Frankfort is blessed with such a good mix of annual events that locals tend to shrug when a new one hits the scene.

Bourbon on the Banks, which makes its debut next weekend in downtown Frankfort, merits more than a shrug.

For the first time, Frankfort has a chance to draw folks from all over Kentucky — and even the country and world — for a signature event. Like any new event, it will take some time, but the potential is huge.

That’s no dig at the community's existing events. The county fair, Downtown Summer Concert Series and recent addition FrankFest do a fine job of entertaining locals and neighbors. Capital Expo, on hiatus while organizers assess its future, was quite a regional draw in its heyday. The relatively new Bourbonanza was a long-overdue first foray at celebrating the worldwide bourbon resurgence that is two decades in the making and showing no signs of slowing.

With deep respect for all of those events and the volunteers who work tirelessly to make them happen to our collective delight, Bourbon on the Banks could put Frankfort on the map for something other than being the seat of state government, which, if we’re being honest, harms our reputation more than helps it. (If I hear one more politician in the hinterlands vow to “clean up Frankfort,” I think I’ll puke.)

In case you don’t partake yourself and haven’t paid attention to the news, bourbon is booming.

According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association:

  • Kentucky has 7.5 million barrels of bourbon currently aging — the highest inventory in more than 40 years. In a state of roughly 4.3 million people, there are now almost two barrels for every living person.
  • Bourbon tourists made a record 1.4 million stops at Kentucky distilleries in 2018.
  • Those tourists, more than 70% of whom come from other states and countries, spend between $400 and $1,200 per visit.

Put “bourbon” in your brand these days and you’re likely to thrive. But Bourbon on the Banks is more than a marketing ploy.

As the first-ever professional bourbon judging competition in Kentucky, the new Frankfort event is distinguished from more established events like the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown and Bourbon and Beyond in Louisville. The stout $65 ticket price for Saturday evening’s competition in underappreciated River View Park reflects what connoisseurs will pay for a top-shelf bourbon experience.

Organizers have done a good job planning other events to appeal to lighter pocketbooks and non-bourbon fans.

The free “Bourbon Street on Broadway” will be held from 4:30-9:30 p.m. Friday on the Old Capitol Lawn, featuring street performers, historians discussing African Americans’ contribution to bourbon heritage, live music and 15-20 regional food and beverage vendors.

One doesn’t have to be a bourbon enthusiast to enjoy the festivities — or to appreciate BOB's potential to be a game-changer for Frankfort tourism.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is steve.stewart@state-journal.com.

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