People

Bourbon in the spotlight

Marcin Miller catches up with some of the key figures in the world of bourbon during the Gala Dinner of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival
By Marcin Miller
Once again, Bardstown took centre staged for this year's Festival as whiskey enthusiasts poured into Kentucky from all around the world. A highlight of this year's Festival was the Bourbon Heritage Panel chaired by the enthusiastic and impressive Mike Veach (UD archivist and published whiskey historian working at the Oscar Getz Museum). The panel comprised Jerry Garden (the Master Distiller at JB), Max Shapira (Heaven Hill) Charles Medley and his son, Samuel (Charles Medley Distillers), Mark Waymack (whiskey writer), Freddie Noe (son of Booker Noe) and Sam Thomas (a Louisville-based writer and historian who worked very closely with Brown-Forman on the history of Labrot & Graham). The panel answered a variety of questions from the floor and engaged in some very good-natured banter, often at the expense of other panellists and the Scotch whisky industry. While at the Festival I took the opportunity to talk to key figures from the bourbon industry who attended the festival.What is the significance of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for the people of Kentucky?Jim Rutledge – Four Roses:
"It gives us an opportunity as distillers for exposure of our products to the worldwide media, a tremendous amount of exposure not only for Bardstown, but statewide. Our distillery is in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, about 50 miles from here and it just provides the exposure that wouldn't otherwise be available to us. That's the greatest thing, I think, for us." Bill Creason – Brown Forman:
"Well, I think for the people of Kentucky it's very significant as it basically allows us to showcase a product that is 100% Kentucky. There are a number of other states that breed horses, grow tobacco and make automobiles, but there's only one state in the country that makes Bourbon. And I think something that all of the distillers are trying to do is make Kentuckians particularly aware that this is a product form their own home state. It is very, very important to us. It is also important as it allows us to bring in journalists from around the world and in one tent you are able to see all the distilleries, all their products and talk to the people that make the products at one time."Booker Noe – Jim Beam Brands:
"Ah well, yeah. It's just about seven-years-old the Festival and it's important to the bourbon industry as we get to show off our products and it helps us make improvements to our products: more age, higher proof, more flavourful and lots of stuff. It's very important. Each distillery gets to show off it's liquor. People get a chance to understand what it's all about and the flavours they've been missing. A lot of them don't drink it because it's too hot. You know it burns them. But our liquor, you know, if it's handled properly it's just smooth and flavourful."Max Shapira – Heaven Hill:
"It's a way that the lovers and connoisseurs of bourbon whiskey and just friends of the industry can come and enjoy a bit of Kentucky hospitality and learn a bit about the history and heritage of this great industry."Eddie Russell – Wild Turkey:
"It has a great significance as it celebrates what Kentucky is all about: the bourbons, the bluegrass and the horses. The bourbon festival gives them a chance to taste all the bourbons that are made right here in Kentucky."What's the relevance of this event to the Bourbon industry?Mark Brown – Buffalo Trace:
"Significant. Because if you take this and the bourbon trail, it is the beginning of a series of events which should start to drive tourism for us. I think tourism is extremely important; the more people we get to the distilleries, the more people learn about bourbon, the more people become adopters of bourbon whiskey. A pretty significant event, great scenes, great crowds."Parker Beam – Heaven Hill:
"I think it is one way of promoting the history of the state as well as the history of a lot of our Bourbons and I think it's very significant to let people know what it takes to make these quality products. As it is the bourbon capital of the world, the Festival does a lot to emphasise that as it is located right in the heart of the bourbon capital."What's been the highlight of this year's festival for you?Elmer T Lee – Buffalo Trace:
"The highlight is right now; I like this part of it best. I enjoy certainly the barrel-rolling and I played a little golf this morning. It's great. And all of the displays down at the hall I think are first-class. I've enjoyed all of it."Freddie Noe – Small Batch
Bourbon Collection:
"I sat on a committee on Friday, the bourbon heritage committee and it was an opportunity to sit with some of the other distillers and I really enjoyed it. It was the first time I'd done anything like that and that was really neat. I really like sitting down and meeting with people and sharing our good products with them, maybe a story or two. Then we get to see all our buddies at the other distilleries as well. We're all here together."Max Shapira – Heaven Hill:
"It was really a preliminary event, it was not a true event of the Festival, but on Wednesday of this week Heaven Hill dedicated their new distillery, the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. And that is not only the highlight of the week, or the Festival, but frankly the highlight of the year for us."Jimmy Russell – Wild Turkey:
"The thing is to allow all our Bourbon distillery people to get together, have a good time. You know, we are all in competition with each other but we're all close friends as you've seen here in Bardstown during the bourbon festival. We all know each other real well, we like to go to dinner together and we drank a little bourbon together on the side. That's a big highlight, getting to see all the old friends, not only in the bourbon industry but from all over the world. Every year we get to see lots of old friends and make lots of new friends too."Congratulations to the organisers of the Festival, especially Pam Gover and her team and thanks to Julian Van Winkle for supplying the bourbon and the rye for the Whisky Magazine 'Spot the rye' competition.