While based in Campbellsville we visit many local festivals on Saturdays, and a few days ago we drove to Bardstown for their annual Bourbon Fest. It’s kind of a big deal for the town – people charge $5 for parking space on their lawns while churches and municipal lots charge $10 – and nearly every event comes with an admission charge ranging from $20 to $50. The exception was the Bourbon Breakfast at only $6. We nonetheless skipped it. I might have enjoyed this as lunch, but Bourbon Coffee with Bourbon Pancakes and Bourbon Syrup sounds a mite rich for breakfast.
There was a big crowd and lots of crafts if little art. We learned a few facts about making bourbon. It starts out much just like brewing beer without hops, and triple distilling is the norm to elevate alcohol content, not an ad slogan. Aging in a charred oak barrel (there are four degrees of char/carmelization) which along with the barrel years and quality of the raw materials largely distinguishes one brand from another.
We watched barrels being assembled and learned that while the lids are tongue-and-grooved, the staves are simply hammered together and held tight by steel bands. Assembling them is an art as staves vary in width by necessity – cutting a straight stave out of cylindrical log means log size dictates stave width. The finished barrels are soaked with water before filling as a test for leaks and to make the wood swell to fill minor leaks.
You’d expect tasting booths everywhere, but they all were locked up behind a fence with a cover charge at the gate. Pay the cover and each booth demands a couple more bucks for jus’ a lil’ tase. Few visitors went into that Spirit Garden, possibly on account of the early hour rather than the profit motive. We had a good taste of the Bourbon Festival despite skipping the $50 lectures and tastings.
On the way back Kat took some good pictures of the burley tobacco harvest. Burley is a potent, versatile tobacco used in cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chaw. The plants are harvested and stacked for a few days of field wilting. The crop then takes a trip to the drying barn for air curing. Two or three months later it goes to auction. Lucky Strike ads back in the day ended with Speed Riggs’ chant fired off about three seconds. “Thirrrrty-one, 31, one, one, one, one, grab it, grab it, grab it, 32, 32, two, two, two, two, wheeler, wheeler, wheeler, 33, 33, three, three, three, three, turn aloo, turn aloo, loo, loo, loo and a B-F two and a B-F three and a L-C three and a K-L five, 34, 34, four, four, four, roll it, roll it, no, no, no, 35, 35, five, five, five, Soooooold to American.”