New Blended Bourbon Honors Longtime Master Distiller

Jul 24, 2013

Kentucky's renowned bourbon brands are offering up a bit of their whiskeys for a special blend to benefit efforts to find a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease in honor of longtime Heaven Hill Distilleries master distiller Parker Beam.

The result of the effort is called Master Distillers' Unity. Bardstown-based Heaven Hill says a crystal two-bottle set of the one-of-its-kind blend will be offered at auction in New York City on Oct. 13. All proceeds will go to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund, which is raising money for research and patient care by the ALS Association.

Parker Beam has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The special blend includes bourbon from Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.

Buffalo Trace

The man who introduced the world's first single barrel bourbon has died at the age of 93. Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee passed away Tuesday morning following a brief illness.

Lee's connection to Kentucky's signature spirit began in 1949, when he started working in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort. In 1966, Lee was promoted to plant superintendent, and three years after that he became plant manager.

Lee's most lasting contribution to the world of bourbon came in 1984 when he introduced the first-ever single barrel bourbon, called Blanton's. Taking a cue from the scotch industry that gained popularity in the U.S. through single-malt varieties, Lee honed the technique of identifying and cultivating the best bourbon that could be produced in his distillery's warehouses. He took into account where the barrels were located in the warehouse, how often they were rotated, and how long the whiskey aged in the barrels.

In 1986, Buffalo Trace honored Lee by naming a line of single barrel bourbons Elmer T. Lee.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is expanding to include a small distillery that's tucked in the shadows of skyscrapers in downtown Louisville.

Heaven Hill Distilleries' new distillery will become the eighth stop on the popular tourist attraction that has drawn more than 2.5 million visitors in the past five years.

Mayor Greg Fischer said Thursday that bringing the Bourbon Trail to Louisville will enhance the city's bourbon tourism efforts.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail takes visitors to several rural and rustic settings to visit the places where iconic bourbons such as Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve are crafted.

Kentucky is home to 95 percent of the world's bourbon production.

The mint julep stands proud as the beverage known as Kentucky's signature drink. Unless you're new to the area or haven't been paying attention, you know the julep is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby.

What you might not know, however, is that the mint julep's history traces back to a rose water drink in the Middle East.

WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis in 2010 visited the famous Seelbach Hotel in Louisville to learn the history and proper preparation of the famous drink. Cole Phelps, who at the time served as the head bartender at Max's Bar on the hotel's second floor shared his favorite recipe for drink:

Kentucky Bourbon Production Tops 1 Million in 2012

Apr 30, 2013
Kevin Willis

The amount of bourbon produced by Kentucky distillers has topped 1 million barrels for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Officials with the Kentucky Distillers' Association said Monday that 1,007,703 barrels were filled in 2012. The last time the total went over a million was in 1973 when 1,004,877 barrels were produced.

The group's president, Eric Gregory, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Kentucky's distilleries are experiencing double-digit sales growth and seeing landmark production levels while investing in new facilities.

The group says bourbon production is up more than 120 percent since 1999.

Kevin Willis

Michael Veach is a man who knows his bourbon. Not just because he enjoys Kentucky's signature spirit, but because he's also one of the nation's foremost bourbon historians.

Veach is associate curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, and the author of the new book Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Tradition. In his recent interview with WKU Public Radio, Veach told us about the many tall tales he had to debunk surrounding the history of bourbon.

Here are a few web audio extras featuring Veach that we didn't have time to include in the interview we aired this week:

Kevin Willis

It's a golden era for Kentucky's signature spirit. Bourbon has never been more popular in the U.S. or throughout the world. Bourbon's colorful history is shrouded in mystery, with a lot of tall tales and legends popping up throughout the years.

Michael Veach put bourbon under the microscope and put his skills as an historian to work in his new book, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. Veach is the associate curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville.

He spoke to WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis about how the term "bourbon" first became applied to Kentucky whiskey, where the idea of charring barrels came from, and who we should thank for the current popularity of bourbon:

There are a lot of legends surrounding bourbon that you have to debunk as an historian looking into the origins of Kentucky’s famous whiskey. One of those legends is that bourbon is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky. What did you find out?

“You know, I would love to have been able to prove that bourbon was named after Bourbon County, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized I just couldn’t do that.”

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Honored by National Geographic

Mar 5, 2013
Kevin Willis

Kentucky’s signature spirit is getting some love from a well-respected publication.

National Geographic has designated the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as one of its top 10 "Best Spring Trips."

The Kentucky tourism attraction is showcased along with excursions and festivals in New Zealand, India, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, South Africa and Argentina.

Only three American trips made the top 10.

The Bourbon Trail attracted more than 500,000 visitors in 2012, the first time the tour has broken the half-million mark since its creation in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

A Daviess County restaurant and bar is on a quest to offer the world's largest selection of bourbons.

The Messenger-Inquirer reports Spirits at The Miller House in downtown Owensboro currently has at least 200 types of bourbon in stock on a daily basis. That's double what it had a year ago.

General manager Aaron King said that number puts it among bars with the largest selection of bourbons in stock. He said there are about 250 different bourbons.

"There are bars that claim they have 120 bourbons and say that's the largest collection and there are bars that say they have 250 bourbons," King said. "But when you go there, they aren't all in stock."

One of the world's most famous bourbons won't get watered down after all.

Maker's Mark announced Sunday in a Facebook post that the company is reversing course and will not change the alcohol by volume in its whiskey.

"(We) are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning," the company said in the Facebook message signed by Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels, and his father, Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels.

A representative from Maker's Mark told WKU Public Radio that the company's website crashed at one point Sunday due to the massive amount of interest in Maker's decision to reverse course and maintain its current alcohol by volume.

The representative said the company was able to get the website back up and running later Sunday afternoon.

The decision to change the alcohol content of their product led to a backlash by many bourbon lovers, who flooded the Loretto, Ky., distillery with negative comments. Maker's Mark officials said the lower alcohol by volume wouldn't impact the bourbon's flavor, but that wasn't enough to quell the controversy.

Here is a copy of the Facebook message posted by Maker's Mark Sunday: