This Tales from the Trail story takes us to Bardstown, Kentucky as we attended the 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Back on May 4, 1964 Congress declared “Bourbon whiskey is a distinctive product of the United States and unlike other types of alcoholic beverages, whether foreign or domestic.” Over the years that act also got attributed with the phrase Bourbon – America’s Native Spirit. Technically that got worked into the bourbon culture 43 years later in 2007 when Senate Resolution 294 designated September of that year as “National Bourbon Heritage Month.”
The Senate Resolution 294 states…
Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) designates September 2007 as ‘‘National Bourbon Heritage Month’’;
(2) recognizes bourbon as ‘‘America’s Native Spirit’’ and reinforces its heritage and tradition and its place in the history of the United States; and
(3) recognizes the contributions of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to the culture of the United States.
And it’s been celebrated ever since.
And to be clear, just like Bourbon is a distinctive product of the United States, Bourbon Heritage Month is also celebrated in all 50 states. One of the Bourbon Heritage Month traditions that started back in 2001 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (the grand pappy of Bourbon festivals now in its 28th year) was the creation of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. The inaugural group included these bourbon industry legends Parker Beam, Lincoln Wesley Henderson, Elmer T. Lee, Fred McMillan, Frederick Booker Noe, Jr., Jimmy Russel, Jim Rutledge and Bill Samuels, Jr.
Candidates may be nominated each year by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, its member distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival from four categories including Industry, Journalism, Roll of Honor and Lifetime Achievement. Nominees are then sent to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Board of Directors for final selection.
During the 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony six individuals were welcomed into its hallowed ranks and one was bestowed its Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award.
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Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Members
“This is the one time when we all get together to celebrate bourbons hero’s and toast the legacy of those that have gone by,” said Colleen Thomas Director of Member and Public Relations for the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “This is the day the unity and camaraderie of our signature industry really shines through. Just about 140 years ago a group of 32 distillers got together and decided they could accomplish more by standing together than standing apart.”
Thomas went on to say, “We are stronger together, we are family, hell half of you all are actually related. It is this spirit of unity that is the foundation of Kentucky Bourbon culture.”
Inductees were announced in alphabetical order followed by the Lifetime Achievement Award. And now, let’s get started.
No. 1: Katrina Egbert of Wild Turkey Distillery
Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction welcomed Katrina Egbert to its ranks. Egbert is the Visitor Center Marketing Coordinator at Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg. She currently manages the single barrel program, assists in the daily operation of the Visitor Center, coordinates various on and off-site events as well as manages scheduling both Wild Turkey Master Distillers.
Katrina joined the company in 1990 as a Customer Service Representative and shortly after moved to the administrative assistant role for the Director of Engineering. Since then, she has spent nearly 30 years working various roles for the brand, and her dedication and passion for the industry is unsurpassed.
No. 2: Wesley Henderson of Angel’s Envy Distillery
Wes Henderson is the son of Lincoln Wesley Henderson who was a part of the inaugural Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame back in 2001. As Co-Founder of Louisville Distilling Co. better known as Angel’s Envy Distillery Henderson’s vision to create a one-of-a-kind spirit with his father introduced the world to Angel’s Envy. Today, Henderson serves as the brand’s Chief Innovation Officer.
In this role, Henderson shepherds Angel’s Envy’s future as the company continues to innovate, grow, and craft some of the finest, award-winning whiskeys in the world. Henderson worked tirelessly, first alongside Lincoln and later his own sons, building the brand from a basement conversation between a father and son to a thriving distillery selling over 80,000 9-liter cases in the 8 years since its launch.
No. 3: Larry Kass of Heaven Hill Distillery
Larry Kass recently retired as Director of Trade Relations of Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown.
Kass joined Heaven Hill in 1997 as Group Marketing Manager with responsibility for all American, Irish, Scotch and Canadian whiskey brands, as well as tequilas and brandies. After five years, Kass was appointed to the newly-created position of Director of Corporate Communications, with responsibility for leading the company’s internal communications and external communications programs to wholesale customers, media and consumers, both domestically and internationally.
In 2014, he was appointed as Director of Trade Relations, representing the company with industry and regional trade organizations, local and federal government, and community associations.
No. 4: Charles Medley of Charles Medley Distillery
Charles W. Medley retired as Master Distiller at Medley Distilling Co./Charles Medley Distillery. His father, R. Wathen Medley Sr., and uncles were sixth generation distillers who owned and operated the Medley Distilling Company in Owensboro in the middle of the 20th century.
