If Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) can pull off even half of what it’s proposing to do for the inaugural Bourbon & Beyond event in September, the celebration of Kentucky food, drink and music will be a major hit. But that’s a big if.
DWP’s plans are exceptionally ambitious, especially for a large-scale event set to run the weekend of Sept. 23-24, less than six months from now.
Our deeper look into the makings of Bourbon & Beyond came from a PDF sales deck originally sent to Kentucky bourbon distillers and later supplied to Eat Drink Talk. Its stated mission is, “To blend the best of a bourbon festival, a food festival, and a music festival into a new and exciting format for casual drinkers, foodies, and music lovers.” But the pitch reveals much more. The two-day festival will center on bourbon education, cocktail making, Louisville neighborhood restaurant food exhibits, larger-scale private dinners, music concerts, comedy and storytelling performances.
Bourbon & Beyond will be held at Champions Park on River Road, where DWP believes it can attract 50,000 visitors. Such crowds are the same size drawn to the park for DWP’s Louder than Life heavy metal concert, held each fall. So it’s not out of the question that organizers can handle the numbers.
But several questions remain about whether it can execute such a broad vision—especially when there’s no indication that Kentucky distillers are on board. According to Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) in Frankfort, his constituents are planning a meeting to discuss not only whether they want to be involved, but whether they can be.
“We are working to learn more, and our members have asked us to coordinate a meeting with the organizers,” Gregory said in a statement.
As scheduled, Bourbon & Beyond follows one week after the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. In its 26th year, it remains the state’s largest bourbon event, attracting more than 50,000 people to Bardstown over six days. Kentucky distillers are heavily involved in the festival, and commit considerable staff and liquor resources. Guests can spend next to nothing or as much as $175 to attend specific events.
KDA members also are deeply involved in the annual Kentucky Bourbon Affair, held this year from June 6-11. This multi-day, multi-session event is a high-end “fantasy camp” that draws bourbon lovers from around the country, some of whom regard it as a bucket list item. Affair prices range from $125 to $250. As with the Bourbon Festival, distilleries commit significant resources to the Affair—which is capped off with the second-annual Whisky Live Louisville on June 10. Cost for that event is $149 for regular admission, $199 for VIP admission.
As one industry source told me confidentially, “How many dollars can anyone expect bourbon fans to spend on this many events in such a short period of time?”
EatDrinkTalk requested an interview with DWP but was told via email that the organizer would like to wait until “the line up is set and ready to be announced mid-April.”
So here are all the proposed details we have so far, wrapped up into summary including some paraphrasing, quotes from the sales pitch, and with some remarks of ours added in:
Bourbon & Beyond is a bourbon festival for the casual drinker: From the pitch: “We are creating an immersive destination to weave bourbons into fun interactive experiences and hands-on workshops; no tastings or exhibits. (EDT is not clear on what “no tastings or exhibits” means.) Our target audience is the casual drinker, diverse 24- to 40-year-olds, even split of 50% male and 50% female … and (our) secondary target is bourbon aficionados, high-income 40- to 55-year-olds.”
This will all come with a “deliciously approachable food festival,” including chefs “to deliver creatively-elevated and affordable concessions; no all-you-can-eat formats or expensive tasting pavilions.”
Expect “additional nighttime events, group tours, as well as pre- and post-festival experiences extend throughout the greater Kentucky area.”
“Bourbon Experiences.” These include re-creations of cooperages and distilleries, as well as “Secret Speakeasies” hidden throughout the festival grounds and requiring a different method of entry to each. The pitch mentions a miniature version of The Bourbon Trail (which I’m confident the KDA will put its foot down about the use of that trademarked name) and a Rare Bar … that’s “limited to only the most discerning of bourbon drinkers, but those who gain admittance are rewarded with access to a comfortable and relaxing lounge with some of the toughest-to-find bourbons in the world.”
Bourbon Workshops seem pretty straightforward and include discussions of distillation, bartending and cooking with bourbon.
The food component is a three-tier affair blending Restaurant Rows, Culinary Experiences and The Feasts.
Restaurant Rows are exhibits bearing the names of some of the city’s most notable restaurant neighborhoods. (One assumes they will be operated by staffs from restaurants located in those Rows.) They include A Taste of The Highlands; Downtown; Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop; Germantown Biergarten; and NuLu Fest.
Culinary Experiences are described thusly: “Louisville chefs collaborate with chefs from across the country on developing themed culinary experiences. Each experience is inspired by a musical genre and offers delicious dishes, craft cocktails, and plenty of entertainment guaranteed to impress even the most cynical foodie. (EDT note: If anyone knows what a “cynical foodie” is, please tell us.) Culinary Experiences include Tiki Disco (no details); Funk & Soul & BBQ (“pitmasters challenged to cook different styles of barbecue … bartenders shaking “delicious throwback cocktails and spontaneously organize soul train dance parties”); and Riot Grill (no details).
Feasts: Described as, “Smaller groups of festivalgoers are invited to the feasts; where chefs curate an entire dining experience at the festival. These ticketed events offer guests the chance to sit down, relax, and enjoy more interactive or immersive experience, with plenty of bourbon pairings.” There are three: The Big Easy Crawfish Boil; Fried Chicken & Champagne; and Bourbon Beefsteak Bacchanal. (EDT note: We’re thinking “smaller groups” does not mean small groups, but rather groups of 100 or more.)
Music, Comedy & Talks are described this way: “Our potential lineup is a diverse, eclectic, and exciting collection of musicians, comedians, and personalities who embody the passion and soul of Bourbon & Beyond and are guaranteed to attract our target audience of 24- to 55-year-old bourbon drinkers from a 300-mile radius.” Were it not for some pictures of folks like Aziz Ansari, Amy Schumer, Anthony Bourdain, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, we’d not know who DWP might be suggesting. Whether these headliners are have signed on or their images are being used as placeholders, we don’t know.
Celebrities to take the stage for Convos & Demos include “some of the most influential and leading personalities in bourbon, food, drink, and industry to participate in conversations and demonstrations. Ideas include cooking demonstrations, father-son distiller conversations, speed bartending competitions.” A few celebs pictured are local chefs Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, MilkWood) and Annie Pettry (Decca), along with Maker’s Mark’s Bill and Rob Samuels (father and son, but not distillers), and actor Matthew McConaughey, who became a Wild Turkey spokesman last year.
Though many more details are in the sales pitch, we’ll stop here and promise to share more as we talk to DWP and distillers around the state.
End note: We at Eat Drink Talk are not against Bourbon & Beyond—at all. We only hope the Los Angeles-based Danny Wimmer Presents can succeed in bringing a large-scale event that celebrates Kentucky’s whiskey, food, distillers and chefs in an exceptional manner. We’re eager to hear the final details and learn who in the Bluegrass will assist in making this happen.