Bourbon continues to be big news in NKY.
New developments related to this fall’s inaugural Kentucky’s Edge Conference & Festival were announced last week in an event at The Globe bar in Covington, which ended with a National Bourbon Day celebration on June 14 with the second annual Big Bourbon Toast on Newport’s Southbank Bridge.
Greater Cincinnati’s First Lady of cocktails, Molly Wellmann, was among those on hand for the gathering by the organizers of Kentucky’s Edge, which is being billed as a South by Southwest-style event at venues across Covington and Newport on Oct. 4–5 to celebrate the region’s bourbon heritage and bourbon renaissance.
The NKY Chamber of Commerce’s President and CEO, Brent Cooper, announced a partnership that will benefit Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky. Festival organizers have pledged to donate 10 percent of event profits going forward to Horizon’s Community Impact Fund, which addresses issues including anti-poverty initiatives, the arts and improving education.
“The Community Impact Fund includes unrestricted funds that our Council of Trustees helps to decide where that money is applied,” says Nancy Grayson, Horizon Community Funds president. “You can think of it loosely as kind of a quasi-endowment for the community that’s really meant to be invested over time and grow, but at the same time, address the needs of the community as they arise. At the outset, we decided not to focus it on one particular issue. We really want it to be something that impacts what’s happening in the community as the community brings those issues to us.”
Some of the details that have been worked out for the festival were also announced for the first time.
Music is part of the festivities, and headliners for the free music event that will be held on Newport’s riverfront will be the Rusty Griswolds on Oct. 4 and the eclectic band Hayseed Dixie — whose style is described as Appalachian Mountain hillbilly rave-ups and who are best known for producing an entire album of AC/DC songs in that same style — on Oct. 5. There will also be music performances where tickets need to be purchased, and the Oct. 4 headliner for a show at the Madison Theater in Covington will be electronic artist Com Truise.
Of course, true center stage will be held by the bourbons, with tastings, pairings, and representatives in attendance from the most-established names in the market like Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam, but also a variety of the micro-distillers who have become such a big part of the new enthusiasm for bourbon — including the five current members from NKY on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s Craft Tour: Old Pogue, New Riff, Second Sight, Boone County, and the Neeley Family Distillery.
Prominent speakers lined up include Bill Samuels, Jr. of Maker’s Mark and author Brian Haara, whose credits include “Bourbon Justice.” Molly Wellmann will also be part of the festivities, which is fitting given her prominence as a bourbon expert and historian.
Wellman, owner of Over-the-Rhine bar Japps Since 1879, was named earlier this year as the nation's best bartender-owner for 2019 by Nightclub & Bar Media Group, and she is as much a true bourbon enthusiast as anyone you’ll find in the area.
She considers the Kentucky’s Edge festival not just a celebration of what has emerged, but also what has always been here. “It’s really a re-emergence, because in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, we do have a really rich history of making whiskey and other alcohol in this area for such a long time.”
Wellmann says the bourbons being produced here strike her with a sense of familiarity. “They feel like home, honestly,” she says. “There’s an essence that you get from wherever a whiskey is from. To have these distilleries coming back, it’s really neat to think we can drink like the people who were here before us.”
One of those new distilleries, New Riff Distilling in Newport, is the primary presenter behind the Big Bourbon Toast event. This year’s event will introduce a tug-of-war competition on the bridge (more commonly known as the Purple People Bridge) between representatives from Ohio and Kentucky..
Ohio is being represented by a team from the Cincinnati Parks Foundation, while Kentucky will be anchored by representatives of the City of Newport, including “Newport 225,” the group at the forefront of the city’s 225th anniversary celebration this year. Last year’s event was a celebration of years of effort by founder Ken Lewis to launch the distillery, which has done well establishing itself with its Kentucky Straight Bourbon product.