The Bourbon Capital of the World got the barrel rolling on National Bourbon Day by turning it into a weekend celebration. Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky is the self proclaimed Bourbon Capital of the World® and if you don’t believe us just look to the sky as you enter town and you’ll see it on multiple water towers proclaiming just such a fact. If it’s on a water tower then it’s true, not to mention it’s a registered trademark.
Bourbon’s Amber Spirit Equals Green for the City of Bardstown
After attending the opening ceremony for National Bourbon Day it was clear not only is bourbon America’s Native Spirit it is also the engine that drives the Bardstown economy. When most people see bourbon they see an amber spirit but as Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton explained when he sees bourbon he sees a three headed Green Giant, not to be confused with a Green Monster. And on top of that when the state’s Lieutenant Governor first visited the city and asked, “What is that smell?” she was quickly greeted with, “That’s the smell of money.”
Bardstown’s bourbon roots can be traced back several centuries. The city and surrounding counties have been making bourbon whiskey since the frontier days of old. Wander around the area and read some of the historical signs and many of them connect back to the whiskey business in one way or another. Those readings may include a connection to what was once a commercial distillery of days gone by or it could talk about a simple log still operated seasonally by a farmer used to turn his leftover corn into grain alcohol. Today, the many historic distilleries and young startups help to contribute to the world’s supply of that delicious amber spirit we call bourbon.
The Three Headed Green Giant We Call Bourbon
Today the Bardstown, Nelson County community is home to 11 unique distillery experiences within 16 miles of downtown. The sights, sounds and smells of bourbon can be found all over the county. This year’s National Bourbon Day’s festivities and announcements took place inside the Chapel at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. And yes, this is an entire museum experience dedicated to whiskey. And in case you were wondering, admission to the museum is free.
“I just like to characterize and talk about bourbon, its resiliency and innovation I think are the two words that come to mind,” said Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton. “Where our long time distilleries were and are today, that date back to the 1800s, and now our new distilleries and how innovative they are and what great impact that has been on our local economy.
“I describe it as the Three Headed Giant. Not to be confused with the Three Headed Monster. It’s the Jolly Green Giant, green as in money driving our economy. They do a tremendous job in their traditional business of manufacturing, aging, distilling, bottling and distributing their product. They’re also driving a huge boost to our hospitality economy as we all know with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. And lastly, and this has changed over the years, most of the corn being grown right here in Bardstown, Nelson County and surrounding counties is going to bourbon production and it wasn’t always that way back in the 70s and 80s when bourbon wasn’t nearly as strong.
What is the Three Headed Jolly Green Giant?
1. Bourbon Manufacturing
“We are so glad for that and we appreciate what you all [the distilleries] are doing for us.”
The Mayor went on to read a proclamation that was approved the city council declaring June 14 National Bourbon Day in Bardstown. You can hear the entire reading by watching the video.
What is that Smell?
If you have ever visited a distillery or a distilled spirits barrel warehouse you know the smell. For whiskey lovers that smell is the equivalent of Grandma’s kitchen when she’s baking your favorite apple pie. It’s the smell of warm memories and home. It’s the smell of fermenting bourbon or the smell of the Angels Share as bourbon ages. For this town that smell is the sweet smell of success as described by the state’s Lt. Governor.
Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman grew up outside of Nelson County but she eventually found her way to the county when she became an educator and basketball coach in Nelson County. Being a local she’s quite familiar with the importance of distilled spirits to the area as well as the entire state.
“I am so excited to be here with you all and as a Kentuckian I indulge in all things Kentucky. I was a basketball coach here, I grew up around horses and indulge in bourbon now and then…As a former Assistant Principle and basketball coach here in Nelson county I know how much events like these mean to this community and that’s why it’s so important to me. And of course bourbon we know is one of the state’s largest economic impactors and Kentucky tourism serves as a mechanism for driving economic growth all counties, rural, urban in all 120 counties across the state.
“And certainly bourbon is a huge attraction for so many communities here in Kentucky, none more than Bardstown of course. And it really does help drive our economy. I have a story, the very first Saturday morning [basketball] practice I had here I walked out the door and I said, ‘What is that smell?’ and my assistant coach goes, ‘That’s money!’ and I said ‘Ok’.
