It was a who’s-who of the bourbon industry as KDA president Eric Gregory spoke about the Bourbon District. | Photo by Sara Havens

A who’s-who of the bourbon industry gathered at the front steps of the Kentucky Center on Tuesday for the launch of a new Bourbon District in downtown Louisville.

The Bourbon District — an initiative created by the Louisville Downtown Partnership (LDP), Metro Government, Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) and several other organizations — will highlight downtown’s vast bourbon history with historical markers, destination signage, banners and pop-up events. Phase I, which was unveiled Tuesday morning, can be seen on Main Street between Fourth and Sixth streets. And when complete, the entire district will run along Main Street from Jackson to 10th streets.

Bourbonism is big, said Mayor Fischer. | Photo by Sara Havens

Mayor Greg Fischer, who spoke at the press conference and helped unveil the first sign near the corner of Sixth and Main, said the Bourbon District has been in the works for a while, thanks to the LDP and executive director Rebecca Matheny.

“I believe we are only at the beginning of this bourbon revolution that is taking place,” he said. “All these elements are coming together to unite the past, present and future of bourbonism. It’s been a great team effort here and around the state.”

Other speakers included Matheny, who explained the importance of Main Street — due to its proximity to the river — to the early days of bourbon; KDA president Eric Gregory, who brought up nearly a dozen master distillers and bourbon industry folks in the crowd; and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who mentioned the bipartisan Congressional Bourbon Caucus he helped form in Washington, D.C.

“I will say that bourbon has become an essential ingredient in dealing with the current political system in Washington,” joked Yarmuth. “Today we celebrate what bourbon has meant to this community and this state.”

The first sign of the Bourbon District is located at Sixth and Main. | Photo by Sara Havens

Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris and Four Roses brand ambassador Al Young helped with the Bourbon District’s historical references, and local events and design company Solid Light created the walkable, family-friendly experience.

After the ceremony, Insider caught up with Morris, who explained the markers and signs are not brand specific but rather highlight the history and infrastructure of the area.

“They highlight not just whiskey companies but every piece of the bourbon industry — the still makers, label makers, glass companies, the bankers that financed the industry — and shows how they’re all interconnected to each other,” said Morris. “The only brand-specific markers are associated with the actual distilleries they’re in front of.”

Another historical marker unveiled in Phase I sits in front of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which was the first distillery to open on Main Street and helped lead the way for — dare we say it — bourbonism.

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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."