Talking Whiskey at the Filson Bourbon Salon
All images by Maggie Kimberl. Filson Bourbon Historian Michael Veach often says he’s the luckiest grad student with a Masters in History to come out of the University of Louisville. United Distillers requested a grad student to run the archives at the Stitzel-Weller facility and Veach answered the call. Once his internship was up he was hired on full-time, where he ran the archives for a total of 5 years through 1996, including after the distillery closed in 1992.
After that he was hired on at The Filson Historical Society as a Special Collections Archivist, where he continued to study bourbon history in Kentucky. He wrote Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage in 2013, which has become the most authoritative text on bourbon history in Kentucky to date.
Throughout his years at The Filson, Veach developed a number of bourbon-related education opportunities. He developed The Filson Bourbon Academy, hosted many Repeal Day events, and started the Filson Bourbon Salon at Oxmoor Farm. The idea of the Salon is based on a concept that was popularized in the 17th and 18th centuries in which a group of philosophers, writers, artists, or other intellectuals would gather to discuss a particular topic. This particular Salon takes place in a perfect setting for such an activity- the 3rd largest private library in the United States.
Past Bourbon Salon topics have ranged from “The Future of Bourbon Tourism” to the very popular “Remembering Stitzel-Weller.” A panel of guests is moderated by Michael Veach with breaks to conduct bourbon tastings over a period of 90 minutes. Guests are given the opportunity to ask questions at the end, and oftentimes books and signed bourbon merchandise are auctioned off to raise money for The Filson Historical Society. Guests have included Derby Museum Bourbon Authority Fred Minnick, Former Stitzel-Weller Master Distiller Ed Foote, Starlight Distillery Head Distiller Lisa Wicker, Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe, and Vice President – General Manager of Michter’s Andrea Wilson.
January’s discussion was “Keeping Tradition Alive” and centered on several Kentucky families who are reviving the family brands after having been put out of business for generations by Prohibition. There were only 8 medicinal licenses issued during Prohibition. Kentucky Peerless, once the second-largest distillery in Kentucky, went completely out of business after selling off its whiskey stocks to medicinal bottlers. Old Pogue had its stocks confiscated after inspectors found an empty barrel, though it’s likely the relationship with known bootlegger George Remus had something to do with it. Limestone Branch’s Stephen Beam still has extended family members all over the bourbon business, but his direct antecedents were also put out of business by Prohibition.
The next Filson Bourbon Salon at Oxmoor Farm will take place Febuary 23rd from 6-8 p.m. The topic will be “Brandy: Bourbon’s Older, Sophisticated Sister.” Few people realize the influence brandy had on the eventual creation of bourbon. Both were born out of necessity- ways to store and transport crops more easily. Bourbon Historian Renae Price will be joined by representatives from Starlight Distillery as well as Copper and Kings in a panel discussion led by Michael Veach. Tickets are extremely limited and are $50.