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For Kentucky, It’s About the Bourbon – and Those Behind It

Bourbon is the lifeblood of Kentucky.

It is a simple sentence to read, yet a concept that’s very powerful to experience when you are on the ground in this state, exploring its distilleries, liquor stores, bars and more. It is not just about the brown spirit here, however; it is also about the people who make, sell and serve it.

Blanton's labeling bourbon
Hand labeling the Blanton’s bottles at Buffalo Trace (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

I recently had the chance to spend much of a week exploring some of the major distilleries across the Kentucky landscape on a trip which was part quasi-vacation, part bourbon self-education, and part story idea-seeking. Much of the time at The Whiskey Wash’s Portland, Oregon, headquarters, I rely on news sent to us by the distilleries, or upon localized coverage by our crack team of writers based out of Louisville, but nothing beats being there in person, so there I was.

To say bourbon is just a passing thing in Kentucky is like saying horse breeding there is just a hobby. Both are well over billion dollar a year industries, but for those actually working on the bourbon side of things, it’s much more than just a paycheck. It is very often also a way of life, a generation-to-generation experience. The people running the stills and aging the whiskey today share the name of their forefathers who founded the business, and they continue to refine an industry that has seen itself through good times and bad times and good times again.

Maker's Mark printing press bourbon
Printing Maker’s Mark bottle labels the old school way (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

My journeys, while based in Louisville, took me to Bulleit/Stitzel-Weller, Jim Beam, Castle & Key, Buffalo Trace, Michter’s, and Maker’s Mark. I got to have some awesome behind-the-scenes experiences, taste some really great bourbon and, most of all, meet with the likes of Castle & Key’s Marianne Barnes and Maker’s Bill Samuels, Jr., among others, to hear their stories of making America’s favorite whiskey the best they and their teams can.

Over the coming days, I’ll be recounting some of these interviews and journeys here at The Whiskey Wash to highlight the great bourbon happenings in Kentucky at this moment. There will be a lot of photos to enjoy, and perhaps also some video, but what you’ll really want to pay attention to in the interviews are the nuggets which will truly clue you into what it takes to make good bourbon. That’s where the magic lies. At the end of the day, even amongst much of the automation, there’s still a great deal of human element involved.

And that, bourbon gods willing, will remain the same for generations to come.

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the former founder of The Whiskey Wash, an award-winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y globally. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert, and judge, he has written extensively about the subject, been interviewed in various media outlets, and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions.

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