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Monday, June 22, 2015

Kentucky Bourbon Affair 2015 – Crab & Crawfish with Bill Samuels, Jr. and Maker’s Mark.

Now in its second year, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Bourbon Affair (held this year June 3-7) is already firing on all cylinders.  Events this year ranged from fishing with Fred Noe, blending at Four Roses (post coming soon!), sampling Bourbon from all over Heaven Hill, culinary events, polo on the riverfront, and much, much more.  The vast majority of people I met at the Bourbon Affair were from out of state – one extremely fun group was in from Canada – and they were here to enjoy daily events.

Instead of the full immersion of attending events over the better part of a week, my plan has been more akin to dipping my toes, with the goal of selecting one or two once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  For 2015, that meant the Maker’s Mark southern style crab and crawfish boil hosted by Bill Samuels, Jr. and his wife, Nancy, at their home on the Ohio River near Louisville.

I’ve already written about Bill, Sr.’s exit from, and immediate competition with, Country Distillers, and the resulting necessity of coming up with a new name since the Kentucky Court of Appeals prevented Bill, Sr. from using his surname in any material way associate with his newly planned Bourbon (link here).  I’ve also already written about the more recent legal fight with Diageo over the iconic dripping red wax seal (link here). 

Litigation tells a great story about the Samuels family, but after getting the chance to talk with Bill, Jr., I saw firsthand how his family has made its mark.  Bill’s affability and charm held his audience gripped for the next story.  And Bill’s family pride – without being boastful and without false modesty – gives him an impressive command of the room.  Combine those people skills with his knowledge of the Bourbon business, and it’s no wonder that Bill, Jr. was able to pick up where his father left off.

The evening started with greetings from Bill, Jr. and informal tours around his home, which had rooms more reminiscent of museums and art galleries.  The vaulted ceiling entryway was dominated by contemporary art, but after moving into the parlor and other interior rooms, the mood became purely historical.  That’s where Bill, Jr. showcased Marker’s Mark memorabilia, historical furniture, and oil-paint portraits from a bygone era.

The historical Maker’s Mark treasures included things like the very first Maker’s Mark bottle, and non-Bourbon historical pieces included the actual desk where Stephen Foster wrote “My Old Kentucky Home,” a checker’s set owned by Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee’s pistol in a shadow box.

Some of the art wasn’t to my taste (posed mannequins enjoying tea and pie on the sun porch), but that scene led to some tremendous conversations.

The family-style crab and crawfish boil, followed by more time on the sweeping back lawn overlooking the Ohio River, together with Bill, Jr.’s graciousness, made for a perfect evening. 

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