Last night we drove down to Bardstown for the All-Star Sampler, one of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s popular annual events. Essentially this is a meet-and-greet with all the brands represented in the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. On Saturday, these guys and a few others will be back for the festival’s Grand Gala. While that is like attending a fancy, black-tie cocktail party, the Sampler is more like sitting on the porch and sharing a bourbon with your friends – if your friends happen to be master distillers like Jim Beam’s Fred Noe, above. As you can see, this is a pretty laid-back affair. People bring all sorts of stuff for the master distillers to sign – posters, bottles, clothing, barrel heads – have photos taken with them and generally fawn over them. You can also sample the distilleries’ products.
It was fun to see the master distillers get the rock-star treatment. I captured a sampler of moments below. I have to agree with the KDA’s Adam Johnson, who observed that we in Kentucky are spoiled; we see these guys a lot, so we get kind of used to it – but meeting them was clearly a Big Deal for many people in attendance last night, and deservedly so. According to the festival’s website, the Sampler ($40/ticket) sold out, but it didn’t seem very crowded to us – certainly much less crowded than the Gala. The lines were never more than 10 people deep. If you haven’t been before, I recommend it, especially if there’s a brand you particularly enjoy.
A real highlight for many was the attendance of Parker Beam, master distiller for Heaven Hill. Mr. Beam was recently diagnosed with ALS and no one was sure he would make it, but he gamely signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.
Master Distiller Chris Morris signed a book for some Woodford Reserve aficionados.
Joretta Russell tended bar at the Wild Turkey booth while her husband, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, tended to the autographs.
A long line kept Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge busy most of the evening.
The KDA’s craft distillery members were also represented. Here, MB Roland’s co-founder and head distiller, Paul Tomaszewski, shows off the distillery’s bourbon.
Willett Distillery had a full portfolio for tasting, including Speakeasy, a new bourbon that is currently available in only a few states – and Kentucky is not one of them! C’mon, guys, what is the password?