If you are the type of person that takes great joy in checking something off your “To Do” list then you should get your large permanent magic marker ready. We are now just days away from the official opening of the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center” and “Spirit of Kentucky Exhibit.” The two part exhibit will open up August 30, 2018 at the Frazier History Museum along Louisville, Kentucky’s West Main Street. This part of Main Street is commonly referred to as “Whiskey Row” as it was once home to hundreds of distilleries at the turn of the 19th century. A little amendment to the U.S. constitution changed all that when Prohibition became law and closed almost all the distilleries across the country. Now, nearly 100 years later ‘Whiskey Row’ is returning to its former glory as the rightful home to America’s only Native Spirit, Bourbon.
Where Does the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Start?
Like most overnight successes, this project has been in the planning stages for years. The world famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail started in 1999. Since then, it has grown from a handful of distilleries with no-frills tours to full blown experiences including choreographed tours, tasting rooms, cocktails and restaurants that accounted for more than 1 million visits from bourbon fans in 2017. A common question over the last 19 years has been where does it start? There was never a definitive answer to that question until now. On August 30, 2018 the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center and The Spirit of Kentucky at the Frazier History Museum will have a ribbon cutting and open its doors to the world as the official starting point.
“We get calls on a daily basis…dozens, if not hundreds of calls every week from people asking ‘How do I do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, where do I start?’ And now, we are proud to say that when this center opens we can say that you should start your experience in Louisville, Kentucky at the Frazier (History Museum) and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center.”
~ Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association
A Bit of History on the Project
Watch this video to hear about the announcement about this project last year from Frazier History Museum Chairman Mac Brown, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Eric Gregory.
There are Two Distinct Parts to the Exhibit
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center
Below are a few behind the scenes photos of the construction project as well of renderings of what the finished product will look like. Click on any image to enlarge.
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Though they have similar names, there are two distinct parts to the upcoming additions to the museum. “The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center” is on the first floor as you enter the museum. This part of the museum will be open to the public and there is no entry fee. The area features members of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and focuses on the official trademarked Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®.
A professional concierge service at the front desk will be on hand to help visitors plan their trips to Bourbon distilleries throughout the state, as well as navigating the hot spots of Louisville’s burgeoning Bourbon, culinary and nightlife scenes.
“The Frazier is in the heart of the Bourbon District of downtown Louisville, Kentucky’s largest urban center,” said Bill Samuels, Jr. Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark Distillery. “Now that it’s the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, distilleries all around the state will benefit.”
The Spirit of Kentucky Exhibition – Get Ready to be Enchanted
The other part of the exhibition is “The Spirit of Kentucky Exhibition.” This part of the museum is on the top floor and features all of the distilleries and all spirits produced throughout the state of Kentucky. Of the 50+ licensed distilleries in the state about 36 are members of the Association. This exhibit is part of the paid admission to the museum and will be open during regular museum hours.
“Spirit of Kentucky will offer a new perspective on Bourbon, one that differs from those of individual distilleries,” said Frazier Chairman of the Board J. McCauley “Mac” Brown. “While distilleries tend to focus on their own brands, this exhibit will present a wide-ranging overview of the history of Bourbon.”
Each room will have a theme: the first room, “Enchanted,” will examine how Kentucky’s natural features promote Bourbon-making. On display will be soil and terrain samples, slabs of shale and limestone; maps of Kentucky’s waterways, docks and piers; model replicas of historic river paddle boats and grain silos; stacks of white oak lumber and whiskey barrels; vintage plows and farm equipment; and more.
“Refined” will explore the legacy of Bourbon in mixology, advertising and popular culture, while “Gracious” will highlight the culture of camaraderie among distillers and executives. A dining room table with a digital touch screen surface in the “Gracious” room will serve as a repository of information about Bourbon history, drawing media and content from independent sources and being updated frequently.
A New Museum Entrance and Public Green Space
Opening day is scheduled to follow the completion of major renovations to the building, including a new vestibule and front entrance. The museum now owns two side by side properties. The alley between the two buildings has been converted to a new entrance for the museum and public green space. The area features a multi-story rooftop garden and parklike setting that was designed by world-renowned landscape artist Jon Carloftis. Even if you don’t have time to tour the museum, pack a lunch and enjoy this space with beautiful views of downtown, it’s amazing.
And Finally, Checking Off that “To Do” List Item
This project seems like a no brainer today but its been in the planning stages for years. Starting back in 2013 Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer announced the creation of the “Bourbon and Local Food Work Group.” Its goal was to examine the city’s already great bourbon and food culture and make it “excellent — best in the world.” The work group included business executives, chefs, distillers and tourism leaders. It was divided into three committees: Bourbon, Food and Built Environment. Half a year later, the group delivered a 22 page report with an outline on how to turn Louisville into, “The World’s Best Culinary and Spirits City.” It was about that time that Bourbonism was born.
What is “Bourbonism?” Watch this video and find out.
No. 1 Recommendation from the 2014 Report
Building a Kentucky Bourbon Trail Visitor Center on Main Street (and preferably along Whiskey Row). The center would be the starting point for all things bourbon and food in Louisville — and it would be a local hub where people could catch buses to visit local distilleries and travel on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The center would celebrate and feature all brands and would include a full kitchen/bar and lecture studio where bourbon and food events could be held. This center should be buzzing with activities seven days a week, with events ranging from dinners, tastings and lectures to launches of bourbon brands. It would be equipped with lighting and video capabilities to produce media shows (TV, radio, webcasts) about bourbon and food. There were many other recommendations but that’s a story for another day. You can see the full report here.
Now, we are just days away from getting that permanent magic marker out to check this item off the ‘To Do’ list. We’ll see you at the grand opening and ribbon cutting later this month.