Sometimes, it’s a bad idea to go into a story with it already written in your head. Such was the case with the Forecastle Music Festival and its new highly anticipated Bourbon Lounge, showcasing 12 distilleries’ whiskeys.
I envisioned a story of “Distillers vs. Rock Stars.” Bourbon master distillers are often referred to as the “rock stars” of the alcohol industry. The Bourbon Festival draws more than 50,000 people, most of which stand in long lines for master distiller autographs. So, I wanted to cover this music festival to see if distillers can stand up to rock stars in terms of turnout, prestige and bare breasted women wanting signatures on their tatas.
I should have known better. Concert people are not exactly the audience who will know of Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris, Wild Turkey legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell or 1792’s Ken Pierce. They were young and likely spending their parent’s money. I’m used to talking to their parents.
Aside from my old man pants, I quickly realized Forecastle is the most important bourbon venue in the country to reach new consumers. There were 75,000 virgin whiskey drinkers here, and the Bourbon Lounge was their passport to America’s Spirit.
This is a welcomed change in how brands have been marketing to younger crowds. The new flavored whiskey category is largely targeting beginning whiskey drinkers.
At Forecastle’s Bourbon Lounge, young consumers interacted with the pourers. If they were at a Heaven Hill line, they might have had a chance to talk to bourbon author Bernie Lubbers. At Willett, they could have met Drew Kulsveen. But they all had a chance to learn and taste. “This crowd really just wants to drink, though,” one distiller employee told me. Still, they’re drinking bourbon and not crap-flavored vodka!
Nashville native Leanne Hill, 22, walked out of the Bourbon Lounge holding a fresh Four Roses hat. It was the first time she heard of the bourbon. “It was smooth,” Hill said. “And, I’ll definitely look for it again.”
Kara Koch, of Cincinnati, said it was the first time she had seen so many bourbons. “It feels really genuine,” Koch said of the Bourbon Lounge.
I had hoped to interview others. And there were a lot young pups sipping, talking, tasting and listening to tunes. But, the alert of 60-MPH winds came and the event was postponed. Not only does bad weather threaten distilleries, it’s possibly taking away future bourbon drinkers!
Nonetheless, Forecastle’s Bourbon Lounge is creating future connoisseurs. Today, these kids are in college. When they get a few nickels to rub together, they will remember their time in Louisville—hopefully fondly—and associate bourbon with good times. Maybe they will graduate to the limited editions and subscribe to magazines I write for—I don’t know. All I know is these concertgoers were not drinking beer; they were drinking bourbon.
And for many, it was their first sip.