National Bourbon Day was June 14, and did you know that September is actually Bourbon Month? The advertisers would have us believe beer is the only drink you can have with baseball, but in Kentucky where the Louisville Slugger Factory is, they raise a glass and toast bourbon and baseball all summer long.
Paying homage baseball’s swing doesn’t start with its fabled hitters as Ruth, Musial or McQwire. It begins with Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of baseball’s legendary Louisville Slugger that’s honored at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.
The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory (shown in the picture below, courtesy Louisville Slugger Museum) has drawn over three million fans since opening for tours seventeen years ago. Located on Louisville’s Museum Row along Main Street the museum is easy to find thanks to the five-story bat lending against the building, an exact-scale replica of Babe Ruth’s 34-inch Louisville Slugger. Once inside you’re taken through a series of exhibits of he company’s history that began in 1859 when J.F. Hillerich opened a woodworking shop.
It’s been reported the J.F didn’t particularly like baseball. However, J.F’s teenage son Bud who worked as an apprentice in the shop did. Fact is Bud Hillerich was more than just a baseball fan. Bud was an amateur player who hand-turned baseball bats for himself and a few of his teammates in 1880.
According to company lore Bud turned his first professional bat in 1884 for Pete Browning, a star with the American Association’s Louisville Eclipse after he witnessed Browning break a bat during a game. Bud approached the baseball star and offered to make him a new bat. Browning accepted. Bud made and delivered Browning a white ash bat that offered unprecedented hitter power, which in turn earned Browning the nickname The Louisville Slugger.
It wasn’Ít until 1894 that the to be officially attached to Bud’s bats, which had been called the Falls City Slugger, named for the Ohio river rapids at Louisville, the Bud Hillerich’s bat officially was trademarked in 1894 as the Louisville Slugger.
These early bats are a highlight of the tour along with the Signature Wall, where thousands of signatures from baseball’s not so famous to the Fall of Fame players that have been burned into the Louisville Slugger bat. Visitors can take a swing in Bud’s Batting Cage using replica bats made for bygone players as Babe Ruth and DiMaggio or hold an original bat from one of baseballs homerun hitters as Mickey Mantle or David Ortiz in the Grand Slam Gallery. After exploring the gallery exhibits and before leaving to follow the mile Walk of Fame to the Louisville Slugger Field take the factory tour, where the legend continues. Here thousands of bats or turned daily and where all visitors receive a free miniature Louisville Slugger as a memento.
Beyond baseball, Louisville’s other favorite “B” word is bourbon. Louisville is the gateway to Bourbon Country where bourbon aficionados and novices can enjoy and savor the history and legends America’s own unique native spirit Less than a sixty minute dive through rolling hillsides dotted with whiskey warehouses and to distilleries as Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace. Within Louisville’s city limits take a class at Moonshine University, the educational arm of Distilled Spirits Epicenter where visitors can drop in and take an “enthusiast” class. Classes are two hours and cover a variety of subjects from sensory evaluations and mixology to cooking with bourbon theme classes as Like Bourbon for Chocolate.
Speaking of food and bourbon, The Urban Bourbon Trail will appeal to any foodie and appreciates bourbon. Pick up a official UB Trail passport and begin collecting stamps by stopping in to experience Louisville’s unique collection of restaurants and bourbon bars, each offering between 50 to 150 different bourbons, including single barrel and small. My top picks along the trail - the Brown Hotel and the Seelback Bar. At the Brown order up a mint julep with it’s signature sammie, the Hot Brown. At the Old Seelbach Bar, a favorite hangout for Al Capone and F. Scott Fitzgerald try the Bourbon Chocolate pecan pie with the Champagne and bourbon laced Seelbach cocktail.
After touring the Slugger Museum and sipping responsibly try to catch a game at Louisville Slugger Field before heading home. Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats is considered one of the best minor league park’s in the country.
Before you go here’s the 411: Bourbon still. (Suzanne Corbett photo)
The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory: www.sluggermuseum.com
The Urban Bourbon Trail: www.bourboncountry.com
Louisville Bats at Slugger Field: www.batsbaseball.com