And Now We Wait...

by Colonel Steve Akley


In a perfect world, come August, we will see a press release from the Kentucky Distiller's Association announcing the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame class for 2018 that includes Freddie Johnson and his family. This would represent the culmination, not of a P.R. campaign orchestrated by myself, the team at the ABV Network and our fans, but instead it truly would be the recognition of the contributions of an amazing family that has been making bourbon special for over 100 years.

My involvement in all of this started in January in my friend Jeremy Schell's office in Louisville, Kentucky. He, myself and Tracy Napolitano were gathered around my computer interviewing Freddie Johnson for The Bourbon Daily. We knew Freddie was amazing... probably the greatest bourbon tour guide to ever live. What we didn't know going into that day is how he would touch our souls. We had anticipated a great interview, but we got so much more. It was just incredible how Freddie would not only talk about bourbon, but share stories where it opened the door to such raw emotions. He shared with us the story of drinking some Pappy Van Winkle with his father and brother. The bottle had been a gift from Julian Van Winkle himself and Freddie want to share a pour, then keep the bottle to share again for a special moment later. His Dad chastised him, reminding him that "future special moments" may never happen... live in the now... enjoy THIS moment.

Freddie then went on how special that day went as the three men shared pour-after-pour from the bottle... laughing, sharing stories and reminiscing until the bottle was empty. Nine months later, both his father and brother had passed away, and Freddie relishes that special day together with two of the people that mattered to him the most in his life and is so glad he didn't put that bourbon away for a future special day that would likely have never come.

I gotta tell you, listening to Freddie share that story, I was wrecked. Not just from what Freddie was saying... but instantly reflecting back on the loss of my own father. I was barely holding it together as that interview ended and we hung up on Freddie, but I told Tracy and Jeremy right then... on that day, at that moment, I would try to help get Freddie and his family into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame because that's where they belong. They have been part of the history of this great spirit for so long, yet, if we don't make an effort to remember them, those actions can be lost to time.

So with that... we started this awareness campaign. The goal was simple.... to just talk about the contributions of Freddie, his father and his grandfather to the bourbon industry. If we could do that to enough people, maybe the right people might see what we were doing and who knows what happens then.

Right away, so many cool things began to occour. I mean I heard from dozens and dozens of people who wanted to help out. I actually spoke to Mike Veach, Fred Minnick and Chuck Cowdery about this. They were genuinely interested in what we were doing. Jill Hawkins, Executive Director of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and I began communicating via email and then spoke on the phone a couple of times. The most amazing thing, though... I met Freddie Johnson during a visit to Buffalo Trace and it was one of the most incredible meetings of my life. He expressed how much all of this meant to him and his family and he talked about the bond we would have the rest of our lives moving forward from what we did with this campaign.

All of the effort of the team... myself, Jordan Grigsby who set-up the petition and has done some blog posts himself about Freddie, Jeremy Schell who has helped orchestrate our plan, Renee Howe for her assistance in social media, Craig Rupprecht who had his club members sign the petition adding over 300 signatures to our efforts and so many more who helped promote it to their friends, families and social networks ends today. That's right today, May 15, 2018, is the last day we are taking signature on our petition. I will then send it on to Jill from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Buffalo Trace and even Freddie Johnson himself.

All of this culminates, not with us knowing if Freddie and family will make it into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame because we aren't the voters, but it ends in success, not matter what happens from this point forward. I say that because our success comes from the fact we are doing an awareness campaign and clearly people became much more aware of the contributions of Freddie and his family to the industry. We also touched Freddie's heart. While we can't control whether or not he actually goes in, it shows him the love people have for what he's doing and I think that's pretty important so, yes, not matter what happens in August with the class of 2018 is announced, what we have done is a success. I'm just crazy enough to believe all of this ends with the ultimate success of seeing Freddie, and family on the roster of entrants into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, but we will see. 

So, as the title of this post states, and now we wait...

Below are a couple of final requests... if you haven't yet signed the petition, please do. We'll be turning it over to the KDA tomorrow and would love to have your name on there. Also, if you haven't read our special edition of Bourbon Zeppelin dedicated to how Freddie, his grandfather and father have contributed to bourbon, I really encourage you to do so. I believe it will really reinforce why they deserve to be in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

I sign off here with one special request. If August comes and that announcement comes out... and Freddie and family don't make it... don't be angry, disappointed or give up hope. I'm willing to keep going for as long as it takes to make this happen. We will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and evaluate where we go from here. If August comes and the announcement comes out and Freddie and family make it... I only ask you congratulate Freddie Johnson and not me. I want to remind you that if Freddie and family make it... it's because of what Freddie and family have done for the world of bourbon. I'm just a P.R. guy here. In this case, I have the greatest person in the world at the front of my efforts with Freddie Johsnon... but that's all I am here... a person leading an awareness campaign about what others have done. The Johnson family is the story here!


Please support our efforts into getting Freddie Johnson and his family into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame by signing our petition:

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: