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  • Writer's pictureG. Huddleston

Kentucky Derby Museum | May 2012

Thoroughbreds and bourbon, history and hospitality-they were the featured ingredients in a May 16 visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum by the Agribusiness Industry Network.

After a devastating flood in 2009, the Kentucky Derby Museum underwent a $10 million renovation that took a year to complete.

Museum Executive Director Lynn Ashton, a former AIN member, served as the official host for the event, orchestrating a tour of the museum, a guided ramble through the front side of the track facilities and a bourbon tasting in a new exhibit highlighting the history and current commercial reach of Kentucky's signature beverage.

For most of the entourage, it was a first look at the new and improved Derby Museum, the result of a year-long $10 million renovation of the facility after a devastating 2009 flood.

Interactive exhibits are dotted throughout the museum, allowing visitors to view video replays of many of the 138 Derbies or read illustrated accounts of those that predated that technology.

One kiosk offers the opportunity to design unique racing silks, a printed version of which will be available for purchase through the gift shop for a nominal fee-before the visitor leaves the museum.

Constantly being updated is the massive mixed media presentation in the large oval-shaped theater in the museum's center. The documentary mixes video of old races, work in the barns, Derby Day track patrons and visuals of the ladies and gentlemen-and others-who make up the eclectic mix of personalities who travel from around the world to the Downs each first Saturday in May.

After the museum visit and a tour of the paddock and finish line seating at the track, the group made its way to the Matt Winn Gallery, on the 2nd floor of the museum, for a tasting of three top-quality bourbons and a discussion of the history of Kentucky's distilling industry.

The three brands selected for sampling were Eagle Rare Single Barrel, from Buffalo Trace Distillery; Four Roses Small Batch; and Woodford Reserve, a popular Brown Forman product. The bartenders-presenters described each brand's unique qualities and listed the flavors dominant for each of the three products.

Ashton said the AIN tasting was a near first run for the museum, which was recently named a stop on Louisville's Urban Bourbon Trail. The museum joins other well-known restaurants and attractions around the city in the network designed to spotlight Louisville's many connections to bourbon and the companies which produce it.

Passports are available to participants which can be stamped and validated at each destination. Completed passports can be redeemed at the downtown Visitors Center.

During breaks in the tasting, AIN members checked out the items on display in the museum's bourbon exhibit. One highlight-a sample bottle and prescription from the years of Prohibition when thirsty Kentuckians could get bourbon only by writ of physicians for medical purposes.

One could imagine that doctor shopping was rampant during those enforced dry years.

The bar in the exhibit, which is being sponsored by Four Roses, was constructed out of wood from a tree that stood on the original property donated by brothers John and Henry Churchill for construction of the racetrack.

That tree had to be taken out during a renovation of the facility, but the wood was saved.

Which makes even the raw material for the Derby Museum bar historically significant, and that is certainly appropriate for a facility which celebrates the rich Derby tradition 365 days a year.

Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman

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