Bourbon is a distinctly American drink, but in Kentucky it is so much more than a beverage. It’s part of the commonwealth’s culture and history. It’s an $8.5 billion industry and, for visitors from around the world, it’s an experience.
With the official opening of Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center and Spirit of Kentucky® exhibition on August 30, that experience now starts at the Frazier History Museum. The opening day festivities brought together state and local politicians, bourbon industry insiders and the partners and contributors who helped make the KBT Welcome Center and exhibition possible.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer helped kick things off, along with Frazier President Penny Peavler, Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, and Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark. There was food, there was music, but most of all there was bourbon and everything that goes into its making, starting with the old-fashioned car stationed out front that’s loaded with three of the charred oak barrels bourbon is aged in.
The KBT® Welcome Center, which offers free admission to the general public, is on the first floor and will serve as the official starting point for visitors who want help planning trips to see Kentucky distilleries. Oak barrels hang from the ceiling and a vintage-style map highlights the locations along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®.
The Spirit of Kentucky® is a permanent exhibition on the third floor that is included with the regular price of museum admission. While there’s a lot to see, it may be hard to move past the covered bridge entranceway surrounded by changing graphics of Kentucky scenery that includes lush, green countryside, limestone walls and a creek that looks so realistic you’d think you could dip your toe into it.
Even those involved with the project from the beginning were impressed. “Spectacular,” noted Kevin Borland as he stood on the bridge. Borland, who serves as the vice chair of Frazier’s board of directors, explained this was his first time experiencing the full display, and even though he’d seen all the designs, he was still amazed.
“I just want to lie down on the bridge,” added Vicky Fugitte, Visitor Experience Manager for Michter’s Distillery, who went through the entire exhibit but ended up back at the beginning to see the bridge again.
There are more than a few of these aha (and ahh) moments throughout the three rooms of the exhibition, which begins with the natural resources and human skills that go into making America’s only native spirit. From the pure limestone water, corn grown around the state, and oak barrels made in local cooperages, every batch of bourbon made here is truly a unique product of Kentucky.
Of course, each distillery has its own special recipe, and the second room highlights the culture of the bourbon makers who created them. Antique furniture creates a home-like feeling to the room, but the highlight of the room is a massive dining table topped by an interactive display with information about the people behind the great distilleries, both past and present.
You can even run your fingers across the table and it looks like bourbon rippling beneath. For David Snyder, director of Development for New Directions Housing it was a “wow” moment. Snyder, who is from Northern California, said he’s eager to tour bourbon country and learn more now that he’s seen the exhibition.
The last room showcases the craftsmanship of bourbon making with displays of stills from the past and present, along with vintage bottles of bourbon. This leads directly to a small room containing a set of three floor-to-ceiling glass cases filled with bottles from every distillery in the state. Publisher Dan Scofield of DistilleryTrail.com called the displays “incredible,” and said the entire exhibition was “world class.”
The exhibition doesn’t end there. There’s a “secret” door in the bottle room that leads to a speakeasy, complete with a gleaming wood bar, bandstand and a booth. There’s even an Al Capone look-alike sitting in the booth keeping a watchful eye over the room. And just a few steps away from the speakeasy is a room filled with artwork celebrating the making of bourbon. The pictures are so realistic you can almost smell the mash fermenting.
It really doesn’t matter if you’re a bourbon lover or not, the Frazier History Museum’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center and Spirit of Kentucky® exhibition showcases the state’s rich history and traditions and its role as the true home of America’s native spirit.
Plan a visit the Frazier History Museum at 829 W. Main St., Louisville, Kentucky 40202, or find out more about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center and Spirit of Kentucky exhibition at FRAZIERMUSEUM.ORG.