Bourbon Heritage Month

It’s September, which holds several meanings for me. Most importantly, September means Bourbon Heritage Month. Here in the Bluegrass state, bourbon is king and holds a unique place in everyone’s hearts and minds. For me, September is a time to reflect and put a spotlight on one of Kentucky’s finest products – bourbon.

I’ve written and talked a lot about Bourbon Heritage Month over the years, so this year, I decided to do something a little different. I spoke to friends, associates, and some co-workers about what Bourbon Heritage Month means to them.

So, here is Bourbon Heritage Month, in their words:

One of the first people I became acquainted with in the industry so many years ago was Trey Zoeller. He was pounding the pavement and hand-selling a new bourbon he and his father Chet had started, Jefferson Reserve. Since meeting Trey, he has been a constant in my work life and personal life, always helping me any way he can. He has been a huge advocate for his brand and bourbon in general. He touches on how bourbon has changed Kentucky’s image for the better:

“Bourbon Heritage month means so much more to me now than it did when I was younger. I appreciate what bourbon has meant to me from the time I was a kid eating my grandma’s bourbon balls or her bourbon brisket, I grew up with older men and women drinking bourbon and waters and younger folks drinking bourbon and cokes and realizing I never thought about it as normal or peculiar it was just what it was. It was moving outside of the Bluegrass that I realized that it was unique and that was my heritage. In recent years, it has taken on that meaning to so many of my friends in the industry. How cool is it that enthusiasts from around the world come to visit us? I missed that last year when visiting was not an option. The world changed its perception. When I used to travel and I would say I was from Kentucky, people would say “…oh.” Now they say, “Kentucky… that is cool!” Now that is today’s heritage!”

I agree Trey! I totally agree!

I reached out to one of my favorite people in the industry, Bernie Lubbers, brand ambassador for Heaven Hill and someone who teaches me something new every time we talk. His quote is short, sweet, and to the point:

“The Bourbon Festival and Bourbon Heritage Month are the Bourbon World’s Super Bowl.” 

As I was contemplating who to reach out to next, one name came up quickly, Peggy Noe Stevens. She founded the Bourbon Women and has been influencing brands for decades in a variety of ways. She’s influenced my journey in bourbon for many years and has always made time to chat about bourbon, or whatever comes up. She’s a true gem in the industry. Here is what she had to say about my favorite month:

“Bourbon Heritage Month means community to me. The time when our industry comes together to honor our past, present, and future! A continuous celebration that says, “thank you” to our valued consumers for their tremendous support.”

Next, I wanted to find someone not from the industry but who might have a unique perspective of all things Bourbon. I reached out to Patrick Hallahan, drummer for My Morning Jacket and burgeoning Social Media cook. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing pours with him over the years and we’ve done several barrel selections together, Pat always has a way with words and tastings and selections with him are always a great time:

He puts a unique spin on Bourbon Heritage month, here is what he had to say:

“Whenever Bourbon Heritage Month rolls around, I tend to reflect on the increasingly valuable commodity of time and the exercise of patience. 

In my circle of family and friends, bourbon is a ritual…a means of slowing down, spending quality time together, and listening to one another. Any month celebrating that is a month worth celebrating.”

Next up is Beau Beckman, the person who has the task of managing Buffalo Trace and Sazerac’s massive barrel program and a direct descendent of Colonel E.H. Taylor. I think he nails it.

“I am reminded of the remarkable contributions of my forebears and the many dedicated Kentuckians who established bourbon as America’s Native Spirit, demanding the strictest standards and highest quality.”

One of the first people I thought of when I started this was Stephen Fante, he’s a jack of all trades at Limestone Branch Distillery and a pleasure to listen to while telling the Beam family history. He’s never short for words, here is what he had to say about Bourbon Heritage Month, he and Beau are on the same page:

“Well, I feel a need to start with what’s more American than America’s native spirit? I’m proud of our country and all that serve it! I’m also proud of the forefathers that built it and that includes the pioneer distillers! Bourbon Heritage Month is a time to reflect for me on all the people that came before us and all the people who are currently making impacts in this industry!”

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with various team members from Nearest Green Distillery, they are one of my favorite brand teams in the industry. Fawn Weaver is a swirling dynamo of knowledge and drive. Richie Michaels is always quick to accommodate our needs and always takes great care of us. However, I had the distinct pleasure of doing an Instagram Live with Victoria Eady-Butler, the Uncle Nearest Master Blender, also the Great-Great Grand-Daughter of Nearest Green, and was just awarded the Whisky Magazine Master Blender of the Year 2021. I have to say, it was probably my favorite IG Live we’ve ever done. She, like Beau and Stephen, honors the past and her legacy within the bourbon industry. Here is what she had to say:

“When thinking of Bourbon Heritage month, my immediate thought is my great-great-grandfather, Nearest Green. How awesome is it that there is a month that highlights and honors his craft; along with others that came before me.”

When I decided I needed to reach out to someone else that is not in the bourbon industry, I knew exactly who to call. JK McKnight, founder of the Forecastle Festival and the Forecastle Foundation. JK and I have been sipping bourbon, selecting single barrels, and discussing all things bourbon for about a decade and often find ourselves in deep conversations after some great pours. When I reached out, he had the thought of using bourbon as an experience and exposing thousands of people to its majesty.

“At the time (2013-16′), it was the largest experiential bourbon activation at a festival, but it started as a simple experiment. A 30×30 tent with three brand partners – Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Town Branch – who believed in the vision. It grew to over 15K square feet. A turn-of-the-century rick house meets prohibition-era speakeasy. Hundreds of thousands of patrons got to experience it, and helped educate and turn on a whole new generation of bourbon connoisseurs, traveling here from thousands of cities.”

Next, I got a hold of Stephen Van Treese, former Louisville Cardinal basketball player, the Vanilla Godzilla, and lover of all things whiskey. We’ve picked a few barrels over the years and he loves his bourbon:

“Being from Indiana, I had no clue how big bourbon was until I moved to Kentucky. I’m glad I was born in September. I now get to celebrate even more! Cheers to all the bourbon lovers!”

Now, this piece wouldn’t be complete with a few thoughts from the people who make it go, the people that run our stores and make sure we can all go and get bourbon when we need it. So, I reached out to three veterans from inside our company for their perspectives.

Brian Booth, the district manager for the Louisville market, had this to say about Bourbon Heritage Month:

“Bourbon Heritage Month to me is the beginning of a great fall season that includes the annual release of the best of the best bourbons. It is an exciting time and (Pre pandemic) was a great time to connect and enjoy lotteries and bourbon events with our large customer base.”

Katie Thompson, the district manager for the Western Kentucky market offered these words:

“Bourbon Heritage Month is just another reason why I love living in Kentucky! It’s a great time to try out new bourbons and revisit some of our favorites.”

Yes, Katie, I love living in Kentucky, too!

Our district manager for the Lexington area stores, Tim Nunemaker, had this to say about Bourbon Heritage Month:

“Being part of such a noble tradition makes you proud to be from Kentucky. It brings people from all over the world that shares a love of bourbon to the beautiful state of Kentucky, it helps our economy and the people of Kentucky.”

So, as you can see, Bourbon Heritage Month means different things to different people, but overall it does seem that it gives people a sense of pride, pride in our heritage, pride in our history, pride in our accomplishments in bourbon, and a general feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

I hope you can get out and come up with what Bourbon Heritage Month means to you, until next time,

Cheers!

Brad Williams
Liquor Barn-Party Mart
Bourbon Master
Vice President – Purchasing & Product Development

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