Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Few Suggestions For Improving The Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

On Tuesday I expressed some opinions about the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival (KBF) in Bardstown, Kentucky. This year's event is September 14-19. (I'll be there.)

Here are a few specific suggestions for improving the KBF. Feel free to add your own via comments. (I will be enforcing a constructive-suggestions-only policy.)
  • Put up some signs. BIG signs. As it is you can drive through the center of little Bardstown in the middle of the festival and not know anything special is going on. Welcome signs but also directional signs.
  • Promote bourbon. The producers are there to promote their brands but the festival needs to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of bourbon generally, to both beginners and veteran enthusiasts. Where are the seminars, the guided tastings, the master classes, the presentations on history and craft? How about a whiskey-themed film and video festival?
  • Attract collectors. Get a law passed allowing whiskey collectors (legal age only, of course) to have a legal and above board swap meet. It would be a natural extension of the existing Master Distiller's Auction.
  • Discourage driving. Make it easy and convenient for people to get around without using their cars. Eliminate the parking immediately adjacent to the festival grounds and use those lots for more festival acreage. Have remote parking and connect the parking, festival sites, and area hotels using buses.
  • Think 'big tent.' In the spirit of American whiskey solidarity invite Tennessee distilleries Jack Daniel's and George Dickel to participate in events such as the Spalding Hall lawn booths and the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay. Both companies (Brown-Forman and Diageo) are major players in Kentucky too.
  • Think even bigger. Find a role for the new craft distillers that are springing up all over the country and encourage all producers to feature all of their U.S.-made whiskey products, such as straight rye whiskey. There is a lot to be gained by being less literal and more inclusive.
  • Work your brand. Pay for the improvements by working your valuable Kentucky Bourbon Festival brand a lot harder and all year round.
Yes, you can still call it the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Absolutely. That's the brand. But when you say "Kentucky" think "center of but not sum of" the universe, and when you say "bourbon" think "American whiskey" in all its styles and forms.

To quote architect Daniel Burnham, as I did last year during the KBF when I was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood."


MikeB said...

Speaking from the UK, it would also be good if the festival could also have a strong online presence. Yes, I know there are limits to this - you can't exactly taste online! - but they could do a lot to involve the overseas bourbon fan. Doing something for export sales can only be a good thing.

MJL said...

Sounds like great suggestions. I would only add one that I reckon is not as likely to be considered seriously as yours. I suggest that the date of the festival be moved earlier so that those of us tied to the academic calender who are vacationing in Kentucky (as I have done so every year of the last decade) might have a chance to take in this great festival. A festival in July would draw in larger numbers of summertime tourists while at the same time allowing much greater exposure of bourbon brands to a national-wide audience.