The top floor of a Heaven Hill rick house | Photo by Sara Havens
The top floor of a Heaven Hill rick house | Photo by Sara Havens

Organizers call the annual Kentucky Bourbon Affair a “fantasy camp” for good reason. Attendees get a chance to go beyond typical distillery tours, and sometimes the events are a dream come true for bourbon aficionados. Hosted by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the six-day Affair, held June 14-19, features more than 30 opportunities to sip, eat and play at various bourbon distilleries while mingling with their master distillers.

BourbonAffair1Last year, Insider was invited along to partake in several events — from fishing with Jim Beam‘s Fred Noe to tasting barrels at different levels inside a Heaven Hill rick house — and enjoyed every minute of the one-of-a-kind experiences. (You can read the recap here.)

This year’s event kicks off with “Kings of Copper” at Copper & Kings Distillery in Butchertown. The opening reception will feature cocktails, samples and appetizers, along with the Craft Pro/Am cocktail challenge that pits bartender against bartender to see who can create the best drink using ingredients revealed to them only minutes before the competition. Tickets are $45 in advance, or $50 at the door, and it runs 7:30-9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14.

Fishing with Jim Beam's Fred and Freddie Noe at last year's Bourbon Affair | Photo by Sara Havens
Fishing with Jim Beam’s Fred and Freddie Noe at last year’s Bourbon Affair | Photo by Sara Havens

Other highlights include a day at Four Roses for an all-inclusive experience; a sensory warehouse experiment and corn hole tournament at Jim Beam; skeet shooting and assembling barrels at Wild Turkey; a flavor experience demonstration at Woodford Reserve; a whiskey-making boot camp at Bulleit‘s Stitzel-Weller Distillery; building your own barrel at Heaven Hill; an intensive, hands-on class on bourbon making at Maker’s Mark; and much, much more.

Another new feature this year is a premier tasting event called Whisky Live Louisville on Saturday, June 18. It’s not run by the Bourbon Affair, but they’ve partnered with organizers to bring the experience to their guests. (We’ll have a larger story on Whisky Live in the coming days.)

Some of the sessions are already sold out, but KDA’s Adam Johnson, who serves as the director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, says there are still plenty of opportunities for people to participate.

Johnson tells Insider that while interest grows each year, they strive to keep the events to a certain number so attendees can really get that one-on-one time with their favorite distillers and distilleries.

“So interest rises, but our attendance remains about the same,” he says. “Whisky Live, however, gives us a bit more room to grow, as they are expecting a big crowd.”

A look inside the Maker's Mark Distillery | Courtesy of Bourbon Affair
A look inside the Maker’s Mark Distillery | Courtesy of Bourbon Affair

The distilleries and their teams dream up the events, Johnson explains, but they often collaborate with the KDA as well. Asked if there was ever an idea that was too crazy to pull off, Johnson says yes — and no.

“We’ve come up with some pretty crazy things, and we’ve managed to incorporate some off-the-wall aspects into some events, but yes, some things we haven’t been able to pull off — yet!”

There’s not one particular event he’s looking forward to the most this year, he says, but Whisky Live and the Pro/Am cocktail contest should be quite fun.

“I am happy to have one of the big international shows like Whisky Live in Louisville for the first time,” says Johnson. “It’s a great chance to showcase Kentucky bourbon to the whiskey world.”

For a full schedule of events and to purchase tickets to the Bourbon Affair, click here

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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."