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Bourbon Master Fred Minnick talks Favorite Drinks, Distilleries + More

Fred Minnick is an author, podcaster and bourbon expert. He co-created the Bourbon & Beyond music festival with Danny Wimmer in 2017 and will be back on site this week in Louisville as the festival comes back to life for the first year since the pandemic began.

We caught up with Minnick to discuss all things bourbon. He told us his picks for the best new bourbons, how to become a master bourbon taster and which distilleries are worth a visit for tourists coming into town for the festival.

September is Bourbon Heritage Month, what does this mean to you?

We live in this world where there’s a day for everything, right? There’s a national Dog day and Daiquiri Day and Piñata day. It’s this marketing sphere of internet holidays and that’s fine. That’s just the world today.

But Bourbon Heritage Month is a legit government sanctioned kind of celebration. And it is technically Kentucky Bourbon Heritage Month.  The governorof Kentucky signed a proclamation declaring September to be Bourbon Heritage Month.

The U.S. Senate actually also did a simple resolution as well. It was declared. September 2007, not September forever, but September 2007 was National Bourbon Heritage Month. The distinction here is that it’s actually Kentucky Bourbon Heritage Month and not National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Can you talk a little bit about the Bourbon dinner you’re hosting on September 26? What’s your favorite Bourbon cocktail to go with dinner?

This is an event series that I have with a restaurant bar out here in Louisville called Watch Hill Proper. They have a couple thousand American whiskeys. I have access to really good bourbon that dates back to Prohibition time for the dinner. Chef Michael Crouch and I pair spectacular food with bourbon.

Do you have a favorite bourbon cocktail?

I love the Brown Derby. It’s grapefruit juice, honey syrup and bourbon.

What activities do you have planned at Bourbon and Beyond Festival this year?

Every day I do tastings during the festival and I teach people how to taste Bourbon like a pro. We’ve got a lot of celebrities coming this time like Ian Somerhalder of The Vampire Diaries and the cast from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is going to be there. Of course, musicians galore, it’s an incredible lineup for music. I’m very excited about it all.

There are five craft distilleries that are featured for Bourbon and Beyond. Any favorites from that list that people should try?

New Riff is one of my absolute favorite whiskeys in the world right now. They’re incredible. They’re small but mighty. They just had an eight-year barrel they sent to auction for a charity and raised a lot of money for Kentuckians in need. I’m a big fan.

Can you elaborate on some charity work you have been apart of as well to support the natural disasters that have happened in Kentucky?

Yes, I was a co-organizer with the Bourbon Crusaders and Kentucky Distillers Association and Westport Whisky and Wine. We got a lot of donations from bourbon distillers. We had a bunch of donations from collectors then we put the items up on an auction site.

We raised $1.4 million for the flood relief fund for Eastern Kentucky and $3.4 million for the tornado victims. It was a special thing to be a part of because. Everybody just giving their all to help our fellow Kentuckians.

What are the top distilleries that you recommend for tourists that are coming into town to visit?

Maker’s Mark is this really beautiful spot that I don’t think gets enough credit. It’s. You also get to see a good chunk of Kentucky by traveling there. I would also go with Four Roses and Wild Turkey. For some nostalgia purposes, Four Roses are highly educational. They are located close together. In downtown Louisville, the Evan Williams Bourbon experience is pretty great for a quick trip as well.

What’s the best Bourbon on a budget?

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond is amazing for the money. You can get it for $15 bucks and it does really, really well in my blind tastings  Wild Turkey 101 would you be number two for me and then Knob Creek if you want to spend a little more.

What makes a great bourbon taster?

Understanding your palate. Everybody can maximize their ability to taste. But it does take work. And it’s not drinking and it’s not partying. It’s not all just fun and games. You have to actually train your palate and teach yourself how not only to find notes, but to describe them so other people can understand them.

Are there any new bourbon brands that you’re excited about?

I’m a big fan of Smoke Wagon out of Nevada. I love Starlight in Indiana. And in KentuckyI’m really for what Dueling Grounds is doing. Wilderness Trail is very exciting right now as well in the new age of American Whiskey.

Are there any bands that you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m a big fan of a Crowded House, so I’m excited to see Neil Finn. But I mean, who’s not going to be just really eager to see Pearl Jam?

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