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Kentucky Bourbon Festival: Complete Guide (2023 Updated)

Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lydia Martin

A hearty welcome to all the fans and supporters of Kentucky’s Edge! We are thrilled to have you check out our site and our shared love for distilled spirits, including the great bourbon. We are a cool team of bartenders and enthusiasts committed to providing you with everything there is about your favorite liquors. 

Kentucky’s Edge is a quintessential event in Northern Kentucky that features the all-time bourbon paired with all things Kentucky, of course. Among the several activities available during this 2-day celebration, participants can enjoy a notable conference featuring bourbon experts, VIP upgrades, and even free events. Other exciting experiences include the Taste and Pair and distillery day tours.

We’re just going to go ahead and say it: the whole state of Kentucky loves their bourbon. In fact, they love this American whiskey so much that they’ve dedicated a whole week to commemorate it! 

Our team spent some time out in the field to tell you everything you need to know about the bourbon-fueled festivities down south, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. 

What Exactly is the Kentucky Bourbon Festival? 

Held in Bardstown, Kentucky, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is an annual week-long activity dedicated to celebrating the history and art of bourbon whiskey. This festival has more than 30 events, including a vintage and rare bourbon auction, an expanded tasting experience with heritage and craft bourbon brands, and a bourbon barrel rolling race! 

Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Presently, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is one of the state’s largest celebrations. The event attracts more than 50,000 people, with some coming from the UK and Japan. The celebratory bourbon festival is almost always a sold-out event. 

Furthermore, Bardstown’s strong association with bourbon became the basis for the festival’s location. Dubbed as the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown has been distilling the famed American whiskey since 1776. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, the state produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon supply today. 

About the Festival 

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival first started in 1991 and was a simple dinner and bourbon tasting event with 250 people in attendance. The quaint little town of Bardstown became the backdrop of the event. It celebrated the storied history and art of distilling America’s native spirit.  

When pioneers first started settling into the lands of Bardstown, Kentucky, some 200 years ago, they discovered that the land achieved the perfect medium for distilling bourbon: it had the ideal climate to age barrels, as well as the fertile soil to grow and harvest corn. The natural flowing water in the town had a high proportion of minerals, including magnesium and calcium, which are optimal for distilling. 

The rest, as you can say, is history. [1]

Kentucky Bourbon Festival Info 

Kentucky Bourbon Festival Info 

Schedule

If you want to get in the best bourbon event in the entire country, the 31st annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival will be held from September 14 to 18, 2022. This is the one time in the year wherein bourbon lovers worldwide can unite and share their passion for the vanilla-y, oak-y American spirit. 

Venue

Bardstown, Kentucky

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival will be held at 114 North Fifth Street in Bardstown, Kentucky. A shuttle bus service has been arranged to pick up and drop off participants from 16 prime town locations. Tickets will be on sale in spring 2022. 

General Events

There’s no shortage of fun things to do at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival! In between the Master Distillers’ Auction (wherein participants can bid on rare bottles of bourbon), the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay (a bourbon barrel race open to all ages), and distillery whiskey tastings all around, you’ll get to enjoy the festival alongside enthusiasts that share your passion with America’s beloved spirit. 

There will be a session that teaches the different flavor notes of every type of grain infused within the spirit, whether rye, corn, wheat, or malted barley, on the morning of the festival’s first day. You’ll also get to enjoy live music, courtesy of national, regional, and local talent. 

The event finishes with the Blanton’s Bourbon & Burgoo Feast held on September 18, 2022. Each guest will receive a hearty bowl of Kentucky burgoo, a stew of meat and vegetables, alongside a Blanton’s whiskey, courtesy of Blanton’s Distillery. 

2022 BBQ Challenge

BBQ

The BBQ Challenge is what people would call the fusing of long-aged bourbon with slow-cooked meat. Local distillery teams and BBQ pitmasters face off in a two-day BBQ cook-off, which will feature multiple competition formats. This event is family-friendly and fun for all ages! 

We don’t know about you, but we can’t think of a better pairing than barbecue and bourbon! 

Distiller’s Row & Sponsorship 

Some famous distillers attending the Kentucky Bourbon Festival include Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Lux Row, and Old Forester. 

If you want to get into the sponsorship program, visit the official website for the mechanics. Sponsors for this year include Koetter Construction, House of Bourbon, Joseph & Joseph, and Schaefer. 

Also Read:

Things to Do & What’s New 

Things to Do & What’s New 

Sales & Sampling

You can’t deny that the best part of any bourbon festival is, well, the bourbon. Attendees can purchase special wristbands that allow them to sample rare bourbon and cocktails from nearly two dozen different distilleries. 

Live Auction Charity Event 

You will have the opportunity to bid on hard-to-find bottles and private label selections at the live auction charity event. 

Last year’s auction raised more than $3 million for tornado relief, with barrels from Angel’s Envy, Four Roses Distillery, and Smoke Wagon having been sold. A 19-year-old Willet barrel was sold for $401,001 — the highest-ever paid for a full barrel of bourbon. 

Games

Oak Barrel Game in Kentucky Festival

The annual World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay invites distillery warehouse teams to race against the clock to roll and position multiple 500-pound barrels perfectly into a rick! Although the rest of the festival is only open to those at least 21 years old, this event is open to the public, family-friendly, and people of all ages. 

Also Read: Bourbons You Can Only Get In Kentucky

Premium Events

Premium Events

Bourbon in the Air

Bourbon in the Air is an annual event that lets participants sample neat pours of Kentucky bourbon from many different distillery booths. This is a great way to chat up the distillery owners and industry icons to learn a thing or two about hands-on bourbon making! The event ends with a buffet meal served in the evening. 

