If you’re roving the streets of downtown Lexington, Kentucky, you may come upon a bourbon barrel with a peephole that says, “Look Inside.”
Within, you’ll find an imaginative diorama depicting the Pepper and Henry Clay Distilleries from the 20th century, with lights powered by solar energy.
Designed by artist Jessica Slade and partner Casey Opstad, this is just one example of the creativity on display as part of The Bourbon Barrel Project on Town Branch. 41 barrels decorated by artists have been scattered around the city. A partnership of Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company (LBDC), which produces Town Branch bourbon, and LexArts, a non-profit arts organization, the event highlights Lexington’s heritage in bourbon production.
Each barrel features an identity as unique and finely-crafted as the bourbons of the area. From an intricately carved fish to a brightly painted scene called “Kissing Triangles” viewed through 3-D glasses, the barrels depict many diverse settings and subjects.
For Jessica Slade’s barrel, she and her partner chose to focus on the interior.
“The inside is where the magic happens in the bourbon aging process,” she says. “We ultimately built the historic scene of the Jas. E. Pepper distillery because it was located right along the Town Branch and is also in an area of town that is growing with young businesses today.”
The name of the arts project is a reference to the creek that flows beneath Lexington and has served many distilleries over the years. The barrels have been placed strategically to reflect the meandering course of the water that flows beneath.
“Distilling bourbon is an art form, and as artists of the trade, we thought this was a fitting nod to Lexington’s past, present and future as a bourbon hub,” said Ashley Baker, of spirits sales at Alltech’s LBDC. “We are also very supportive of LexArts’ mission and want to share in their passion for the community through this project and the celebration of the Town Branch Commons.”
Slade chimes in, “I think that a lot of Kentucky pride and entrepreneurial spirit comes from Lexington’s heritage in the bourbon industry.”
In addition to bringing attention to Kentucky’s bourbon history, the barrels provide unique access to public art for visitors and residents.
The artist of “Kissing Triangles,” Lennon Michalski, describes the benefits of the project this way: “You’re walking downtown, you’re not even thinking about art, and you’re like, ‘Bam!’ Here it is: right in your life. In a gallery, you have to go and take a day out, and even when you’re there, it’s like you’re mentally prepping yourself to get ready for this life test of, “Is this beauty? …why do I not understand it?”
Slade agrees on the accessibility of public art, pointing out that, “It has the power to surprise, inspire, and challenge a viewer who may not typically seek out art on their own.”
Following a VIP reception and public viewing parties, the barrels made their downtown debut on September 15, and will remain on display through November 10. Select barrels will be auctioned on November 16, with proceeds benefiting local arts programs.
And of course, bourbon will be served. As Michalski says, “If I have to choose a liquor to drink straight, it’s always going to be bourbon.”
Stop and take a peek; you’ll be glad you did.