After my one-hour “Bourbon Experience” on Main Street, I can tell I’m the one to turn to at parties if you want to know who Evan Williams was, or why Main Street was so important in early bourbon history, what a speakeasy was or even why Heaven Hill once only sold its most-aged Evan Williams in Japan.
Jeff Crowe, the GM at the one-year-old tourist attraction, told me the company was thrilled with the attendance in the first year, and that even on a slow Wednesday afternoon like the one on which I visited there were a handful of bourbon-curious ready for a tour.
The best part is the beginning, in which the real Evan Williams come to life in video at the Ohio River wharf, where he’s the wharf master and makes you wonder why our town is not known as Evansville. Then there’s the end, where you get to sample the goods. That takes place in a Mad Men-era bar with an array of video screens and a juke box in the corner.
In the middle, you see how the product is made, and my group was fortunate enough to meet Charlie, the veteran bourbon distiller who oversees the production of a barrel a day right there on Main Street. The whole thing has a small company feel to it, evidenced by the fact that our tour guide Vicki reminded us that Heaven Hill, the company behind the experience, is a family business, a rarity in spirits circles.
If I were a tourist, I’d rank the Bourbon Experience as a great way to spend an hour in a new town, right up there with other museum attractions on Main like the Slugger Museum. It’s the first of the many bourbon-related attractions coming to the area, and gives all those something to shoot for.