Since 2001, the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame has celebrated individuals and organizations that have made an impact on the industry.
Each year, an inductee luncheon ceremony is held during Kentucky Bourbon Festival week, recognizing a handful of folks many bourbon drinkers are familiar with — with names like Samuels, Noe, Beam, Blanton, Russell, Van Winkle and the list goes on.
This year’s ceremony, held Friday, Sept. 14, at the Frazier History Museum, marked the first time the event was held in Louisville and also the first time it was open to the public (with an admission fee).
More than 200 bourbon industry representatives, government officials, media and more gathered to welcome new inductees Freddie Johnson of Buffalo Trace, Matthew J. Shattock of Beam Suntory, and the late Pearse Lyons of Alltech to the Hall of Fame, along with bestowing a Lifetime Achievement award to Max L. Shapira of Heaven Hill.
“This year’s class truly shows the diversity of personas behind the growing Golden Age of Kentucky bourbon, from a beloved tour guide whose wisdom and personality embodies and elevates our visitors’ experience, to the leadership and passion of three top executives who have forged the path to our current success,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, in a news release sent out before the ceremony.
“Each, in their own way, has forever transformed our signature spirit,” he continued. “We are eternally grateful for their remarkable achievements, dedication and commitment to our timeless craft, and for that we offer our heartfelt thanks.”
The ceremony was both lighthearted and touching, especially the remarks from Lyons’ wife, Deirdre, and son, Mark, as they recalled memories of Lyons and his infatuation with all things distilling. Lyons died in March of this year.
“In recent years, we’ve built three distilleries, and it was very important to him that each of our facilities became a monument to the craft,” said Deirdre Lyons. “Our regret is that he wasn’t here to open our distillery with us in Pikeville, but we’re hoping it will be a testament to his love of the industry, the craft and will be a success.”
“He loved business, he loved science, but more than anything he loved people, and I think that is what this industry is about,” said Mark Lyons.
Johnson’s acceptance speech also was heartfelt, as he recounted his childhood playing in, around and all over the Buffalo Trace Distillery where his grandfather and father worked. Johnson is the VIP Visitor Lead for the distillery, and his tours are some of the best in the business.
“You have to understand how important this is, and it’s not about me,” he said. “I’m just a person at Buffalo Trace. But I can’t thank each of you enough for what you’ve done for my family.”
Mayor Greg Fischer was on hand to give remarks for inductee Matthew J. Shattock, chairman and CEO of Beam Suntory. But before he introduced him, Fischer talked about how special the event was to him — and the city.
“The success that we’re capitalizing here with bourbonism is obviously due to the generations of hard work, craftsmanship, innovation and vision that goes into this industry. You walk into a room like this and you see a lot of the legends, which is amazing. As I travel around the world, people ask about these bourbon legends. It’s fun to have this here in our own backyard and show off for the world.”
In his acceptance speech, Shattock said his company — which owns Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark — has laid out a vision that by 2030, bourbon will become the world’s whiskey, taking over the market that scotch now holds.
“We believe that based upon bourbon’s unique taste, versatility and mixability, that it has every grounds to fulfill that ambition,” he said. “With so many colleagues in the room today, we and others are laying the investments today so we can reap those awards many years into the future.”
The ceremony ended with the presentation of the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement award to Max L. Shapira, president of Heaven Hill.
“The day is really uniquely important to me, because how would I have ever thought that having fun doing what I do every day could have ever resulted in me being rewarded in such a fantastic fashion? When you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not work,” said Shapira.
“You always find yourself looking forward to the next day — never backward, always forward,” he continued. “Most importantly, it’s a personal privilege of mine to receive this award that recognizes the legacy of our longtime distiller Parker Beam.”