If the Bourbon Backstretch were a horse race, the event would have one terrific field.
The Kentucky Distillers' Association, which includes almost all of the state's major bourbon makers, turned a converted former livery stable into a bourbon sampling forum for guests and locals in honor of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
With nine distilleries offering pours and master distillers like Fred Noe of Jim Beam, Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve, Greg Davis of Maker's Mark, Mark Coffman of Town Branch, Charlie Downs of Heaven Hill and Tom Bulleit of Bulleit Bourbon on hand, more than 400 people turned out for the first night.
In between getting photos and autographs, they could sip offerings like "Pharoah's Fancy," a Wild Turkey cocktail made with American Honey as a nod to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Four Roses put its twist on the equine theme with their Rose Mule — Four Roses bourbon with ginger beer and a splash of lime juice.
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"The idea is to come down, meet some of our brand ambassadors. And this is a festival zone you can take a drink outside, walk down to the stage and hear some music," said Adam Johnson, director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. "This is just one stop among many."
Town Branch's Coffman said the Backstretch "gives people from outside a chance to enjoy Kentucky's number one spirit. We really want to spread the word."
The pairing of the Breeders' Cup and bourbon was natural, said Morris of Woodford Reserve. "It's all about the two greatest signature industries in Kentucky — horses and bourbon," Morris said.
Inside the Lexington Livery on Main Street, the distilleries set up tasting stations in the back half, while the front half was devoted to Kentucky artisans and their wares.
Monna Lane of Lexington, there with her husband, former Transylvania basketball coach Don Lane, said the feeling downtown for the festivities was "unbelievable. It's amazing what they've done. Lexington has been alive, but this is just bringing so many people out."
Ray Daniels and Karel Flynn, both of Lexington, also came to enjoy the atmosphere.
"And the bourbon, as well," said Daniels, who said he is a fan. Does he have a favorite?
"I don't discriminate, I like them all," he said.
Daniels and Flynn said they were planning on going to the Breeders' Cup on Friday and Saturday.
While he might not commit to a favorite drink, Daniels had no hesitation in naming his favorite in the Classic: "Pharoah," he said. "It's sentimental. I'm hoping for the victory. It will be a great way to go out."