Campus News

Nunn Center’s Oral Histories Are Toast of Bourbon Trail Welcome Center

Trailer for the documentary "Kentucky Bourbon Tales" created by Nunn Center with filmmaker Joanna Hay.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 30, 2018) As bourbon enthusiasts from around the world embark on a journey of the industry at the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center, University of Kentucky Libraries Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History is helping Frazier History Museum provide a strong foundation of the spirit’s rich history in the Commonwealth.

In September, Louisville’s Frazier History Museum began serving as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center. In conjunction with the new designation, the museum opened the “Spirit of Kentucky” exhibition to promote the new center and help contextualize the history of bourbon making in the state.

To help tell the story of bourbon in the Commonwealth, the exhibit uses hundreds of digital clips from an oral history project conducted by the Nunn Center. In the “Gracious” room, an area exploring the collaborative nature of the industry, the exhibit displays this content using a large family dinner table, where a digital library of bourbon-related research can be accessed interactively via the the touch screens that are the table’s surface.

"It is exciting to see so many of the Nunn Center’s bourbon-related oral history interviews being accessed in such an innovative way," Nunn Center Director Doug Boyd said. "These oral history interviews are a powerful way to begin a historical journey down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and we are incredibly proud of this partnership.” 

Much of the digital content shared in this part of the exhibition comes from the Nunn Center’s Bourbon Tales Oral History Project with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA). The collection features timeless stories of the state’s most cherished master distillers and bourbon barons, as well as the iconic distilleries they represent on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses and Jim Beam, as well as Buffalo Trace, the new Michter’s Distillery and Independent Stave Cooperage.

The oral histories were also the foundation of the documentary “Kentucky Bourbon Tales: Distilling the Family Business,” produced by the Nunn Center and directed by filmmaker Joanna Hay. The documentary, which airs regularly on KET, explores the science and art behind the bourbon-making process and details how the beverage became a global phenomenon. This landmark initiative captured each distiller’s personal story, history of the distilleries, changes to the industry and background on the distilling process, as well as favorite yarns related to the people and products behind America’s only native spirit.

Interviews with the distillers and industry veterans also explore why Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon, qualities that make Kentucky bourbon the best in the country, and the tourism and economic importance of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour to the state.

For bourbon lovers who can’t travel to Kentucky, the Nunn Center has digitized much of this content to make it publicly available and easier to search using OHMS, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer. OHMS technology, developed at the Nunn Center, connects searches to text in transcripts and correlating moments in audio or video interviews for more expedient use of the collection.

The Bourbon Tales Oral History Project and “Kentucky Bourbon Tales” was made possible through the support of the KDA and its member distilleries. The nonprofit organization, which traces its roots back to 1880, is a leading international voice on bourbon and distilled spirits issues. In 1999, KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience, which quickly became one of the state’s most famous and fastest-growing tourism attractions.

The Nunn Center for Oral History at UK LibrariesSpecial Collections Research Center is recognized around the world as a leader and innovator in the collection and preservation of oral histories. The center is home to over 11,000 oral history interviews that provide a unique look into Kentucky and American history and represent an irreplaceable resource for researchers today and generations from now. The Nunn Center’s collections focus on 20th century Kentucky history, Appalachia, Kentucky writers, agriculture, black history, the history of education, politics and public policy, the Civil Rights Movement, veterans, the university, health care, as well as the coal, equine and Kentucky bourbon industries.

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photo of people using interactive table in Gracious room of Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center
photo of rendering of "Gracious" table with interactive video content

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