Stacey Yates with Evan Williams master distiller Charlie Downs | Courtesy of Stacey Yates
Stacey Yates with Evan Williams master distiller Charlie Downs | Courtesy of Stacey Yates

While basking in the amber glow of the bourbon boom, Louisvillians have embraced the spirit as not just a commodity or something to relax with after work, but as a culture. Friends from far off states like Wyoming actually want to visit now. The nation’s top magazines name-drop Louisville in stories about travel, trends and tucked away places worthy of praise.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Long before Mayor Greg Fischer began touting the word “bourbonism,” some folks in the city were hard at work trying to convince people that bourbon was the next big thing. One of those people was Stacey Yates, vice president of marketing communications for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, who worked alongside her small staff in the mid-2000s brainstorming ways to keep bourbon local.

They had just initiated the Bourbon Country campaign in 2007 — which took bourbon from a noun to a verb — and wanted to position Louisville as the gateway for bourbon tourism. Because most of Kentucky’s distilleries lie outside the Louisville jurisdiction, they wanted something that would complement the experience and bring people back to town before and after tours.

Yates, a proud Louisville native, tells Insider she had just returned from a trip to Disney World’s Epcot Center in which her children participated in a passport program, collecting stamps at each country inside the theme park. She and her team thought this would be the perfect way of highlighting the city’s best bourbon bars, and it would also get both residents and tourists involved in the process.

And so the Urban Bourbon Trail was born in 2008, featuring eight bars that had at least 50 bourbons and whiskeys on their shelves.

“The name was certainly not rocket science, but it stuck in my head after a run,” says Yates. “It was intended to be a complement to the Bourbon Trail, where after a day of distillery tours you would essentially do a ‘pub crawl’ of bourbon bars. It certainly created a buzz.”

In more ways than one.

This is the bonus gift for completing the Urban Bourbon Trail in September. | Courtesy of LCVB
This is the bonus gift for completing the Urban Bourbon Trail in September. | Courtesy of LCVB

Now the passport boasts 36 bars around the city, the latest addition being 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Eatery, and has become a fun experience for anyone with a knack of completing a mission. Once you get six stamps, you can turn your passport in at the Visitors Center for a free T-shirt and certificate.

(And this month only, in recognition of National Bourbon Heritage Month, you get an extra prize for collecting six stamps along the Urban Bourbon Trail. Full disclosure: I’ve only got two more to go before the cool little Old Fashioned Cocktail Kit is mine.)

But back to Yates. She happily answered some very important questions in between sips of her favorite bourbon, which shall remain unnamed …

What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?

Well, probably VERY surprising … I would love to learn how to play the mandolin. I piddled with my dad’s guitar as a teenager, but that was quite laughable. I’d love to be able to pick along to some of my favorite bluegrass tunes.

What poster was on your wall in junior high?

Go Reds!
Go Reds!

So things on the wall weren’t really my thing, but for a childhood adoration, I’d have to go with the Big Red Machine over Andy Gibb any day. My grandmother loved her Cincinnati Reds, so I did, too. Had the red tennis shoes with the big white C and everything.

If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?

Jason Brauner and John Morrison. They “brought bourbon back” to Louisville when they opened Bourbon’s Bistro in 2005. Not that everyone thought it had ever left, but they were true visionaries in its resurgence. And without them, the idea for an Urban Bourbon Trail simply would not have happened.

What are your preferred pizza toppings?

Probably like many moms, I’ll pick around whatever the fam wants, and in the Yates’ household, that’s typically a meat-lover’s dream. If it’s totally my call — bacon, tomato and onion because, well, bacon!

If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?

I’d go way forward. Say 90. Just to check it out and get mentally prepared for what lies ahead if I’m lucky.

Sisters!
Sisters!

What famous person do people say you resemble the most?

I’ve heard Faith Hill a couple of times (at least from people who haven’t heard me sing!).

Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?

John Prine and Emmylou Harris. Maybe I’ll have the mandolin down by then and we can jam.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."