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Bourbon Homecoming: Annual Bardstown festival features spirits, distillers, food

The barrel relay is a highlight of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Representatives of Kentucky distilleries compete to see how quickly they can secure 500-pound barrels in a rick. The event begins Saturday at 11 a.m.
The barrel relay is a highlight of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Representatives of Kentucky distilleries compete to see how quickly they can secure 500-pound barrels in a rick. The event begins Saturday at 11 a.m.

For bourbon lovers, September is the most wonderful time of the year: It’s Bourbon Heritage Month and right in the middle of it comes the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

The annual festival is centered in Bardstown but distilleries around the state also plan events for the 50,000 attendees who see the festival as a kind of bourbon homecoming. In 2016, actor Bill Murray showed up a dinner event for the festival.

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Actor Bill Murray was in Bardstown in 2016 for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. From left to right: Jared Hyman, Justin Thompson, Willett’s Drew Kulsveen, chef Newman Miller, Justin Sloan, chef Sean Brock, Seth Thompson and Bill Murray. Photo provided

The biggest names in Kentucky bourbon (and some of the newest) are participating this year, including Barton 1792, Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Four Roses, Lux Row, Maker’s Mark, Michter’s, Old Forester, Bardstown Bourbon Co., Jeptha Creed, Limestone Branch, New Riff, O.Z. Tyler, and Town Branch Bourbon.

The festival runs Wednesday through Sunday, with a range of activities from premium bourbon tastings to discussions on grains, food pairings, cocktails, cooking with bourbon and much more. While some events are sold out, tickets are still available for many.

This year, for the first time, the public can attend the annual Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame induction. This year’s luncheon will be Friday at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum, which just opened a major new exhibit on bourbon and is now a starting place for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Tickets are $100 per person.

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During the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, about 50,000 people are expected to visit distilleries, sample bourbon and enjoy the various festivities. Distillery gift shops, such as the one in the Jim Beam American Stillhouse, often has special releases times to the festival just for attendees to purchase. Herald-Leader file photo

The annual bourbon barrel relay championship is Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m., at the Great Lawn in Bardstown.

Also Saturday is a highlight for collectors: The Master Distiller’s Auction, beginning at 2 p.m. at Spalding Hall, has vintage bottles and special offerings. It’s a fundraiser for the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.

Saturday night is the signature event of the festival, the Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting and Gala. You can sample fine whiskey, meet master distillers and bourbon celebrities and eat gourmet fare. Tickets are $220 per person for the black-tie event.

For tickets and more information, go to kybourbonfestival.com.

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