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Bourbon Hospitality

A Whiskey Pilgrim Finds a Kentucky Home in the Capital of Bourbon
Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99

The Yankee is smoking a cigar on a park bench in the middle of Bardstown, Kentucky, when a Jaguar sedan pulls up and out pops a mere slip of a Southern belle in sneakers, who proceeds to struggle with boxes full of flower vases. Intrigued by the out-of-place wheels in a town full of pickups and growling muscle cars--and feeling sorry for the little lady--he offers a hand, which is graciously accepted. On the way to the florist, between "thank you" and "you're welcome," it develops that the Yankee is in town for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

"Well, that's nice! Do you like my daddy's bourbon?"

"Your daddy's bourbon?"

"Yes. I'm Leslie Samuels Tucker."

Jackpot. Not 10 minutes in this "Bourbon Capital of the World" and the Yankee has stumbled onto the very daughter of Bill Samuels Sr., developer of Maker's Mark, one of the leaders in the trend toward superpremium bourbon that is spurring the market. A convert to corn liquor, he's come, with no introductions, to the industry's annual fete, hoping to scam invitations, soak up atmosphere and sop up quaff. Resisting the urge to propose, he manages: "I like his bourbon very much."

"You've been so nice, you should come out to my brother's house. He's throwing a little party and they're all going to smoke his cigars." The brother in question is Bill Samuels Jr., the renegade of bourbon marketers, and his cigar is a whiskey-soaked number, wax sealed in glass like his bourbon.

Sadly, the Yankee will be otherwise occupied at the festival's own "Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz" event, and begs off. She takes his name and assures him that she'll repay the favor.

Two hours later on this September evening, a hundred or so bourbon and cigar enthusiasts gather in the ballroom at Bardstown's Best Western General Nelson Motel to mix pleasures. Not the most atmospheric venue in this historic town 40 miles south of Louisville where Jesse James once rode and Stephen Foster slept, but no one seems to mind as they take advantage of the freely pouring bourbon and listen to jazz.

The cigar portion of the presentation begins with a short clinic on how to light a cigar, by Louisville cigar retailer J. Paul Tucker, who has supplied two Canary Island brands. "You want to take your match and barbecue the outside," he counsels the crowd, using an image appropriate to Kentucky. Tucker's comments on the resurgence of cigar smoking run to their ubiquitous availability. "In Louisville, there are 25 or 30 places you can buy cigars, from a Thorton's gas station to a dress shop," he says. Not surprisingly, his advice is to deal with a tobacconist.

The Yankee, seeking deeper knowledge, corners Tucker later and asks for his wisdom on pairing cigars with bourbon, a personal quest. Tucker inscrutably offers: "I never met a cigar that didn't go well with bourbon." The search for enlightenment will have to go on.

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