Many people here are already familiar with Bill Owens and the American Distilling Insitute, but I know that probably most are not. Owens was an early leader of the craft brewing movement in the '70s and '80s, and is pretty much the central influence in today's organized craft distilling. He began the ADI in 2002 and through it he provides education, library and knowledge-source materials, hands-on training, and most importantly, interaction among pioneers who are otherwise scattered all over the country. The Institute itself is located in Hayward, California.
Each year since 2003 they've held an annual national conference, with a particular aspect of distilling as the theme. The locations vary, but the one I attended in 2004 was held in Borden, Indiana, at the Huber Starlight Distillery. The Huber site, which is primarily concerned with brandy production, is ideally set up for such events, with a conference center and restaurant complex and staff. The theme of that particular conference was Rum, which interested me because the American rum industry was the precursor of the American whiskey industry. There was also a conference themed around Whiskey, which I was unfortunately unable to join, but I believe Chuck Cowdery went to that one.
This year, they're back in the Kentucky/Indiana area, and the theme is "Whiskey & Moonshine".
The conference dates are May 3-5, and I'm a-goin'. Anyone else?
The conference lasts for three days (four, if you consider pre-conference activities at the hotel on Sunday evening). If you're really into understanding the liquor you're talking about and enjoying, you'll get MUCH more out of those three days than you ever would from a case of George T. Stagg, and it'll cost less, too --- but not much less. These conferences ain't cheap. And they ain't easy, neither. Those will be three INTENSE days, believe me. And they will be easily worth every dime and then some. The conference itself costs $600, and does not include your room at the Louisville Marriott. However, the ADI has arranged a discounted group rate ($134/night -- the AAA-discounted rate is over $50 more).
As I said before, the event really starts as people begin to arrive at the hotel on Sunday. You don't have to stay at the Marriott, of course, but much of the interaction occurs there (including assembly and transportation) so it's probably not a bad idea to stay there. Also, much of that interaction, especially after returning each day, is likely to involve imbibing beyond one's normal intake and/or capacity. Think of it as cheap insurance: you don't jeopardize your drivers license or anyone's life by crawling to the elevator.
Monday, May 3, starts out with tours of the Vendome Copper works and Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, where you'll get to see stills and barrels being built. The bus then takes us out to visit the Alltech distillery in Lexington and the special "insiders" tour at Buffalo Trace (Fred, are you doing that one?). We will then visit Kentucky Bourbon Distillers in Bardstown before returning to Louisville. Dinner will be at either Makers' Mark Restaurant or at Proof. This conference does nothing that is not first-class.
Tuesday, May 4, will be taken up with the conference itself, probably at Huber Starlight Distillery which is sponsoring the event. This will be long day, with nearly fifty vendors and speakers on every conceivable subject relating to making and marketing whiskey. Of course, with the theme being "Moonshine", I suspect the emphasis to be on corn whiskey and unaged spirits, but there are no hard-drawn lines so one can certainly expect more (after all, one of yesterday's tours was to a cooperage wasn't it?). There will be live distilling, using Starlight's own whiskey still. Lunch and dinner is included, and I can attest from previous experience that Huber's culinary offerings are absolutely premium class. There will also be an awards presentation and a silent auction. There will be a chance to sample all the whiskeys that were judged. The bus will then dump our sodden bodies off at the hotel.
Wednesday, May 5, will be a judging of whiskeys made by ADI members (and possibly some commercial distilleries as well), and of course an awards ceremony luncheon, probably also at Huber. This is "supposed" to be a half-day affair, but I'd advise those who are flying home from Louisville to book an evening flight. These things don't break up all that early.
Maybe the best part of attending an ADI conference is the opportunity to meet and get to know people who are really pioneers in an industry that is only just beginning to reach a point where they can offer their products to the public. It's a time when you can talk one-on-one with well-known "whiskey celebrities" and folks who may someday become celebrities. People who will be there include Henry Preiss, Dave Pickerell, John Glaser, Ralph Lrenzo, Lincoln and Wes Henderson, Payton Fireman, and Rick Wasmund. At least! (lot's of time left to add more).
I know that, before Chuck went the whiskey conference, he was almost totally skeptical of anything involving craft distilling; afterward his writings began to clearly distinguish between those who confirmed his suspicions and those in whom he saw some real merit. Chuck's still an old stick-in-the-mud traditionalist, y'know, but even he's getting to be less so. And yes, Charlie, of COURSE I'm kidding!
Okay, I just got off the phone with Bill. If you really want to do this thing, and you can take the time, I can get us a group-rate discount. PM me for more info, but only if you're serious and have both the time and the cash (the actual cost will vary depending on how many sign up, but figure about $450 for the conference; the hotel costs are up to you).