The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame returned after a two-year pause and inducted six industry luminaries into its elite ranks during a ceremony at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Inductees included two distillery founders, influential lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, a groundbreaking industry veteran and the acclaimed grandson of a Bourbon baron. The ceremony was paused the past two years due to COVID-19.
Making this year’s event additionally significant, it was the first Hall of Fame ceremony in its 20-year history to include a sitting Kentucky Governor among its guests.
“Bourbon is a signature Kentucky industry that employs thousands of our people to produce a product known and loved around the world. The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame ceremony is a great chance to celebrate both the pioneers and the innovators whose vision and craftsmanship keeps pushing bourbon to new heights,” Gov. Andy Beshear said.
“I am honored to take part in this celebration and look forward to seeing where the next generation of leaders in this field will take us.”
The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame® recognizes individuals and organizations that have made a significant and transformational impact on Bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness. It is the highest honor given by the signature industry.
The invitation-only ceremony was held in conjunction with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which runs Sept. 16-18 in Bardstown.
Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association which founded the Hall of Fame in 2001, congratulated the inductees in front of a packed crowd of more than 200 Bourbon dignitaries at the historic landmark.
“This year’s esteemed class celebrates the visionaries, artisans and partners that have made Kentucky Bourbon – and our beloved Commonwealth – the gold standard of American whiskey,” Gregory said.
“We are thrilled to welcome them to the Hall of Fame and, on behalf of our industry, offer a humbled and heartfelt thank you.”
This year’s inductees are, in alphabetical order (full bios, as provided by each inductee, are attached in the below link):
- Retiring Rep. D. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, Majority Whip, Kentucky House of Representatives, two-time recipient of the KDA’s “100 Proof” award for public service and champion of several landmark pieces of legislation.
- The late Stephen Francis Thompson, Founder and President, Kentucky Artisan Distillery (Lifetime Achievement Award), former president of Brown-Forman Distilleries and a pioneering resource for craft distilleries across the country.
- Julian P. Van Winkle, III, President, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, heralded grandson of Bourbon legend Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, creator of the ultra-aged premium Pappy Van Winkle brand and the very first James Beard winner from Kentucky, as well as numerous other accolades.
- Andrea Marie Wilson, distinguished industry veteran, Chief Operating Officer and Master of Maturation at Michter’s Distillery and, in 2009, the first woman to chair the KDA Board of Directors.
- Retiring U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, Co-Founder of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus and Chair of the House Budget Committee, who helped lead a permanent reduction on the federal excise tax on distillers among other key measures.
- Kaveh Zamanian, Founder, Whiskey Maker and CEO, Rabbit Hole Distillery, left Iran in 1979 during the revolution and founded Rabbit Hole in 2012. He blends the immigrant whiskey maker tradition with time-honored methods, diverse perspectives and modernist aesthetics.
Following the induction ceremony, guests and inductees attended an exclusive reception sponsored by Independent Stave Company, a KDA “Champion” level industry member. ISC President & CEO Brad Boswell and his father, John, are both Hall of Fame members.
The two-year break due to the pandemic allowed the KDA to evaluate its Hall of Fame processes and protocols, Gregory said. The prestigious event is known for its intimate celebration of the industry’s most revered champions and attracts dignitaries from around the world.
This year, for the first time ever, a blue-ribbon committee of renowned Hall of Fame members reviewed and selected inductees. Candidates are nominated each year by the KDA and its member distilleries in three categories: Industry, Roll of Honor and Lifetime Achievement.
The selection committee includes all living recipients of the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award: Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller of Wild Turkey; Bill Samuels, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark; Max Shapira, Executive Chairman of Heaven Hill Brands and Even Kulsveen, Executive Director of Willett Distillery.
Also serving were Kevin Smith, Chairman of the KDA Board of Directors and Vice President of Kentucky Bourbon Affairs for Beam Suntory; Chris Morris, Governor of the Order of the Writ – Spirit of Kentucky Bourbon Society and Vice President and Master Distiller at Brown-Forman Corp.; and noted author Dixie Hibbs of Bardstown, who was appointed by the KDA President.
The KDA also commissioned glassblowing artist Brook Forrest White, Jr., of Flame Run in Louisville to craft unique and contemporary awards that incorporate Bourbon-inspired motifs such as amber colors, oak, copper and water.
A student of the late famed glass artist Stephen Rolfe Powell at Centre College in Danville, Ky., White’s work has been recognized nationally, including at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at several distilleries in Kentucky.
Bourbon is one of Kentucky’s most treasured industries, a booming $9 billion economic and tourism engine sustaining more than 22,500 jobs with an annual payroll topping $1.23 billion each year, over $285 million in local and state taxes and $1.8 billion in federal alcohol taxes.
A key export, the iconic industry is currently in the middle of a $5.2 billion building boom, from innovative new tourism experiences to expanded production facilities, bottling centers and aging warehouses, all to meet the growing global thirst for Kentucky Bourbon.
Bourbon production has skyrocketed more than 435% since the turn of the century.
Kentucky now boasts more than 10.3 million barrels of Bourbon aging in warehouses across the Bluegrass, the most in its revered distilling history. Distillers filled more than 2.4 million barrels in 2020 alone, the third year in a row that production topped the two million mark.