By Randall H. Borkus
Not long ago I was traveling through the heart of Bourbon Country in Bardstown on another business planning trip, whereupon I found a little bourbon joint called the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace (KBM). KBM prides itself as celebrating “All Things Bourbon,” and sports a gift shop; boutique liquor store; a small, but serious, bourbon tasting bar; and a bed and breakfast upstairs.
When you walk in the front door you will be greeted by one of the proprietors Howard Keene or Dee Dee Ford, who immediately make you feel like your entering their home, which you have in a sense. Their business is nestled in the historic May House, a warm and welcoming example of an antebellum Bluegrass home.
The gift shop has numerous fun items for the bourbon enthusiast such as hats, jackets, socks, jewelry, gourmet foods, gift sets, and much else that is bourbon infused: coffee, BBQ sauces, vanilla extract, hot sauce, spices/sugars and bourbon balls, caramels, truffles, brittle, bourbon cakes. They also have extensive bar items such as towels, cigars, shot glasses, glassware, bitters, barware & tools.
Yet a big reason a bourbon tourist might stop in is for Boutique Liquor Store with its huge selection of bourbon, covering over 120 different brands, including some rare and limited releases. So, if you’re looking to find a special bottle to take home, make a point of stopping in to see Howard. This is how I was able to find a bottle of the elusive Kentucky Owl limited bottle #1510/1634, which now holds a special place in my whiskey collection.
The only thing better than finding an elusive bourbon gem is drinking it, so you’ll want to pull up a seat at the Bourbon Tasting Bar. I found items such as Parker’s Heritage 24 Year Old Bourbon, Elijah Craig 23 Year Old, the aforementioned Kentucky Owl, and many more premium expressions.
The bar is located in the original, east segment of the Historic Mary May House, and Howard has restored it by turning it into a beautiful sitting room with a fine-looking bar made from oak barrel staves. In the warm months you can step out onto their quaint, private patio area and enjoy an afternoon or evening bourbon (and a cigar if you want), and Howard is the type of guy that makes you feel like you’re visiting his private bar in his home.
I partook of a deep pour Parker’s Heritage 24 Year Old bottled in bond bourbon. I found it to have a sweet caramel nose, syrupy mouth feel with rich vanilla, caramel and lots of oak. The flavor experience was further enhanced with a long oak spice, sweat caramel finish making it one of the best bourbon experiences on my short trip.
The Bourbon Tasting Bar is a great experience, but my favorite part was the piece of history hanging on the wall. To the left of the bar is a shadow box with an old glass and a hand written letter. I inquired, and Howard explained his father Bernard Keene was a veteran, politician, farmer and community volunteer. For part of Bernard’s time as a Kentucky state legislator, he was the Distiller Spirits Administrator on the Alcoholic Control Board. The story goes that you could not buy a drink by the glass in Bardstown because the city was too small. Bernard sponsored a bill that allowed residents of Bardstown to buy a drink in a public place. Bernard’s friend owned the Old Talbott Tavern in town, so the friend held a party and wanted him to enjoy the first legally poured drink in Bardstown. So it was that in 1972, Bernard ordered a Very Old Barton and ginger ale for 5 cents in very glass in the shadow box. It’s a piece of very local, very Kentucky lore.
As for the bed and breakfast side, upstairs from the store and bar is a newly remodeled space. The rooms are spacious and warm, thanks to Dee Dee’s personal touch. The Mary May House is one of the oldest buildings in Bardstown, with the part the bar is in dating to 1821. It was the home of the widow Mary Meredith May, who was the niece of Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia (of “give me liberty or give me death” fame) and the daughter of Revolutionary War Colonel Samuel Meredith.
So, if you want to stay a night or a week downtown Bardstown, the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace should be considered for its location and combination of amenities. The great news from my perspective is you can walk downstairs from the B&B, find a seat at the tasting bar, and enjoy something you may not have ever sampled before!