By Anne Jewell
VP, Executive Director, Museum Veteran - Bourbon Rookie
Some companies climb rock walls or crawl through obstacle courses in the name of team building. We opted for a chauffeured spin through Bourbon Country to sample our state’s signature spirit, and drink-in the talented bourbon tour operations that are flourishing in the Bluegrass.
With Mint Julep Tours at the wheel, we knew we were in for a treat and would learn from their impressive experience. While visiting Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Willet, and Barton we also wanted to learn more about the booming bourbon business as it relates to our own tourism industry, and we expected to pick-up some great tips for our operations by experiencing different distillery tours.
And boy, were they different! Some big, some small. Some more polished, some more gritty. All were very passionate and genuine about what they do; characteristics we always hope to convey here, too. I found there were a number of similarities among our operations that made us kindred spirits:
1 - Something for Everyone
At Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory we love it when we hear from non-baseball fans who had a great time at our place, and it happens often. Some family members might arrive feeling like they’re going to “take one for the team” because someone else in their family is a baseball fan. But by the time they leave they’ve experienced connections with our factory tour, baseball history, fun exhibits and most importantly, connections with their loved ones. Our road trip team had a wide range of experience with bourbon, from none whatsoever to very knowledgeable. I was one of the relative rookies. My first taste of bourbon was a less-than-impressive, mass-produced mint julep as a college student at my first Kentucky Derby in 1984. I was in no rush to ever try it again. But I learned that just like our place, you don't have to be a fan to really enjoy the Bourbon Trail experience. There’s beautiful countryside, colorful history, entertaining stories and terrific memories to be made.
2 – Authenticity
Authenticity is a big part of who we are and what we do. Ours is a real factory tour, not a fake set-up or spin. Guests walk through the heart of our production line, they are not separated by glass or up on a catwalk. Likewise, at Maker’s Mark, we dipped our fingers in a bubbling primordial ooze of fermenting early-stage bourbon. At Barton, we conducted a simple but memorable science experiment with “white dog” (their still is pictured here) and had the unexpected delight of meeting their Master Distiller who dropped in on our tour.
A bourbon’s Master Distiller is akin to the Manager of a major league team, so that was like having Chicago Cubs’ Manager Joe Maddon drop in on one of our factory tours. Yes, one of our bourbon aficionados even had him autograph a bottle.
3 - The Personal Touch
We like to say there’s a personalized bat for every occasion. We’ve engraved bats for everything from wedding proposals, to baby arrivals, to retirements. We can also personalize tours for groups with interests in specific teams or players, and if our factory guides see a guest wearing certain team gear they’ll personalize some comments toward that team.
Here are the customized bats we made for the distilleries we visited:
We experienced similar personal touches on the Bourbon Trail. For example, Maker’s Mark has an Ambassador Club that includes having your name on a barrel that you can pull bottles from when it’s ready. And you can “dip your own bottle” in Maker’s famous red wax topper.
We saw the bourbon boom taking shape in our tourism industry a number of years ago. We knew we’d need to tap into it to stay connected with this growing travel segment, especially with Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, which serves as a gateway to Bourbon Country. That’s why we acquired this handsome artifact for our collection, Ted Williams’ personal flask travel case.
I love this item. The leather-encased set of three glass liquor flasks is a remarkable piece that was used by the Boston Red Sox great in the 1950s. Williams’ initials T.S.W. are impressed on the outer casing and each flask is protected by a custom-fitted brown leather sheath with gilt lettering: Bourbon, Gin, and Scotch. A small portion of liquor even remains in each of the three flasks.
I was chatting with a long-time spirits industry insider not long ago. I asked what I thought was a rhetorical question, “How many distilleries and bourbon-related attractions can the demand actually support?” His answer, “If bourbon follows the path of wine, it’s not unlimited, but it’s more than you think.”
I think we’re going to find out! Our team certainly enjoyed learning more about bourbon (and one another) during our road trip, and I’m glad we’ve got such a unique piece of history in our collection that ties baseball and bourbon together.
Arrive alive. Don’t drink and drive.