It started in the year that Alex Trebek became the first person to host three American game shows at the same time (Jeopardy!, Classic Concentration and To Tell the Truth), Tim Berners-Lee introduced the world to the web browser and Strike the Gold won the Kentucky Derby. The year was 1991 and Bardstown, Kentucky, The Bourbon Capital of the World® hosted the inaugural Kentucky Bourbon Festival® as a bourbon tasting and dinner. 30 years later the original bourbon festival is reenvisioning the grand-daddy of all bourbon festivals.
A 1st Year Festival with a 30 Year History
A lot has changed in 30 years and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is no exception. According to Kentucky Bourbon Festival President and COO Randy Prasse the 2021 Festival will be like no other year. As the world’s taste in premium bourbon and bourbon festivals grew the Kentucky Bourbon Festival stayed pretty much the same. Change was forced upon the festival in 2020 when it had to move the live event which had always occurred in September during Bourbon Heritage Month to October because of Covid-19. Then like most festivals across the country they had to pivot again and make the difficult decision to pull the plug on the in-person event and go virtual. With 2020 now in the rear-view mirror Prasse and team are looking forward to the 2021 festival and what he calls, “A first year festival with a 30 year history.”
“Over the past year, we’ve completely revamped the Kentucky Bourbon Festival to provide expanded opportunities to interact with the nation’s top bourbon brands,” said David Mandell, chairman of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. “We could not be more excited to unveil our new format to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the festival.”
The Reenvisioned Bourbon Festival Will Deliver Elevated Experiences
“We are taking the things that are core to the festival and trying to make them better. I want people to come in and have a great experience,” explained Prasse. “A lot more bourbon focused, smaller crowds, more high end experiential kind of thing.
“The vision is we are going to be a very serious bourbon festival focusing on 21+ bourbon fans. From a culinary side we are going to get more serious about putting the culinary and the bourbon piece forward. Less chow wagon and funnel cakes and more food truck focused. We’ll have executive chefs and caterers that can produce large events well. Everything will be themed around pairings, samplings, tastings and meals around bourbon. Everything will be focused on bourbon.
“Every single thing we will do, will be quality focused. If it isn’t able to be produced in a high quality then it doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t showcase bourbon then it doesn’t happen.”
The 2021 Kentucky Bourbon Festival is now The Bourbon Festival
One of the things that previous attendees will notice is a change to the name of the event. It is a small but intentional change. What has been the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for the last 29 years will now be The Bourbon Festival. Prasse explained that the organizations name is still the Kentucky Bourbon Festival but with the new logo for the event simply uses The Bourbon Festival. He compared it to The Kentucky Derby where he worked for many years. When people mention The Derby everyone knows they are talking about The Kentucky Derby. The same thing will now be true here. At the same time a few other branding elements were added to the logo. Kentucky is still there with the silhouette of the state behind the word ‘The’ and Bardstown’s well known phrase ‘Bourbon Capital of the World’ registered mark is now present. So what at first seems a bit implausible actually makes sense for the nation’s original Bourbon Festival.
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Bourbon Sampling at the Bourbon Festival – What a Concept!
Highlights of September’s festival will include an expanded tasting experience with heritage and craft brands, a vintage and rare bourbon auction and the annual World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay Race bourbon barrel rolling competition. Exclusive conversations with industry all-stars and unique culinary and cocktail classes will provide interactive sessions for attendees to enjoy.
“One thing we haven’t done in the past, which is counterintuitive considering we are a bourbon festival. We’ve never been able to get bourbon from the distilleries out here on the lawn. Starting in 2019 the laws changed and we were able to serve cocktails. That was a liquor law that change. 2020 was going to be the first year (but Covid), now by default 2021 will be the first year where the distilleries can do direct pours. You can walk up with a Glencairn Glass and get a neat pour of whatever you want. The distilleries will achieve something they’ve always wanted which is ‘sips to lips’ where you can talk about the product and sample it. It will be very natural for this festival to be able to do that.”
Another new thing this year will be a cover charge for entry to the festival. “We are planning on having controlled entrances and exits,” said Prasse. “Because of Covid we’ll have temperature taking, PPE requirements and hand sanitizers.”
The details of the cover charge are still being finalized but he says the fee, “Will be something equivalent to a cover charge in a bar. Regardless of what the dollar amount is everyone will get a genuine Glencairn Glass and a challenge coin. A challenge coin is a collectible coin about the size of a silver dollar. We are doing one with the barrel head logo on one side and Vendome Copper & Brass Works logo on the other side as a sponsor.”
The Bourbon Festival to Feature 11+ Single Barrel Picks
Today’s bourbon fans love single barrel bourbon picks. By the time most bourbon makes it to the liquor store shelf they are a filtered blend of multiple barrels. The number of barrels that go into a bottle varies widely by distillery. For a craft distillery it could be as few as 10 barrels whereas a larger heritage distillery is often 100+ barrels. By blending multiple barrels distilleries can guarantee that the bottle you buy tomorrow will taste just like the bottle you purchased yesterday. On the other hand when bourbon fans want a unique bourbon tasting experience they often times go with single barrels. Every barrel of bourbon is aged in a new charred oak barrel. Each of those barrels is organic and provides unique flavors to the bourbon. Single barrels tend to be unfiltered and the proof is often full proof or cask strength thus making every barrel pick unique.
The 2021 Bourbon Festival already has a dozen single barrel commitments from 11 different distilleries. The Festival will be auctioning off complete bottle sets of each of the single barrels during this year’s festival. The price for these sets will be interesting to watch. Bourbon fans will be able to purchase individual limited edition bottles at the festival and at some of the local retailers. Here is the complete list of distilleries that have thus far committed to The Bourbon Festival single barrel program.[table “” not found /]
Mark Your Calendar for the 2021 Bourbon Festival Dates
With unique and updated offerings The Bourbon Festival will take place September 16-19, 2021 in Bardstown. Tickets for The Bourbon Festival will be available beginning summer 2021.
The non-profit Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Board of Directors also announced the appoint of its 2021 Executive Committee.
- Chair David Mandell, Co-Founder, Bardstown Bourbon Company
- Vice Chair Melissa Horton, Corporate Events Manager, Heaven Hill Brands
- Treasurer Donald Blincoe, President, Buzick Construction
- Secretary Rachel Miller, Owner, The Harrison-Smith House
“We’re excited to deliver an improved and truly authentic, world-class celebration of America’s native spirit,” said Prasse. “We’re looking forward to welcoming bourbon lovers back to Bardstown, a small town as historic as bourbon itself.”