His grandfather, Thomas Aquinas Medley, a fifth generation distiller owned and operated Daviess County Distillery in Owensboro in the early 20th century immediately following Prohibition.
His great-grandfathers, Richard Hudson Wathen and George E Medley, were 4th generation distillers at the end of the 19th century. After completing his education at Western Kentucky University, Charles W. Medley apprenticed at Brown-Forman and Old Fitzgerald distilleries in Louisville before beginning his career at Medley Distilling Company in Owensboro.
Following the death of his uncle Thomas Medley in 1966, Charles became plant manager at Medley Distilling Company. Now known as Master Distiller, Charles served in this capacity through various ownership changes until his retirement in the early 1990s.
The Medley Distillery is now the O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro.
No. 5: Peggy Noe Stevens of Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates
Peggy Noe Stevens is the Founder and President of Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates and Founder of Bourbon Women. In both career and personal life she has devoted herself to 30 years of hospitality, entertaining and developing spirit brand destinations.
A Master Bourbon Taster who is also a certified etiquette, image and professional speaker, she produces one-of-a-kind experiences for both people and places. Because of her signature style, expertise and creativity, she is retained by companies to seek out the strategic essence of image and brand culture.
Her approach conveys powerfully targeted brand messaging through environments while building confidence, self-awareness and professional presence in people.
Stevens was introduced by another Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame member and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award winner Bill Samuels, Jr. Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark Distillery.
“It is my great pleasure to introduce our next inductee, one who needs no introduction, Peggy Noe Stevens. She is the queen of hospitality marketing,” said Samuels. “And has been guiding and counseling distilleries all over Kentucky and beyond for a number of years now in all facets in experiential marketing.”
“In other words, since most of Kentucky’s bourbon company’s have engaged Peggy at one-time or another, this high energy very bright dynamo, to eleveate their distillery visitor exeperience, I believe its safe to suggest that Peggy deserves a lot of credit for how smart everybody says we are when the visitors come. She’s back there fluffing everybody up, you know it, i know it. Buts she’s done more, a lot more.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award: Even Kulsveen of Willett Distillery
And the highest award, the Lifetime Achievement Award was handed out to Even G. Kulsveen, Executive Director of Willett Distillery located in Bardstown.
Rick Robinson, Chairman of the KDA’s Board of Directors, said Kulsveen is an exemplary figure whose progressive strategy in the global market allowed him to position his family’s company as an influential brand at home and abroad.
“Even has demonstrated disciplined leadership, strategic decision-making and bold forward-thinking ” said Robinson, who is Vice President of the Global Supply Chain for Campari. “He has built a family legacy that will last for generations to come, and we thank him for his significant contributions to Kentucky’s booming Bourbon industry.”
Willett President Britt Kulsveen (Evan’s daughter) said, “Our father has lived several lifetimes with all of the career paths he has taken – from tending bar to having a glass factory that produced decanters and envisioning the kingdom we have built together as a family today.
“We have always said that he is lifetime’s ahead of his time with all of the innovative, genius creations he has imagined and brought to fruition,” she said. “This award is a long time coming.”
Still, in accepting the award, Even Kulsveen observed, “How many of us would have thought, 30 years ago, that we would be here today.”
Born in Norway, Even’s meticulous attention to detail served him well in roles ranging from barkeep to military cook and fine decanter craftsman.
Together Even and his wife Martha Willett Kulsveen purchased the distillery property in 1984. Immediately Even’s expertise in export markets became an imperative value. Popularity for brown spirits in the U.S. was on the decline while numerous foreign markets were growing. Asian markets demonstrated a thirst for whiskey and an appreciation for artistic packaging. Even positioned Willett to provide the best of both.
During the distillery dormant years, Even sold premium-aged products overseas. Single barrels were sold via independent contract bottling as well as specially co-mingled small batch selections. Even developed the heightened palate discretion of a Master Blender – a gift that has shaped the current boutique small batch collection.
Even is a profound and willing teacher, not only to his son and daughter that work alongside him but to everyone that crosses his path. Even works seven days a week and can only be lured away by his delightful grandchildren.
Kentucky Distillers’ Association Chairman Robinson presented each inductee with an engraved miniature copper still. Each inductee’s name will be added to a Hall of Fame display at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown. If you haven’t been to the Oscar Getz Museum, you need to put it on your bourbon bucket list.