I Met Freddie Johnson!!

by Colonel Steve Akley


I have to admit something perhaps too personal, but Freddie Johnson makes me cry. It happened when he came on The Bourbon Daily, whenever I watch the bourbon documentary, Neat and really perhaps if I think about him too much. 

It's weird, I know. I just think the world of Freddie when it comes to integrity, honesty and ability to always say the right thing at the right time.

I mean think about the movie Neat... that film closes with Freddie telling the story of his Dad and brother enjoying bourbon and Freddie, a grown man, still learning life-lessons from his father. It's raw. It's emotional. It's real. 

I have to say the combination of his unique ability to capture those moments and provide them with such oracle passion make Freddie pretty special. He also reminds me of my own father who I lost five years ago very unexpectedly. I haven't met someone with the moral fiber my father had until I've gotten to know Freddie, mostly through interviews, YouTube videos, a tour he gave my family many years ago and the interview Jeremy Schell, Tracy Napolitano and I did with him on The Bourbon Daily in February.

It was the conclusion of that episode of The Bourbon Daily... my eyes all misty with tears as he shared the story of his father and brother sharing a bottle of Pappy and it being one of the best moments of their lives that I turned to Jeremy and Tracy and simply stated at the conclusion of the interview, "Why isn't Freddie Johnson in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame?"

Seriously, if there is an institute that calls itself the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, can you do it without Freddie Johnson and his family? As I quickly pondered that notion, I knew the answer... "No. No, you cannot legitimately have a Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and not have Freddie Johnson and his family in it."

They have done far too much for the industry and gotten far too many fans into bourbon. I embarked on a journey, one that would get help from many new and old friends to create an awareness campaign designed to get Freddie and his family into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

Will it be successful? 

I don't know, and frankly, I don't care what my chances of success are. It's about doing what's right for me and I believe in my heart, the Johnsons belong in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. I'm not looking for any recognition for doing this... in fact, that's counter productive to what this mission is about... it's about getting Freddie and his family the recognition they deserve... while Freddie can enjoy it. I've already talked about his unique ability to tell a story. Can you imagine him talking about the pride and honor the recognition of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame means to him and his family?

Well, I got the honor of a little of insight into exactly that during a stop at Buffalo Trace earlier today. I booked the barrel tour they do which takes you through the life of a barrel there. I was excited about the tour, for sure, but I was also excited about the prospect of finally meeting Freddie beyond simply being a person on a tour he was conducting.

I checked-in and then walked into the gift shop. Right there, just to the right of the door he stood. Freddie Johnson. The guy I've been talking so much about for the last several months. I stuck out my hand and told him I was Steve Akley. I told him that he had been on my podcast, The Bourbon Daily and I was leading the effort to trying to get him and his family into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

Freddie gushed about how much all of this meant to him. He told me how excited his wife would be to know we had this opportunity to meet. He showed me a series of photos Buffalo Trace had done for him in the gift shop highlighting his family's history with the company and how important that was to him. 

As I looked at those pictures of Freddie's father and grandfather, I knew everything I have done for this is 100% the right thing to do. His family gave their lives to this business and Freddie was so enthused his own company recognized these efforts by placing photos of them in the gift shop. It told me the recognition of the industry, his peers and the bourbon community as an entrant into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame would be the ultimate acknowledgement of his family's contributions to the bourbon business.

Freddie and I took some photos together and chatted for at least 30 minutes, about life, family and bourbon. Employees of Buffalo Trace came up to me and shook my hand thanking me for recognizing Freddie and his family for their contributions for bourbon and what I have done attempting to get them into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

Our conversation ended with Freddie telling me, "Steve, it doesn't matter what happens with that thing (making the Hall). What you have done for me, I can't thank you enough for. No matter happens with it... you and I have a special bond from this point forward from what you have done for me."

He got me again. Roll the waterworks... I told you Freddie always knows just what to say.


Please support our efforts into getting Freddie Johnson and his family into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame by signing our petition: https://goo.gl/CTM1H8

If you would like to know more about what Freddie, his father and grandfather have contributed to the world of bourbon, be sure to check out my special issue of Bourbon Zeppelin dedicated exclusively to their contributions to the world of bourbon: https://goo.gl/Jzq7g8