From band teacher to bourbon enthusiast, Lee Cowherd is a Frankfortian through and through.
Lee was born and raised in Frankfort, and besides the four years he spent at Ohio State University, he’s lived in Frankfort his entire life.
He served as the band director at Bondurant Middle School and Western Hills High School before going to work for the state in 1990.
Even though he had lived in Frankfort his entire life, Lee didn’t begin to learn about the bourbon industry until he and his wife, Mary Jane, did the Bourbon Tour. He’s been hooked ever since.
In 2013, he retired and began working at Buffalo Trace Distillery, sharing his knowledge and love of Kentucky’s spirit with tourists from all over the world.
FRANK.: What is it you like about bourbon? Why do you prefer it over other drinks?
Lee: I do really enjoy the flavor of bourbon, and working at the distillery I have come to appreciate the variety and subtleties of the flavors. The other great thing about bourbon is its story and authenticity. The story of whiskey in general and bourbon in particular are intertwined with the story of America and Kentucky. I enjoy beer and wine and other spirits from time to time, but I really like sitting down at the end of the day and sipping a fine bourbon.
FRANK.: What is your favorite bourbon and why?
Lee: When a guest asks me that on a tour I’ll often say, “That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite!” I don’t have a huge collection, but I do like sampling lots of different bourbons. There are a lot of great products being created now at lots of distilleries. That said, Buffalo Trace is honestly my “go-to.” It’s everything a great bourbon should be and it’s relatively available and a great price for the quality.
FRANK.: What fact do you find most interesting about bourbon?
Lee: There is just so much. I’ve been working at the distillery for eight years and I’m still learning. One thing I find fascinating is that bourbon wasn’t invented as we know it today. Nobody knows who first charred barrels, or even who first called it “bourbon.” It evolved over time into what we now recognize as bourbon. Another fascinating thing is the endless variety that can be created from such a simple beginning — water, corn, yeast, oak and time. Every bourbon is essentially the same, yet can be very different.
FRANK.: What do you like about working at the distillery?
Lee: The best part is meeting people from all over the world. I have given a tour to former South Korean military officials who were in Kentucky working on issues of nuclear proliferation. They came to the distillery after they completed their work and the entire tour was translated to Korean!
As important as the guests, are my coworkers. We have a terrific team here — tour guides, gift shop associates, managers — not to mention the people who do the real work of producing the product. We work hard, we get stressed sometimes, but we have a great time.
FRANK.: What is your favorite Buffalo Trace product?
Lee: I honestly like everything that we sell at the gift shop — Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor Small Batch and Weller Special Reserve. And the Wheatley Vodka is terrific as well. And everybody likes the Bourbon Cream!
FRANK.: What do you like to do in your down time? Any hobbies?
Lee: Well, I’ve been making wooden bowls on a lathe for the last few years, that’s fun. I have recently revived a Dixieland band that I started before COVID. We hope to be playing around town soon. I also recently started sculpting clay portrait busts. It’s something that just kind of popped into my head early this year, so I decided to give it a try. It’s different from anything I’ve done before, but it’s fun.
FRANK.: Anything else you would like to add?
Lee: It’s really great to be part of the “Bourbon Renaissance” that’s going on now. I think folks in Frankfort are finally realizing what a great opportunity it presents for our town. I know I didn’t appreciate it growing up here, but it really is a great opportunity to show off our town to people from all over.