“I say that as a joke but in all seriousness after enduring what we have through the last year and a half it so important that we celebrate what makes Kentucky great and certainly our bourbon industry is at the top of that list.”
Kentucky Bourbon Festival Announces the ‘Bourbon Capital BBQ Challenge & Distillery Invitational’
Ask a bourbon fan what goes best with bourbon and you’ll get a lot of different answers. For some their taste buds immediately go to bitters, mixers or simply ice. For others their taste buds go to food and in particular barbecue. And when it comes to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival those taste buds led them straight to BBQ and the announcement of a new partnership and brand new event for 2022.
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival will host the Bourbon Capital BBQ Challenge & Distillery Invitational in June 2022, growing the festival beyond its traditional September three-day event. Festival organizers have partnered with the Kansas City Barbeque Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and enjoying barbeque.
“The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is excited to host the new Bourbon Capital BBQ Challenge & Distillery Invitational with the Kansas City Barbeque Society,” said Randy Prasse, president and COO of the festival. “We’re looking forward to being able to welcome even more visitors to Bardstown with this event — and better accommodate the Bardstown and Nelson County residents. Besides, who doesn’t love a good BBQ and what pairs better with your favorite bourbon than BBQ? There are some great pitmasters in our area and across the U.S., and we’re looking forward to seeing their competitive ‘spirit’ at this competition.”
Prasse said distilleries will also be invited to send their best to compete in a special division, too. “The seed that inspired this event traces back to one Jim Beam hosted years ago — true to the industry, it was an invitational that created a fun yet competitive environment,” Prasse said. “It truly showcased the collaborative spirit of the Kentucky distilling community, and we hope to revive that while also inviting some of the best BBQ cookers from across the U.S. to convene in Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World.”
The Bourbon Capital BBQ Challenge & Distillery Invitational is an officially sanctioned event of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and enjoying barbeque. KCBS is the world’s largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts with over 20,000 members worldwide and sanctions over 500 barbeque contests worldwide.
“On behalf of all of us from the Kansas City Barbeque Society, we raise our glass to the new-for-2022, Bourbon Capital BBQ Challenge event in Bardstown,” said Emily Detwiler, Kansas City Barbeque Society CEO. “Barbeque and bourbon naturally go together and share a spirit of camaraderie, cuisine and culture. Many of our Kansas City Barbeque Society pitmasters and Certified Barbeque Judges are bourbon fans, so it is a natural connection to host a KCBS-sanctioned competition in the Bourbon Capital of the World. Competition pitmasters share a deeply chivalrous competitive spirit; one in which they help and cheer for their competitors’ success. So, too, it is among the various distillers along the Bourbon Trail.”
The 2021 Kentucky Bourbon Festival Happening In-Person
The 2020 Kentucky Bourbon Festival had to go virtual to protect bourbon makers and bourbon fans alike. Thankfully, the 2021 Kentucky Bourbon Festival will take place in person on September 16-19, 2021 in Bardstown, Kentucky. This year’s event has been completely re-envisioned in coordination with the folks that run the event and the distilleries that make it happen. As Prasse emphasized this year’s event will focus on ‘Sips to Lips’. In other words, this year’s event will be less about hay bales and corn dogs and more about bourbon. You can learn more about the 2021 Kentucky Bourbon Festival here.
2021 Bardstown Tourism Numbers the Best Ever
The day’s events were closed with comments and the raising of a glass by Executive Director Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission Samantha Brady.
“If you have ever wondered what kind of impact tourism and bourbon tourism has on our economy and our local economy. I think we know after last year,” said Brady. “I think those numbers speak for themselves. We now know how important this industry is to Bardstown and the state of Kentucky. We know that for sure now.
“I’m happy to report that we are back in the swing of things, better than ever before. We are seeing more visitors than we have ever seen in the history of tourism. And that is something to be excited about and we are truly happy to welcome them back.”
To wrap up the event Brady lead the room with the new official Bardstown toast, “Bardstown and bourbon, bonded together always. Cheers.”