While the precise origins of Bourbon are sketchy, this much is known about the corn-based good stuff: all bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskies are bourbon, it gets its unique colour from being fermented red oak barrels though not all barrels are red these days, and it’s as emblematic of the the gorgeous, rolling hills of Kentucky as bluegrass, horse-racing, and the kind of exquisite politeness that has a way of throwing you if you’re too accustomed to the gruff manner of the larger places.
It also stands to reason that the originators of this once confederate state’s most stress-busting export did not have Bourbon Brownies in mind when they perfected the formula. But whether a brick-sized slab of fudge slathered in bacon grease and topped with flecks of fried ham could be classed a good idea or not, one doesn’t sense the mad genius behind them had health in mind when dreaming up their buttery grandeur.
It’s also one of many indications that Louder Than Life aims to more than your average music festival. Set a stone’s throw from the banks of the Ohio river near downtown Louisville, it advertises itself as a gourmet man-food and bourbon festival with music thrown in, though you wouldn’t know it from the vast swathes of fans amassed outside the gates. It’s around noon on day one, and the tendrils of hurricane Joaquin have thrown most of North America’s eastern seaboard into disarray, and it’s dropped temperatures enough so that the first sensible stop is Bourbon World, a cavernous, barrel-lined exhibition of some of Kentucky’s finest exports. Some names are familiar: Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Bulleit, and Knob Creek - you get the picture. The others: Old Forester, Mitcher’s, Town Branch, Willet, and the delectable Angel’s Envy - who’ve produced a signature bottle for Louder Than Life - are all as rich and diverse as the bill of Louder than Life itself.
Where else can you catch a triumphant Trivium, hot off the heels of their release of Silence in The Snow, proving why their career has been so consistently imbued with the promise of future worldbeaters. But while the throaty gusto of bands like Butcher Babies and Atreyu conjure a forest of horns in the rain-soaked crowd - and Mark Tremonti’s godlike command of the fretboard deserves special mention here - it’s the privilege of seeing Bring Me The Horizon, fresh from a release that’s kicked doors in across the globe, that makes today unique. By the time Rob Zombie rolls around, with his cover of Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band getting the crowd into a frenzy, it’s as if the day’s chill has worn off and this glorious pox on the bible belt - replete with a Get On Up jam and possibly the heaviest rendition of Blitzkrieg Bop in history - it’s as if the weather’s never happened.
It’s just as well then that day two - under a blue sky and greeted by the drawling, southern-fried riffs of Whiskey Myers on the main stage - gets off to a roaring start, and with the clouds at a respectful distance it’s the perfect segue into some hog roast, some Kentucky Headhunters, and later - a field-wide singalong to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits but not before Black Stone Cherry prove while they’re those legendary songsmith’s rightful heirs. Under a setting sun and with a Kentucky Peach in hand - that’s a bourbon and schnapps, as you asked - the only thing left is to wait for ZZ Top to do what only they can do and count down the days to next year.