A Fort Campbell pilot, on a motorcycle tour with his family before he deploys for Afghanistan, is the 1,000th person to complete the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail in the last 100 days.
Since June 1, the Kentucky Distillers' Association has received 1,052 souvenir Passports from visitors who toured all eight distilleries. That easily surpasses the entire number of travelers - 718 - who completed the Bourbon Trail Passport program last year.
The 1,000th person is First Lieutenant Clint Hooker, 26, from Grapevine, Texas. A graduate of The Citadel, he is stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky., and is a reconnaissance helicopter pilot with the 2nd Squadron of the 17th Cavalry Regiment in support of the 101st Airborne Division.
"We are deeply honored that Clint and his family chose the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as a getaway before he deploys," said KDA President Eric Gregory. "He deserves not only our congratulations, but our sincere thanks and gratitude for his service to our country."
Gov. Steve Beshear said, "It's fitting that this milestone comes during September, which is Bourbon Heritage Month in the Commonwealth. And it's great that this honor goes to a member of our courageous armed forces who work so hard to keep our country safe.
"Congratulations to LT Hooker and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail on this outstanding achievement."
LT Hooker and his family toured the Bourbon Trail from Aug. 11 through the 13th. His parents, Mike and Debbie, organized the trip as a surprise - an unforgettable, scenic ride on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles before their son leaves early next year for Operation Enduring Freedom.
"Each distillery was unique and I had a great time at every stop," LT Hooker said. "It's definitely one of the coolest things I've ever done. I'm already spreading the word in my unit - do yourself a favor and hit the Bourbon Trail."
Mike Hooker said, "It was a perfect trip. Just ended way too soon."
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail links eight legendary distilleries nestled among the rolling Bluegrass countryside: Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Tom Moore, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.
At Woodford Reserve and Maker's Mark, LT Hooker purchased special bottles to commemorate his journey, both on the Bourbon Trail and the one that lies ahead. He had the Woodford bottle etched on-site with his unit's information: A Troop 2-17 Cavalry.
"I'll open that one when I get back to America," he said.
He also personally hand-dipped two bottles of Maker's Mark in its signature red wax at the distillery's gift shop: one to enjoy before he deploys, and the other when he returns in celebration.
As part of his recognition, the KDA is sending LT Hooker a special gift package from Kentucky's signature distilleries. And the association is contributing $1,000 in LT Hooker's name to the Wounded Warriors Project and the Alpha Troop 2-17 Alumni Association.
"Kentucky bourbon is the spirit of America," said KDA President Gregory. "When we started the countdown to 1,000 Passports in 100 days, we couldn't have imagined a more appropriate and deserving winner than LT Hooker. His story, and his spirit, has truly inspired us."