Bluegrass Ball considered a standout inaugural event

bfortune@herald-leader.comJanuary 19, 2013 

When it comes to inaugural festivities in the nation's capitol, the Kentucky Society's Bluegrass Ball is a standout event.

"It is one of the oldest inaugural balls. It started as an elegant evening in 1949 to honor Vice President Alben W. Barkley from Kentucky," said Anne-Marie Kelley, chairwoman of the event.

Winn Williams, president of the Kentucky Society in Washington, D. C., called the evening "vintage Kentucky ... steeped in Kentucky food, bourbon, entertainment and celebrities."

Tickets are $250 a person and proceeds will benefit the Henry Clay Scholarship, a program that sends Kentucky students to Washington for an internship.

The Kentucky Society is a social organization that promotes fellowship among Kentuckians in the greater Washington area, Williams said. This year, the society is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

While inaugural balls sound glamorous, "Some are no more than a reception with a buffet and cash bar," Kelley said. And for that guests, pay an exorbitant fee, she added.

Saturday night's Bluegrass Ball is a different kind of affair.

The non-partisan event was named recently as an "editor's pick" by the Washington Post as one of the top inaugural balls in the city. The Post also selected it as a top event in 2005 and 2009.

The black-tie event held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel evening will feature a two-hour bourbon tasting, music and an honor guard by the Letcher County Central High School Marching Band. Miss Kentucky Jessica Casebolt will sing the national anthem.

A multi-course sit-down dinner will prepared by Edward Lee, chef at the 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville and an "Iron Chef America" winner. Music for dancing will be by a Morehead State University band.

Phyllis George, former First Lady of Kentucky, and her daughter, Pamela Brown, a reporter for ABC network Channel 8 in Washington, will emcee the evening.

Other expected guests will be Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, members of Beshear's cabinet, the Kentucky Congressional delegation and actress Ashley Judd.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, said the bourbon tasting, done for the first time in 2009, was a big hit. "They asked us back last year, even before the election was over," he said.

Seven Kentucky distillers will offer samples of their premium single barrel and small batch bourbons: Bulleit, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.

On hand to pour and answer questions will be master distillers Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve, Craig Beam of Heaven Hill, as well as chief operating officer of Maker's Mark Rob Samuels.

Seven mahogany bars were transported from Kentucky to the Wardman Park hotel for the bourbon tasting. Kentucky Distillers built a replica of a bourbon warehouse in the hotel lobby.

Gregory said he expects the warehouse to be a focal point for taking pictures throughout the evening.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251.Twitter: @BFortune2010

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