By Richard Thomas
Thanks to the bourbon boom and its attendant increase in tourism, most of Kentucky’s distilleries have become more than just whiskey factories. All but the most industrial sport attractive visitors centers, and some have positioned themselves as events venues as well. That some Kentucky distilleries would take advantage of their own events facilities to host evening entertainments was just the natural next step, and some now do. Better still, two have a series of evening entertainments running through summer and autumn: Woodford Reserve and Barton 1792.
Summer Nights On McCracken Pike
Since its opening in the mid-1990s, Woodford Reserve has been the prettiest of Kentucky’s distilleries, and the first time I went there for a dinner event was nine years ago. That was a one-time event, however, and Woodford’s social schedule has gotten busier since.
Deputy Editor Kurt Maitland joined me here in the Bluegrass a couple of weeks ago, and, since he had never been to Woodford, we made the trip out to see what was happening at Friday Nights At Woodford Reserve. That night’s event combined a regular tour and tasting with a locovore buffet dinner of pulled pork barbecue, cheese grits and succotash (local celebrity chef Ouita Michel runs Woodford’s cafe) and some pleasant live music out on the patio, all the while taking in the views of the rolling horse country and the Glenn’s Creek valley.
On the way out, we found McCracken Pike teeming with wildlife, such as deer and juvenile raccoons. All in all, it made for a relaxed, bucolic and bourbon-infused Friday night.
Beyond that, Woodford’s not-continuing events this summer include a cocktails and dinner evening with renowned cellist and Woodford Reserve Artist-in-Residence Ben Sollee, as well as Chef Ouita Michel’s Bourbon Country Boil.
Woodford Reserve isn’t the only distillery in the Commonwealth with a summer events series. In Bardstown, Barton 1792 has its Sundown Series, which is holding free monthly concerts on the visitors center patio this summer and autumn. Food service is provided at the distillery by a series of food trucks and outdoor caterers.
While not in the vein of a concert series, other distilleries have their own summer events, such as Buffalo Trace’s annual July 4th 5k race. Although it’s a daytime affair, Maker’s Mark has developed its own attraction combo outside the distillery with its new daytime restaurant and Dale Chihuly outdoor art installation, running to the end of October.
As bourbon tourism continues to grow, those Kentucky distilleries who have events spaces or an attractive outdoor space to put to use will no doubt build on that interest and those resources and add more activities to their summertime docket.