Bardstown Collection

The Bardstown Collection

As you approach this small town nestled in picturesque rolling hills, you can sense it – the presence of a liquid amber responsible for nine billion dollars in annual revenue to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

     You can see it in the barrelhouses dotting the landscape, home to more aging barrels than there are aging people in this community of 14,000.

     You can hear it in those same barrels being rolled from their resting places to be shipped around the world.

     And you can definitely smell it in the yeasty perfume that wafts through the air.

     On any given day, at any given bar/front porch/cocktail party/restaurant or distillery, glasses are raised in a toast to the elixir that has made Bardstown the Bourbon Capital of the World.

     America’s only native spirit, bourbon reigned supreme for three decades (1940-1970) before falling out of favor until its spectacular renaissance in the 2000s.  Suddenly, the whole world was learning what Bardstown has known all along – that bourbon rules.

     Samantha Brady notes that Bardstown was a pioneer in the bourbon industry – not just in the making of it, but in the promoting of it.  Long before the bourbon boom and the opening of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Bardstown distilleries were touting the smooth, silky taste of their signature product.  In other words, they were promoting bourbon before bourbon became cool.

     As Executive Director of Visit Bardstown, the city’s tourism arm, Brady sees one of her roles as linking the two Bs – bourbon and Bardstown – in the minds of the public. 

  That would seem to be an easy task considering that there are 11 distilleries within a 16-mile radius of the town.   But what about asking these distilleries – all in competition with one another – to form a partnership that would enhance the visitor experience and at the same time benefit the community?  Not so easy – more like a pie-in-the-sky dream.

     After all, when was the last time you heard of Chevrolet providing the engine, Ford the chassis and Toyota the undercarriage for a single automobile even if it would give the public one heck of a ride?

     It may have seemed like pie-in-the-sky to some, but Bardstown Bourbon Company saw it as a quest – not for the Holy Grail, but for a collection of premium bourbons that would showcase both the product and the authentic experience the town offered. 

     That quest led this relative newcomer to the town’s bourbon scene to spearhead a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort.

     Bardstown Bourbon Company, which has made quite an impression in its nine-year existence, had big dreams of bringing a Napa Valley destination experience to bourbon country.

      What Napa had done for the grape, they hoped to do for the corn, and they backed up their vision with a $25 million state-of-the-art visitors center, restaurant and bar specializing in bourbon cocktails.

     “Experience” was the key word.  They wanted to tell Bardstown’s – and bourbon’s – linked stories, and help visitors experience the richness of both.  Doing so would require collaboration rather than competition.  It would mean asking different distilleries to create a premier bourbon and using their industry clout to co-brand them as a collection.

     Luckily, the distilleries – led by some pretty heavy-hitters – got solidly behind the effort.  One of those heavy-hitters was Freddie Noe, great-great-grandson of Jim Beam, who traces his roots in the region back to 1795.

     “Ultimately, it was an easy decision,” Noe said in an interview with Food and Wine Magazine.

     “Bardstown has been home to my family for six generations.  This was an opportunity to recognize the city’s contributions to the bourbon industry.”

      Joining Bardstown Bourbon Company and Jim Beam in the coalition were Heaven Hill, Log Still Distillery and Preservation Distillery.  The powerhouse quintet inaugurated the first Bardstown Collection in January of 2022.  This year, the quintet became a sextet with the addition of Lux Row Distillery, and they hope to release this year’s collection in the spring.

     Dan Callaway, vice president of hospitality and product development at Bardstown Bourbon Company, describes the coalition as unprecedented in the bourbon industry.

     The Bardstown Collection, he says, “is symbolic of the camaraderie and community in the Bourbon Capital of the World.”

     The Birth of the Bardstown Collection

     When you hear the word collection what comes to mind?  The Faberge Collection?  The Ralph Lauren Collection?  The Cartier Collection?  What comes to mind are the most luxurious and prestigious of brands – the best of the best.

     The Bardstown Collection fits the criteria perfectly.

      Each of the participating distilleries selected two barrels of premium bourbon, often with contrasting flavor profiles, and blended them to create something wholly unique.

     Noe, for example, in making the selection to represent Jim Beam, combined bourbons from a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old barrel, each from a different barrelhouse.  The result was a tongue-tickler of brown sugar and nuttiness that was identifiably Beam, but unlike any other in their portfolio.

  The branding of these bourbons was decidedly non-partisan.  Even the packaging says unity.  The five chosen bottles were attractively packaged in a blue and gold box, the Bardstown Collection’s equivalent of Tiffany’s Little Blue Box.

     However, instead of imprinting the distilleries’ individual logos on the box, it features an image of another Bardstown icon, My Old Kentucky Home.

     The Collection is available in the gift shops at the participating distilleries, where visitors are able to purchase an individual bottle of their choice for $200 or the entire collection for $1,200.  (As new member distilleries join, the price will go up by $200.)

     As Bardstown continues to tell its story through its liquid heritage the visitor benefits, but so does the community.   Part of the proceeds from every sale of the Bardstown Collection goes back to the community.  In its inaugural year, the collaboration resulted in a donation of $149,000 divided among the Bardstown Main Street Program, the Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist Hospitality Association, and the Nelson County Dispatch for first responders.

     Bardstown may be a tightly-knit community, with pride in its history and heritage, but it’s anything but insular when it comes to its signature product.

     “There’s something completely magical about sharing our bourbon culture and heritage with the world,” says Brady.

     So, take a sip from the bottles in the collection and taste the essence of Bardstown.