Suns Up, Bungs Up at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival Barrel Relay Race [Video]

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What a difference a year makes. When holding an event outdoors you are at the mercy of the elements. Last year’s weather for the World Championship Bourbon Relay Race was at best miserable. It rained so much that most of the rickhouse equipment at the barrel relay had to be rebuilt for this year. Fast forward to 2017 and the weather was perfect, nothing but blue skies and sunshine.

The World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay Race has been a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Kentucky since its inception more than 25 years ago. The barrel relay is a chance for the folks that work behind the scenes in the generally dark and dusty barrel warehouses or rickhouses to come out and take center stage for a day and compete for the prestigious title of World Champion.

“You can imagine getting 500 lbs rolling then try to slow it down enough to make that turn, not really easy, they make it look like it’s a breeze.”
~ Event Emcee, Steve Nally, Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Inductee and Master Distiller at Bardstown Bourbon Company

What is the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay Race?

The World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay Race is a race broken into four competitive groups; women’s individual, men’s individual, women’s team and men’s team. Contestants roll 500 lb. American Oak barrels around a 40-foot by 28-foot mini rickhouse track and into the racks. The scoring is based on time and accuracy. The time is pretty simple; it’s the time from start to finish. There’s a starting line where contestants can spin the barrel to their preferred starting position as long as it is on the line. The time is completed when the last barrel rolls into the rack and bangs into the other barrels.

Accuracy has two components; the barrels have to end up with the bungs up (you wouldn’t want a bung to blow out and lose any of the bourbon) and the Independent Stave Company logo, the sponsor of the event, facing the center of the rickhouse. For each bung that ends up dead center or within two bung lengths of dead center 10 seconds are deducted from the time clock. This is why you’ll see some negative scores on the scoreboard. Watch the video and you’ll hear the coaches yelling out times like, “5 o’clock” and then you’ll see the contestants spinning and rolling the barrels to just the right spot so they end up with the bung straight up, a critical skill in their daily work.

For the individual event both the women and the men roll one barrel around the rails then into the rickhouse. Then there is another set of barrels they roll a shorter distance directly into the rickhouse. For the women’s individual competition they move a total of five barrels while the men move 10. These hardy souls are moving anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 lbs. in just a couple of minutes.

Once the team competition starts, things get a little chaotic. Each team has four barrel movers working together to move 10 barrels around the entire rail track and into the rickhouse. Things get kind of crazy once you have four to six 500 lb. barrels moving all at once. There is a spotter at the end of each rail to make sure a barrel doesn’t roll over the person in front of them. The spotters can stop the barrels for safety but they are not allowed to move them forward.

2017 Kentucky Bourbon Festival Barrel Relay Highlights

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Winners of the 2017 World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay Race

Women's Individual
1. Barton 1792 Distillery 2.75  Leslie Glazer
2. Heaven Hill Distillery 10.19  Brandi Daniels
3. Heaven Hill Distillery 13.00  Ashley Cundiff
Men's Individual
1. Heaven Hill Distillery -29.81  Aaron Donnelly
2. Four Roses Distillery -20.37  Tyler Ulrich
3. Barton 1792 Distillery -18.38  Mike Hobbs
Women's Team
1. Buffalo Trace Distillery -13.62
2. Jim Beam Distillery 2.00
3. Heaven Hill Distillery 6.25
Men's Team
1. Buffalo Trace Distillery -45.44
2. Maker's Mark Distillery -31.38
3. Heaven Hill Distillery -19.94

Women’s Individual 1st Place Winner

Kentucky Bourbon Festival - Barrel Relay, 1st Place Women's Individual, Barton 1792 Distillery

Women’s individual 1st place winner Leslie Glazer of Barton 1792 Distillery.

Men’s Individual 1st Place Winner

Kentucky Bourbon Festival - Barrel Relay, 1st Place Men's Individual Winner, Heaven Hill Distillery

Men’s individual 1st place winner, Aaron Donnelly of Heaven Hill Distillery.

Women’s Team 1st Place Winners

Kentucky Bourbon Festival - Barrel Relay, 1st Place Women's Team Winner, Buffalo Trace Distillery

Women’s team 1st place winner, Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Men’s Team 1st Place Winners

Kentucky Bourbon Festival - Barrel Relay, 1st Place Men's Team Winners, Buffalo Trace Distillery

Bourbon barrel relay men’s team 1st place winners from Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Here are the scores from all the competitors.

If you’re a bourbon fan, this is certainly one of those events to put on your bucket list.

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