A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

200-year-old story of signature industry finally being told in Kentucky Bourbon Tales



By Whitney Hale
Special to KyForward

In a state where there are more barrels of bourbon than people, it’s no surprise the spirit has a major impact on the Commonwealth’s culture and economy.

In celebration of this signature industry’s historical significance and the growing popularity of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, the University of Kentucky Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and the Kentucky Distillers’ Association have teamed to create Kentucky Bourbon Tales.

Beginning with interviews of Master Distillers Parker Beam and Craig Beam of Heaven Hill Distilleries, Kentucky Bourbon Tales will collect the timeless stories of the state’s most cherished distillers and the iconic distilleries they represent.

This initiative will capture each distiller’s personal story, history of the distilleries, changes to the industry and background on the distilling process, as well as favorite yarns related to the people and products behind America’s only native spirit.

The inaugural distilleries to be featured in Kentucky Bourbon Tales are Brown-Forman, Diageo North America, Four Roses Distillery, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey Distillery.


Beginning with interviews of Master Distillers Craig Beam, left, and Parker Beam of Heaven Hill Distilleries, ‘Kentucky Bourbon Tales’ will capture each distiller’s personal story, hsitory of the distilleries, changes to the industry and more. (Photo courtesy of Heaven Hill Distilleries/Bourbon Heritage Center)

“With 200 years of tradition and so many colorful characters and stories, it’s amazing that our industry has never captured the true collaborative spirit and camaraderie of Kentucky bourbon from the experts themselves,” said KDA President Eric Gregory.

“Sadly, many of the keepers of this history – and storytellers whose voice can never be recreated – are slipping away. That’s why Kentucky Bourbon Tales is one of the most important projects of our lifetime, and a legacy that will benefit generations yet to come.”

Distillers and industry veterans also will talk about why Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon, qualities that make Kentucky bourbon the best in the country, and the tourism and economic importance of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour to the state.

“The individual story matters to history, and our job is to make sure we record and preserve as many as possible. The stories of Kentucky Bourbon Tales represent a key part of Kentucky’s history, culture and identity and will have a profound impact on students, researchers and all those interested in better understanding and celebrating Kentucky’s bourbon industry,” said Doug Boyd, director of the Nunn Center.

As the Nunn Center digitizes the content, the public will be able to easily search the collection using OHMS, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer, which connects searches to text in transcripts and correlating moments in audio or video interviews.

UK Libraries’ Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History is recognized for its collection of more than 9,000 oral history interviews. The number of interviews available online continues to grow, providing greater access to the collection. Topics are wide-ranging from Appalachia, politics, veterans’ stories, as well as documenting important Kentucky industries such as the horse, coal and bourbon industries. To learn more about the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, click here or here.

Kentucky Bourbon Tales is made possible through the support of the KDA and its member distilleries. The nonprofit organization.

Whitney Hale is a senior information specialist at University of Kentucky.

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