Greater Louisville Inc.’s inaugural Business of Bourbon Showcase sold out last year; this year, it upped the ante by adding wine and beer to the mix, yet again drawing a big throng from the food and beverage industry, as well as from all walks.
The event, held at Slugger Field, was fortuitously scheduled for the same day a new report revealed the bourbon industry continues to grow, and GLI appropriately shared notable points, such as the fact that Kentucky residents are outnumbered by barrels of aging bourbon in the state.
Louisville finally is beginning to catch up to the boom with the addition of the Evan Williams Experience and more such attractions slated for the city by Bulleit, Michter’s and Angel’s Envy, along with smaller distilleries opening around town.
Kevin Curtis, distillery operations manager for Angel’s Envy, was on hand, and he said the distillery is just a few weeks from finally being able to begin work on the Vermont American Building on East Main Street, just across the street from Slugger Field. The project was announced well over a year ago but has been met with delays.
“The biggest holdup was just closing on the property with the state,” Curtis said, adding that the discovery of AT&T fiber optic lines underground also added to the delay.
But with yesterday’s report and the prospect of demolition inside the old building to make way for an updated infrastructure now just weeks away, Curtis is looking forward to distilling and bottling at the future Angel’s Envy facility, not backward at the bumps in the road.
“I’m in the catbird’s seat,” he said with a smile. “I’m excited. I’m at the pinnacle of my career right now.”
Kent Oyler, president of GLI, addressed the crowd briefly, pushing pause on the networking, noshing and beverage tasting. Oyler reminded the audience that even though bourbon is growing by leaps and bounds outside Kentucky, 95 percent of it is still made within the state. He also noted that the 5 million barrels currently aging in the state, if laid end to end, “would stretch from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore.”
He added that the decision to add beer and wine to the event this year was meant solely to highlight the other “liquid assets” the city and state boasts.
Among the beer and wine vendors at the event were Bluegrass Brewing Company St. Matthews (which brought a delicious Bourbon Barrel Brown for tasting), Falls City Beer and Old 502 Winery. Among the distilled beverage vendors were Angel’s Envy, Brown-Forman, Copper & Kings, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Michter’s and Rivulet Pecan Liqueur.
Pinot’s Palette was on hand as well, providing a barrel head that attendees could help paint and have a chance to win. In addition, Vendome Copper & Brass Works had a small still on hand. Vendome, of course, is the premier maker of distilling equipment and is based here in Louisville.
Project manager Greg Long said there is currently an approximate one-year wait on orders, such is the state of the distilling boom. He noted, however, that a large percentage of their current orders are from other markets. For instance, thanks to the rise in small, craft distilleries, there are more distilleries in Minneapolis and other cities not in the heart of bourbon country than in Louisville.
“Louisville is so behind the curve,” Long said, although he added the forthcoming Whiskey Row revitalization and the addition of Copper & Kings and other distilleries is certainly a move in the right direction.
Asked what he sees happening in the next five years, he paused and said, “That’s hard to say. Heaven Hill has set the bar so high that anything that comes in will have to be premium.”
He also believes Michter’s has the prime real estate for its forthcoming bourbon attraction that will pair off with its distillery in Shively. Like everyone, Long is eager to see just how high bourbon can fly.
Like craft beer, he said, “It has to reach a plateau sometime.”
Perhaps. But you’d never know it based on the Vendome waiting list — or yesterday’s event.