Whisky Magazine Issue 59
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Whisky musician Robin Laing experiences the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for the first time and finds a home from home.
Oh, the buzzin'of the bees and the cigarette trees and the soda water fountain.
At the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings, in the big Rock Candy Mountains' Bardstown must be one of the few towns in the USA to still have an old-style, drug store soda fountain. I sat in there with some friends having milk shakes and root beer. It's that kind of place – the smiling face of small-town America. For special occasions you can hire horse-drawn limos from Jonesie's carriage depot, people greet each other down on Main Street, the churches are in immaculate condition. It's a very historic town, worth a visit at any time.
It also happens to be the bourbon capital of the world. Dawn Ballard, tourist officer, says “Bardstown is to bourbon what Napa Valley is to wine”. It has five distilleries; Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Maker's Mark, Barton and Willett's. The town also boasts the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and the Bourbon Heritage Centre, established by Heaven Hill. Surely then, the natural home for a Bourbon Festival.
And the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is some party. This year 55,000 visitors came to watch hot air balloons go up, race pretend horses, ride steam trains, listen to jazz and country music, enjoy bourbon breakfasts, stroll around craft stalls, see lots of art, visit distilleries, do ghost tours, have bourbon and cigars in ‘My Old Kentucky Home', taste endless bourbons, eat great food and dance on air at the grand Gala dinner. Even all that wasn't enough ...