Named the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” by Rand McNally and USA Today, Bardstown, Kentucky is the second oldest city in the state and has over 11,000 residents, the first diocese of the west, many historic buildings and museums, and bourbon. Speaking of Bourbon, Bardstown is also the “Bourbon Capital of the World”, and home to five distilleries, including the popular brands Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. So it is only fitting that the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival is celebrated here. Going into it’s 23rd year, this six-day festival will be held September 16-21. To learn more about the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, I sat down with Linda Harrison, the Executive Director of the event, to hear what it is all about.
RAL: Tell me a little bit about the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
LH: The festival started 22 years ago with a single event, a dinner and a bourbon tasting, and now has grown to over 35 events running across six days. The festival is really a celebration of bourbon and the bourbon industry. It was originally started to provide education on how bourbon was made and to bring notoriety and knowledge of it to the general public. Now, we do a lot of different events such as samplings, educational events, breakfasts, masters of distillery talks, and New Orleans-themed events with cigars and Jazz. All the events will have food available and you will want to save room for it, as we have a fabulous caterer that always outdoes herself each year! I also want to mention that we hold two events in April to kick things off. One is called Racing with the Spirits and the other is a bourbon sampler. This gives you an opportunity to try all of the different bourbons and get an idea of their different flavors and see how each has their own individuality.
“We look forward to meeting new people and making new friends. We would love to have everyone come enjoy the festival, even if they can only come for one day.”
RAL: I know this is a six-day event, so we won’t be able to cover everything that will go on during the festival, but give us an idea of the events and activities that we can expect to find.
LH: Well, it’s a happy environment to begin with because everyone is enjoying, meeting, and talking to new people. There will be events Tuesday through Sunday all throughout town, and free family activities on the lawn Friday through Sunday. The lawn activities will include free music, an arts and craft show, bouncy inflatables for the kids, food booths and more. Events you can participate in throughout the week include a downtown scavenger hunt, a bourbon style cooking school, a mixology class put on by the Bad Girl of Bourbon, Ghost Walks in the evening, distillery tours, and the Boots and Bourbon party, where you can wear all of your cowboy gear. Exploring the flavors of Bourbon, a luncheon, tasting, and talk with Woodford Reserve Distillery, and the “Half Pint of Whiskey and a Shot of Humor” show that walks through the history of bourbon, are other great events. There will also be many things to view downtown, such as the photography contest and the window displays put on by KDA (Kentucky Distillers Association), Independence Stave (barrel making company), and all the distilleries in the area. As you can see, there are so many fun events and things to do and see. This really only touches on some of it!
RAL: Wow, it sounds like fun! Going beyond fun though, what does this event mean to your community?
LH: This event is really wonderful for all of our businesses and the economy of our community. Last year we had 52,000 people from 46 different states and 13 different countries, which is quite a bit for our small town! We are always bursting at the seams with southern hospitality and this causes people to continuously come back year after year. This is great because we are not-for-profit and give the revenue back to the community. We have three scholarships that we provide to area high school seniors. Two of them are for seniors with parents working in the Bourbon Industry, and one is in memory of our fallen police officer. We also have a charity of choice to which we give a percentage of the revenue. This year we will give to the United Way and the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund for the ALS Foundation.
RAL: That’s really great. With so many people traveling to the festival, what can they find for local lodging?
LH: Bardstown has limited accommodations, but the other communities in our area that are within a 30-mile radius have many hotels and resorts offering wonderful accommodations. We also have many people who stay in the Louisville area and commute back and forth for the festival. Bardstown and the closest communities hit maximum occupancy during the event, so we highly suggest to our travelers that they plan ahead.
RAL: Is there anything else you want people to know about the festival?
LH: We look forward to meeting new people and making new friends. We would love to have everyone come enjoy the festival, even if they can only come for one day. There are six days and every day is filled with something new and different! We want everyone to enjoy our golden amber liquids, but we of course always want everyone to please drink responsibly.
To learn more about this fun, six day festival, and to see a full list of events, please visit their website.