The Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, which happens in September, is preceded each year by the Kentucky Bourbon Festival Sampler, a one-night event, this year to be held on Saturday, April 28.
If this year's Sampler is anything like last year, and there is every reason to believe it will be exactly like last year, it is a waste of your time and money. That's a nice weekend to go to Bardstown and there will be many bourbon enthusiasts in town, but the smart ones won't be at the official event, which has always had problems but last year was an abomination
Imagine a Kiwanis Club Monte Carlo Night in a high school gym, if they started to plan it that morning. It was a big, sorry mess.
Many of the producers privately expressed their disgust with it as well. Not one master distiller was in attendance and only a handful of top distillery people of any kind came. Everything about it had an air of desperation.
The Guthrie Opportunity Center, the venue, is a big, open, fluorescent-lit, concrete-floored, concrete block room with high ceilings and zero charm. It looks exactly like the empty industrial space it, in fact, is.
Each distillery has a folding table from which it dispenses samples, seemingly as fast as possible, to the ravenous hoard. There is no place to sit. Last year it was uncomfortably warm.
The reason for the mad dash is that in most, but not all cases, the samples come in nice logo glassware and the main activity engaged in by most attendees is a frantic progression from table to table, to accumulate as many free glasses as possible, as quickly as possible. In many cases they don't even drink the whiskey, they throw it out.
Some of the distilleries, unhappy with this particular turn of events, now use plastic glasses. Sometimes you can't tell they're plastic until you have invested the time in line to get one. This disappoints the mob and makes it surly.
It's all very 'Day of the Locust.'
There is food, dumped inelegantly around the room like slop in a trough. The fluorescent glare, bright industrial paint job, too-loud bad DJ, and zero seating all say, "we have your money, suckers. Now drink up and go." Attendees aren't treated like valued guests, they're treated like cattle entering the abattoir.
Speaking of which, as bad as the event is, you have to stand in line for an hour to get inside. Tickets are all pre-purchased, it's not that. It's just poorly organized and no one seems to care.
One of these years, it's going to rain.
The mad dash for free glasses is even more ridiculous when you consider that for the $40 individual ticket price, a couple could buy a nice set of glasses, a nice bottle of bourbon, two Carne Asadas to-go from one of Bardstown's excellent Tex-Mex restaurants, and spend a nice Spring evening on their deck.
In addition to being a miserable experience for anyone who attends, the Sampler is an embarrassment to the industry. American whiskey is an important international product and its premier events are being presented by people who would be over-matched organizing a high school prom.