Kentucky Derby Festival launches its first-ever bourbon event with BourbonVille. | Courtesy of KDF

With the tagline “Take a trip to BourbonVille,” the Kentucky Derby Festival is hoping to attract both whiskey lovers and those new to the brown spirit for its first-ever bourbon-focused event. Six brands/distilleries are participating in Thursday’s soirée at the Louisville Palace.

Officially titled King Southern Bank BourbonVille, the event will feature bourbon tastings, a featured cocktail from each distillery, a chance to meet master distillers and brand ambassadors, bourbon-inspired fare from Ladyfingers Catering, and a silent auction.

Dodie Howlett, KDF’s director of advertising and promotions, tells Insider the idea for a bourbon event started rather organically. Each year, the team sits down to review the schedule and determine which audiences they are reaching and which they are missing. And since bourbon and Louisville are synonymous, they figured it was about time to add that to their portfolio.

Dodie Howlett | Courtesy of KDF

“Obviously bourbon right now is hot. It’s the Derby season, and we wanted to do something like this for the community,” she says. “Bourbon is tied in with several of our events, but we didn’t have one that focused strictly on it.”

Howlett says she received immediate interest from sponsors and participants, and by talking through the logistics with them, KDF decided it was best to host the event earlier in the season and keep it indoors — preferably at a venue that was unique and historic to the city.

“We ended up at the Palace — because why wouldn’t you end up with the Palace?” she says, noting the venue is an ideal backdrop for a Louisville-specific event.

The organizers then talked to about a dozen Kentucky distilleries, but decided to limit it to six for the first year to keep it manageable and provide enough room for each brand to assemble a custom-made bar.

They also set out to create an event that was accessible to everyone’s tastes.

“One of the things that was really important to us when creating an objective for this event was — yes, we wanted to get on the bourbon train and we wanted to be a part of this movement — but we also wanted to create an event for the person who isn’t the everyday bourbon lover, the person who might be a little afraid to try bourbon,” says Howlett.

The Louisville Palace is the ideal venue for the event. | Courtesy of Louisville Palace

At each station, attendees will have the choice to sample the bourbon straight, on the rocks or in a specialty cocktail. And with brands like Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester and Flatboat participating, it should be interesting to see what each whips up.

Howlett notes that Falls City Beer and Old 502 Winery also will be on hand with their products, so there should be something for everyone.

Bourbon-inspired food is a nice bonus, and the menu includes gourmet cheese boards; smoked brisket on bourbon-butter mashed potatoes; deviled eggs with bacon and bourbon paprika; and lots more. (Check out the menu online.)

BourbonVille starts at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 13, at the Louisville Palace. General admission tickets are $50, and Howlett says there are only about 50 left. VIP tickets are already sold out.

Admission includes the bourbon, cocktail and food tastings, plus a commemorative glass, a BourbonVille pin and a swag bag with items from participating brands.

Sara Havens

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."