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Kentucky Bourbon Festival ready for a drink after COVID, a flood and a strike

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A lot of bourbon lovers like a little water with their bourbon, but organizers of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival would have preferred something a little neater this year.

Six inches of rain fell on Bardstown Wednesday, leaving parts of the festival grounds soft and muddy. Festival managers said set up for Thursday, opening day, was delayed 12 hours as a result.

“We do not want to see any more problems, but you know they do come up,” Kentucky Bourbon Festival Chairman David Mandell said. “We’re going to roll with it. We want everybody coming out here. Obviously, it’s a ticketed event. We’re going to have a wonderful time; we’re going to work through the mud. But the sun is shining and we’re going to be drinking bourbon.”

This is the first year for ticketed sales at the festival, a change that didn’t go over well with some Bardstown residents accustomed to the relaxed community event of the past. In all, 9,000 tickets were sold, most months in advance, for the four-day event.

This year, the Festival will be going on without Heaven Hill. A labor strike has the spirits giant sitting this one out as picketers demand better working conditions. However, strike leaders said they have no problem with the yearly bourbon festival.

“I can’t sit here and say, ‘Don’t go,’” United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23-D President Matt Aubrey said. “There’s millions of bourbon enthusiasts around the world, but as of right now, I wouldn’t produce the Heaven Hill product.”

At Buffalo Wings and Rings in Bardstown, management is expecting a 15% jump in business from the festival, despite removing all Heaven Hill products in a show of solidarity with local workers.

“We already saw a huge increase in sales as of yesterday,” Buffalo Wings and Rings Regional Manager Jessica “Red” Raines said. “We ended the day up 63% compared to last Wednesday, and our bar was full of Heaven Hill supporters yesterday.”

Just a week ago, the biggest challenge for festival managers was the pandemic. Ticket holders will have to show proof of vaccination or submit to a rapid COVID test on site.

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