Read: When is National Bourbon Day?

Rabbit Hole Dinner Experience

Rabbit Hole Dining

The Rabbit Hole Dinner Experience is hosted by Kaveh Zamanian, a world-renowned whiskey maker and the founder of Rabbit Hole himself. This is an elegant four-course meal, serving only food that pairs extremely well with their signature bourbon and rye. 

Spirits Education Series

If history was your favorite subject in school, you’ll want to attend the Spirits Education Series. In this premium event, you’ll get to listen to master distillers, blenders, tasters, and brand ambassadors from distilleries old and new share industry knowledge about their lives on the road and the challenges that came with being a master distiller.

Read: Recommended Bourbon of the Month Clubs

Bottled-In-Bond Happy Hour

The Bottled-In-Bond Happy Hour is not for those with a weak stomach. The distillery partners participating in this event will be pouring whiskey bottled at 100 proof and at least four years old, made in a single season and at a single distillery. 

If that doesn’t get your mouth watering, why are you even at this festival? 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there live entertainment at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival?

Yes, there is live entertainment at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival! The festival welcomes talents — whether national, regional, or local — to come and entertain bourbon aficionados. 

Can anyone attend the Kentucky Bourbon Festival?

Only people at least 21 years old can attend the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. General admission and special event tickets will be on sale, depending on which event you’d like to participate in. Before 2021, however, this event was open to people of all ages. 

What is the alcohol content of Kentucky bourbon?

The alcohol content of Kentucky bourbon, like other straight bourbons, is required by law to be at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). However, many bourbons, including those from Kentucky, often have a higher ABV, typically ranging from 40% to 50% or more.

What alcohol is bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey, and its primary alcohol content is ethanol, like other distilled spirits. The distinctive characteristic of bourbon lies in its production process, which involves the fermentation and distillation of a mash bill containing at least 51% corn, along with other grains like barley, rye, or wheat.

What is special about Kentucky bourbon?

Kentucky bourbon is renowned for several distinctive characteristics:

Terroir: The limestone-rich water in Kentucky is believed to contribute to the unique flavors in bourbon.

Barrel Aging: Bourbon is aged in new charred oak barrels, giving it rich colors, flavors, and aromas.

Traditional Methods: Many Kentucky bourbon distilleries adhere to traditional production methods, including pot still distillation and the use of locally sourced grains.

Legal Definition: Bourbon must meet specific criteria to be labeled as such, including being produced in the United States and containing a minimum of 51% corn in the mash bill.

What is Kentucky bourbon flavor?

The flavor profile of Kentucky bourbon can vary between brands and expressions, but common flavor notes include:

Sweetness: Bourbon often exhibits sweetness, with caramel and vanilla notes derived from the aging process.

Spice: Some bourbons have spicy characteristics, influenced by the grains in the mash bill, especially if they include rye.

Oak Influence: Bourbon gains flavors from the charred oak barrels during aging, contributing to notes of oak, char, and sometimes smokiness.

Fruit and Floral: Some bourbons have fruity or floral undertones, adding complexity to the flavor profile.

What liquor is Kentucky known for?

Kentucky is particularly known for bourbon whiskey. The state is renowned for its bourbon production, and many of the most well-known bourbon brands, such as Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace, have distilleries in Kentucky. Bourbon is deeply rooted in the state’s culture and has become synonymous with Kentucky’s spirits heritage.

Is bourbon the most powerful alcohol?

No, bourbon is not considered the most powerful alcohol. The term “powerful” in the context of alcohol typically refers to the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage. While bourbon can have a significant ABV, usually ranging from 40% to 50% or more, there are other types of spirits, such as some high-proof rums, grain alcohol, and certain types of moonshine, that can have higher ABV levels.

Is bourbon a liquor or whiskey?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey. More specifically, it is a specific subset of whiskey with distinctive production and legal requirements. All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskies are bourbons. To be labeled as bourbon, the spirit must meet specific criteria, including being produced in the United States, containing a mash bill with at least 51% corn, and aging in new charred oak barrels.

Is bourbon a good alcohol?

The “goodness” of bourbon, like any alcoholic beverage, is subjective and depends on individual taste preferences. Bourbon is a well-regarded and popular type of whiskey known for its rich and diverse flavor profile. Many people appreciate its sweetness, complexity, and the unique characteristics imparted by the aging process in new charred oak barrels. Whether bourbon is considered a “good” alcohol is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

Does bourbon mean alcohol?

No, bourbon specifically refers to a type of whiskey and not to alcohol in general. Bourbon is a distilled spirit that must meet specific legal and production criteria to be labeled as such. It is a subset of the broader category of whiskey and has a distinct set of characteristics and flavors.

What is Kentucky bourbon?

Kentucky bourbon refers to bourbon whiskey that is produced in the state of Kentucky, USA. Kentucky is renowned for its bourbon production, and many well-known bourbon brands, such as Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Wild Turkey, have distilleries in the state. The limestone-rich water, traditional production methods, and aging in new charred oak barrels contribute to the unique characteristics of Kentucky bourbon. It’s a significant part of the state’s cultural and economic identity.

Key Takeaways 

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is an annual event celebrating America’s love for the national spirit. This is a great way to bond with fellow bourbon aficionados to learn, unite, and share industry knowledge and love. 

We hope you learned a thing or two about the Kentucky Bourbon Festival with this article. Who knew that what began as a simple bourbon-tasting dinner in 1992 would blow up into one of the Commonwealth’s leading cultural festivals? 

Reference: 

  1. https://www.history.com/news/how-kentucky-became-the-worlds-bourbon-capital
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