Last year, when murmurs stirred that Louder Than Life producer Danny Wimmer was working closely with Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher to produce a bourbon and food fest, eyes rolled and foreheads wrinkled. High-profile spirits and restaurant folk alike expressed dismay that an outsider known for rock concerts would deign to dabble in the dignified world of the city’s food and bourbon scene. And an outsider, at that!

Yet it appears that Wimmer didn’t care, doesn’t care and won’t care when his company, Danny Wimmer Presents kicks off Bourbon & Beyond on Sept. 23-24.

Props to you, Mr. Wimmer, for pushing forward. But good luck, all the same.

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca
Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

According to a news release, the event is a celebration “of the great state of Kentucky and its spirit and soul: bourbon.” The Saturday-Sunday event will blend “the best elements of a bourbon festival, a food festival, and a music festival into an all-encompassing, unforgettable weekend” that will feature “master distillers, Michelin-starred chefs, world-class musicians, and other craftsmen and craftswomen. Full details on the experience will be announced soon.”

Details such who the Michelin-starred chefs are? We don’t have any here yet, so it looks like outsiders will be courted.

OK, I’ll stick with the topic.

Wimmer wanted to do the festival in 2016, but in a prepared statement from the Mayor Greg Fischer’s office last year, Fischer said the city was not “comfortable proceeding with the event” but that it would allow Wimmer’s company to “continue to develop a bourbon/food festival, host the event, and assume all financial risk and all planning and production for a 2017 festival.”

Discussion of creating a bourbon and food event—something on the order of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival held annually in Charleston, S.C.—for Louisville has gone on for years but gone nowhere. Several members of Mayor Fischer’s own oversized committee of local leaders in the restaurant, spirits and event planning community told me discussions never produced a leadership core who could craft a vision for the event and produce it.

Restaurateurs and spirits producers also said the city of Louisville wanted them to do all the work and then take all the credit, which, let’s admit, isn’t the best team-building strategy.

Meanwhile, seeing a void no one was ready to fill, Wimmer stepped in more than a year ago and said he’d like to do it. Few gave the mega-wattage rock show promoter much credit for having the savvy to pull off a classy, Southern event—which it should be—and almost no one believed he’d push forth with it.

And yet, here we go in September.

Frankly, I’m skeptical Bourbon & Beyond will be the kind of event I’d like to attend (again, a la Charleston Wine + Food), but that’s based solely on the fact that Wimmer’s track record centers on outdoor rock concert production. No, I’m not hoping for some prissy, pinky-extended, day of eating biscuits, country ham and Benedictine while sipping bourbon.

But I don’t want some barefoot-in-the-grass, booze swilling and eardrum-bashing event either. I know I’m not the only one who hopes the city’s first large food and bourbon festival will be relaxed, yet dignified.

I also want to see great food, this city’s food, represented by Louisville restaurateurs. Last year, when the name “Bourbon & Beyond” was shared, many local chefs were outraged over the fact that “food” wasn’t even in the title. I get that. They deserve better.

True, bourbon has been around for centuries, but there’s no question that Louisville restaurants raised the city’s tourism bar long before bourbon began its renaissance and lit Louisville tourism aflame. Symbolically, the city’s food is the chicken that preceded the bourbon egg. So give credit where it’s due—to local chefs first, out of town chefs a distant second—and then celebrate the perfect partnership of food and whiskey.

Music? Frankly I don’t care. I’ll get that fix at Forecastle, where music is the star and bourbon is a beloved backup singer. If music must be a part of the Bourbon & Beyond event, let it stay in the background where it doesn’t distract from bourbon and food. Frankly, I want to meet and chat with the aforementioned star chefs, master distillers and friends I expect to see and make, so a complete absence of music wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

But overall, let’s celebrate Wimmer for having the guts to step up and give it a shot. It’s unfortunate that an outsider had to do it, but at least something is being done. More power to him for taking the risk—all the financial risk—which seems to give the Mayor a great deal of relief.

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Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 25-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation’s Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass, Whisky Magazine, WhiskeyWash.com and The Bourbon Review. The author of two books, “Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke,” and the “Home Distiller’s Guide to Spirits,” he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

1 COMMENT

  1. Louder Than Life is a super well-run event, is promoted well, and is well attended. I don’t know Mr. Wimmer personally but I think you might be typecasting based solely on that for which he is known. Look past the surface of black t-shirts, tattooos, and fist pumping (all things I thoroughly enjoy) and I think you’ll find a top-tier event promoter that seems to have a love for our city on some level.

    If he’s REALLY sharp, he’ll listen to dudes like you and infuse some of what you’d like to see in the event.

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