend Charlie Daniels took the stage for a free concert in front of 7,000 fans, the rain that had threatened to put a damper on events on Friday had long gone, making the need to stage the show under canvas a superfluous one.And by the weekend it was business as usual; lots of Kentucky sunshine, a large dollop of southern hospitality, hundreds of revellers enjoying a family day, some great local cuisine and of course, for those legally old enough, as much bourbon as you might care to see in any one place at any one time.This being Kentucky, nothing gets fixed when it isn’t broken, and this being whiskey, any changes that do take place take their time. So the festival pretty much operates as it always has done.That means there were all the festival favourites such as the barrel rolling competition, the wonderful gala dinner and the fascinating rare whiskey auction.What made this year different, though, was the shadow cast by the sad death of Booker Noe. Without saying so directly, the makers of bourbon came together this year and remembered a whiskey legend in a manner that he would have approved of – by drinking fine whiskey to his memory.On Friday Jim Beam staged one of the highlights of this year’s festival, a tasting at Booker’s house in Bardstown, and in particular the four ‘small batch’ whiskeys the company produces – Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek, Baker’s and Booker’s. Due to a technical hitch Booker’s son Fred was forced in to an impromptu memorial to his father, which was both funny and poignant.Was there anybody there not moved when he recalled his father’s last hours? “I knew my daddy’s time was up,” he said. “It was when we gave him a whiskey and he said ‘son, I don’t care for the taste of that any more.”Emotion was pretty high up on the agenda during the inauguration in to the Hall of Fame, too, and particularly when American-based but English freelance writer Gary Regan summed up the feeling of everyone in the room by saying how much he missed Booker.Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this was a subdued affair – far from it. And as always nobody left without making new friends.For me it was the crowd from, who communicate with each other about great bourbon all year and then meet in Bardstown with their favourite bottles and party. Hard.The festival now works on three levels – the family carnival celebrating bourbon for the people of Kentucky; the trade event for the industry to mix and meet; and the party festival for the growing band of enthusiasts who turn up in town and share stories with like-minded people and might never attend an official festival event.And all three components came together to make this year’s event a true delight. Even with hurricanes just over the horizon.