Spirit of Kentucky exhibit at Frazier History Museum

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Spirit of Kentucky exhibit at Frazier History Museum teaches visitors about the commonwealth’s rich history in the bourbon industry.

Spirit of KentuckyI’m a big proponent of teaching Kentucky kids about the bourbon industry. Many of them will be working in the industry one day in some capacity – according to The Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s economic impact survey well over 4000 Kentuckians work in the distilling industry directly, and there are many more in supporting roles like farming, construction, tourism, and journalism. Distilling in Kentucky is an $8.5 billion industry, but more than that it is our history and our heritage. Kentucky didn’t become the birthplace of bourbon by design – it happened as a response to the local climate, growing environment, culture, and more. Now there’s a permanent exhibit at the Frazier History Museum that can help families learn more about why we make bourbon as well as the impact it has on the community.
Spirit of Kentucky
Bourbon is, first and foremost, an agricultural product. In the frontier days of Kentucky corn grew in abundance, and when you had some left over it would keep better if you distilled it. That distillate was also very valuable – hard currency was difficult to come by, so you could barter whiskey for whatever else you needed. Eventually some enterprising Kentuckians decided to put that corn whiskey into a barrel to make it more valuable in sale, and more improvements over time eventually led to the creation of bourbon whiskey.
Spirit of Kentucky
The new Spirit of Kentucky exhibit at the Frazier is all about the interdependence of the many facets of Kentucky life and how they all work together to make distilling Kentucky’s signature industry. The exhibit begins with a walk through a covered bridge-like structure that plays picturesque scenes of Kentucky farms and historic landmarks. This is followed by steamboats and the river, which were integral to the early bourbon industry. Barrels of whiskey were often loaded on to steamboats and sold in New Orleans, and in fact the use of the charred barrel is believed to have made Kentucky’s corn whiskey mimic the French brandies that were popular in New Orleans at that time.

The next part of the exhibit is about Kentucky’s limestone water, a feature that allowed the right nutrient for yeast to thrive and that lacked the metal deposits that could turn whiskey red and bitter. Next comes the agricultural tie in, both with corn and horses. In this area there are some great hands-on exhibits such as building the limestone fences that are seen all around Kentucky or rubbings of Thoroughbred horses. There is a photo album filled with Kentucky farmers who have grown corn and other commodity crops for the distilling industry, both past and present.
Spirit of Kentucky
One of the neatest features is the mini barrel raising activity, where visitors can follow numbered steps to build a barrel – experienced coopers make it look way easier than it actually is. This exhibit is a great way for families to gain a greater understanding of how bourbon fits into our economy, and it gives kids hands-on experience with many aspects of frontier life.

The Spirit Of Kentucky exhibit is included with a paid admission to The Frazier History Museum, $12 for adults and $8 for kids 5-17. The Frazier is located at 829 West Main Street and is open Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m. This is a permanent exhibit and is open to the public now.

By Guest Contributor: Maggie

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