Friday, September 14, 2007

Kentucky Bourbon Fest: I'm on my way

Anticipation.

I'm at Philadelphia International, waiting for my flight to Louisville, now 45 minutes late and counting. I'm headed for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for, I think, my fifth time. I'm on my own, representing Malt Advocate, and since my schedule was my own, I made the most of it.

I'm touring Brown-Foreman's Louisville distillery this afternoon (assuming my flight gets in on time!), making an enjoyably obligatory stop at Rich O's and the New Albanian Brewing Company, and stocking up on beer (beer's essential when you're drinking bourbon...) at the Louisville Liquor Barn before heading south to Bardstown. Tomorrow I'll be at Four Roses, the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, this year's Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Maker's Mark, and then dinner at Heaven Hill's Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz event. Saturday I'll be at the bourbon breakfast, the barrel races, blogging my brains out all afternoon, and then going to the Gala, where I got a seat at the Buffalo Trace table this year -- out of the press ghetto at last!

And of course, I'll be hanging out every night with fellow bourbon lovers, drinking and talking and laughing well into the night. By now, I go into this knowing that when I leave Sunday morning, I'll be wrung out, exhausted, maybe a bit achey even...and I'll be grinning. Because one of the things I look forward to most when I go to Kentucky is shedding the subtle, clenching tension I feel, almost unconciously, every drinking moment of my life, because I am a bourbon drinker.

Even now, in an era when bourbon is reclaiming American hearts and minds, just saying the word "bourbon" can still make people giggle. It's not taken serious, it's something yahoos knock back in untemperate amounts, something Grampa spills down his beard and shirt as he rocks on the porch, something you have to mix with Coke to make palatable. It's something that way too many bartenders still do not understand, probably because way too many bars still do not stock proper selections -- I can't tell you how much it galls me when I see a backbar selection of 20 vodkas and 4 bourbons. Bartenders don't know how to make any proper bourbon cocktails -- and for God's sake, don't even think about rye. (Yeah, I know, there are exceptions, and it's getting better, much better, but just like better beer, you still have to know where to go.)

Except when I land in Kentucky. The unfelt weight slips away, and I realize I've been carrying it, and feel free. I breathe easy. I walk with a relaxed but jaunty step. I'm home, I'm with my people, and bourbon is no longer a funny word, it's a no-shit staple of life. I still remember my last pre-9/11 flight out of Louisville, when I opened up my carry-on for inspection and the old fellow doing the job widened his eyes at the five bottles I had stuffed in there and asked me, "Can't you get this back home?" We laughed, and I explained that I couldn't, but luckily I was able to do something about that!

So I'm looking forward to relaxing...and having some bourbon. Sorry I haven't been able to write as much about bourbon as I'd planned to this month, this National Bourbon Heritage Month; I had some big pieces to work on, and I was kind of thrown of track by the kids going back to school and the shock of Michael Jackson's sudden death. Hang on: you'll get plenty in the next five days.

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