Bourbon makes history this year with its Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Lineup. And for the first time, the ceremony is open to the public, with tickets available for purchase.
On Sept. 14 at the Frazier Museum in Louisville, the following inductees join the hallowed ranks of bourbon’s greatest:
- Freddie Johnson, VIP Visitor Lead, Buffalo Trace Distillery
- The late Dr. Pearse Lyons, Founder & President, Alltech, Inc.
- Max L. Shapira, President, Heaven Hill Brands (Lifetime Achievement)
- Matthew J. Shattock, Chairman & CEO, Beam Suntory
“This year’s class truly shows the diversity of personas behind the growing Golden Age of Kentucky Bourbon, from a beloved tour guide whose wisdom and personality embodies and elevates our visitors’ experience, to the leadership and passion of three top executives who have forged the path to our current success,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, in a press release.
Of course, each inductee has their own story, with Johnson’s being perhaps the most unique. His father worked for the then George T. Stagg (or Ancient Age) Distillery as a leak hunter and instilled a passion in Freddie that came through with every tour he gave. There’s no better tour guide or ambassador than Johnson. One of the more unique connections Johnson has is either he or his dad have filled the majority of the milestone barrels at the distillery. When filling the 7 millionth earlier (watch the ceremony) this year, Sazerac CEO Mark Brown joked a Johnson, pointing at Freddie’s grandchildren, would fill the 15 millionth barrel. That would be amazing!
Shapira earns the Lifetime Achievement award and has fought in the bourbon trenches since the 1970s. He lived, breathed bourbon in the good times and bad, while leading Heaven Hill Brands into a diversified company. In my book, Bourbon, I quoted Shapira from a 1980s interview about the efforts of bringing back to domestic demand. He’s one of the most important industry figureheads who brought bourbon back.
Shattock may have had the hardest path of anybody to get to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. The Beam Suntory CEO had to manage expectations in Wall Street, Kentucky, Japan and somehow worked with Bill Samuels, Jr., and Fred Noe and lived to tell about it. He could write a book about working with big personalities, and that’s a skill we often forget is important in the bourbon business. Many CEOs can get mowed over by distillers.
And of course, the late Lyons, who built a $3-billion company and helped bring bourbon back to Lexington, while also empowering the Kentucky craft movement. Lyons was somebody who believed in people. He built two Alltech distilleries and spared no expense, while forming a team who admired and loved the man. He died in March.
Because of the inductees impact on the industry and Johnson’s unwavering spirit that sparked the bourbon passion in the people who’ve met him, I rank this Hall of Fame class as one of the best of all time. You can see past classes here.
This is a great class, and I always love hearing the speeches. I hope to see you Friday at the induction ceremony.
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