Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

FRANKFORT, KY.— The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame’s 2024 class includes the first Black chemist at Brown-Forman, a veteran visitor center manager who elevated Bourbon tourism, two distinctive distillery founders and a trailblazing retailer who later created his own craft distillery.

That retail guru is Ken Lewis, retired Founder and CEO of New Riff Distilling, and this year’s recipient of the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. As a retailer, Lewis created The Party Source megastore and drove legal and legislative changes to allow Sunday and credit card sales of alcohol.

A fearless entrepreneur, in 2014 Lewis launched New Riff Distilling in Northern Kentucky, with the goal of creating one of the world’s great small distilleries based on innovation and collaboration to “riff” on the old ways and redefine new benchmarks of whiskey making.

Eric Gregory, longtime president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association that created and operates the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame®, lauded this year’s visionary class and said, “Our signature Bourbon industry would not be what it is today without these distinguished honorees.

“Each put the industry before self, helping Kentucky cement its place in history as the international and undisputed home of Bourbon. And now we are honored to honor them. On behalf of our signature industry, we offer congratulations – and a heartfelt thank you – to these Bourbon heroes.”

This year’s class, in alphabetic order, will officially be inducted into the Hall of Fame in September:

• Elmer Lucille Allen, 93, Louisville. A pioneering activist, Allen broke barriers in the Bourbon industry as the first Black chemist at Brown-Forman – and possibly the entire American whiskey industry. Her work to bring opportunity to all Louisvillians didn’t stop when she left the company. Amongst her many accomplishments, she formed the Chickasaw Little League and led efforts to bring African American art and artists to the mainstream.

• Dee Ford, 59, Louisville. An international beacon of Bourbon hospitality. Ford’s vision, experience and leadership have catapulted Angel’s Envy and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® into an international, bucket-list tourism attraction. Since 2014, she’s served as Chair of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Committee, earning the respect of her peers and sharing best practices that have leveraged hospitality to elevate Kentucky Bourbon on the global stage.

• Ken Lewis, 71, Cincinnati. A spirits expert and groundbreaking policy leader, Lewis graduated college as a trained English teacher, but left shortly into his young career for the world of spirits retail. He championed efforts for Sunday sales and initiated litigation that allowed retailers to use credit cards for sales, eventually building The Party Source megastore, the first of its kind in the country. Learning the industry from the bottom up, Lewis brought innovation and entrepreneurship as the founder of New Riff Distilling in Northern Kentucky, paving the way for the craft Bourbon boom that now counts dozens of Kentucky distilleries.

• The late Peter T. Loftin, 61, Miami. A preeminent innovator, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Loftin founded the Bardstown Bourbon Company that transformed the landscape of custom whiskey production in 2014. He was among the first to take advantage of modernized Bourbon tourism laws in Kentucky, creating a world-class restaurant and bar that graciously features every distillery’s brand on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour as well as an enviable vintage spirits lounge. Along with the state-of-the-art distillery, this high-value Napa Valley-style experience greatly raised the bar for Bourbon tourism and collaborative distilling. He died peacefully at his home in 2019.

• R.M. Corky Taylor, 75, Henderson, Ky. A respected businessman throughout the country, Taylor retired from an accomplished career in financial services and focused on a lifelong dream – to resurrect his great-grandfather’s whiskey company. Taylor and his son spent countless hours poring over family history to bring back the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., originally owned by Henry Kraver in Henderson. He built back the family legacy in Louisville along historic Whiskey Row, gaining national recognition – and national awards – by patiently waiting for his whiskey to age, living up to the original quality Bourbon standards his ancestor first set in 1889.

The KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame® in 2001 to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant and transformational impact on Bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness. It is the highest honor given by the signature industry.

Candidates are nominated each year by the KDA and its member distilleries. A blue-ribbon committee – including all living recipients of the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award – painstakingly reviews and selects up to five applicants a year for induction.

The invitation-only ceremony will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10, at The Legacy at Log Still in Nelson County, Ky. The intimate event, known for attracting the industry’s most revered legends and champions, is held annually in conjunction with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown.

The 2024 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame® ceremony and luncheon is sponsored by Brindiamo Group, Blue & Co., LLC, Bardstown Tourism, Buzick Construction, Inc., Stedman Machine Company and Vendome Copper & Brass Works Corp.