Second annual Kentucky Craft Bash on Saturday will roll out the (Willett) barrels

Twenty-eight breweries aged special beers in Willett bourbon barrels for release at Kentucky Craft Bash. | Photo by Becca Christensen

In Kentucky, beer and bourbon make especially fine bedfellows. The second annual Kentucky Craft Bash, which is a Kentucky Guild of Brewers event, is taking that notion the distance when it reconvenes at Waterfront Park’s Festival Plaza on Saturday, June 23.

Partnering with Willett Distillery, 28 breweries around the state have brewed various beers — from a Russian imperial stout to a a peach blond ale to a barleywine — that have gone into Willett barrels for aging. The barrels had been freshly emptied, maximizing the amount of bourbon character the beers will absorb, and the breweries sent representatives on a field trip of sorts to personally select the barrels.

“It’s a first-of-its-kind partnership,” says Derek Selznick, executive director of the guild. “To say this is a unique opportunity would be a vast understatement.”

Asked how the idea for the partnership came about, Selznick quips, “We’re in Kentucky.” He explains it was a proposition he’d been considering for roughly a year before the right opportunity presented itself. The brewing industry is known as one of collaboration, and this effort takes that into new territory, crossing divides.

A Willett employee loads a barrel into a Monnik Beer Co. van back in December. | Photo by Becca Christensen

“To take Kentucky’s signature industry and combine that with breweries is an amazing thing that is completely unique to Kentucky,” he says.

As a part of this program, a Willett tasting center will be set up at the event, with Willett Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen on hand to discuss the product.

“Barrels that once housed America’s native spirit are highly sought after for aging everything from scotch to pancake syrup and soy sauce,” Kulsveen says, calling the partnership an “exciting rebirth for these select barrels.”

In addition to the barrel-aged beers, every participating brewery, more than 35 in all, will serve at least one beer that is a taproom-only release — in other words, something that never goes into distribution. This gives the breweries a way to “show off the weird, creative stuff we’re doing,” Selznick says.

It also gives the breweries a chance to be a little competitive, and attendees can expect the brewers and brewery owners to be on hand. There will be a few volunteers, for sure, but unlike many beer festivals, the beers will be largely served by the people who made it or helped make it. That provides a great chance to learn and teach.

Another change this year is the addition of a “urination station” that will contain 13 urinals to expedite bathroom trips and keep down the lines at portable toilets.

A pre-event will take place on Friday, June 22, at HopCat, which is the primary sponsor of the festival. That event runs from noon-4 p.m., and attendees can pick up their wrist bands so there will be no waiting in line when they arrive at the festival the next day.

Similarly, the guild worked with the Omni Hotel to get discounted room rates for those who want to make a night of it and not have to worry about a ride home, or who might be visiting the festival from out of town. The Omni also will play host to a meet-and-greet with the brewers on Friday, June 22, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Iron Quarter on Market Street.

Basically, what Selznick and the guild’s board of directors did was sit down, take a look at what worked at the inaugural festival and what didn’t, and make changes to the second festival accordingly. Consideration of what works and doesn’t at other festivals also received consideration, all in an attempt to maximize the experience for everyone involved — from the attendees to the brewery employees.

The second Kentucky Craft Bash will have a few improvements over last year’s successful debut. | Courtesy of Kentucky Guild of Brewers

Live music and food trucks also will be part of the festival.

“We really kind of sat back and said, ‘What do we like about beer festivals, and what don’t we like?’” Selznick says.

The special tappings were an obvious win, and doubling down on the Willett barrels is just a bonus. Speaking of which, Selznick has some advice for anyone planning to attend the 2018 Kentucky Craft Bash — many of the special beers that were made are high-gravity beers such as imperial stouts. Add bourbon-barrel aging to that, and you’re getting into high ABV territory.

“The only downside to the Willett barrels is, for the most part, the huge imperial stouts are big, gnarly beers,” he says. “We’re going to give people a 3-ounce sample, which is like a full beer on a hot summer day. Those beers are badass. We heavily encourage people to use Uber, CityScoot and Lyft.”

You have been warned.

Tickets are available online, starting at $50 for general admission, which includes a commemorative tasting glass. VIP tickets are $75 and include the glass, plus early admission into the festival at noon. General admission hours are 1-5 p.m.