By Judy Clabes, Editor and publisher
A proper Bourbon Summit requires a collaborative meeting of two powerful Washington political leaders – and a unique collaborative bourbon as well.
At least that’s the way some influential Kentuckians see it.
And what better place to start than at the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship – named for Kentucky’s famed Great Compromiser – with a commemorative “Bourbon Barrel of Compromise” to be delivered in grand style to the nation’s Capital, accompanied by all the pomp and circumstance due the hope for democracy as it should be.
Add to the mix the same frontier-adventure spirit that marked Clay’s life, a determination to “lubricate the wheels of government” toward the value of negotiation and compromise, and a splash of showmanship. Voila! The makings of an invitation that can’t be refused?
The buzz around a so-called “Bourbon Summit” between President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has persisted for months. Both men have said they welcome it. The nation has expressed general frustration with persistent contentiousness in its government. Could the right bourbon seal the deal?
The president has said he would enjoy “having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell.” McConnell has said “it will happen” but lamented having to pick the brand, likening it to picking a favorite daughter.
To the rescue comes the Henry Clay Center and the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, with some help from the Kentucky Society of Washington.
The KDA, a non-profit trade group founded in 1880, partnered with the center to provide an exclusive, custom 42-gallon white oak barrel hand-crafted by theIndependent Stave Company of Lebanon to be filled with the state’s iconic brands.
On Monday Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. atAshland, Clay’s historic 16-acre estate in the heart of Lexington, Clay’s extended family, dignitaries and Center student alums will gather to send the precious barrel off in fine style – by horse-drawn carriage and bus – to its destination, D.C.’s famedWillard Intercontinental Hotel, where the term “lobbyist” first entered our lexicon.
As part of the ceremony, Lexington police will escort the carriage to Clay’s monument at the Lexington Cemetery where it will connect with a specially-equipped and graphically-wrapped bus — the “Bourbon Express” — for the trip to the historic Willard Hotel.
There in the early 1800s in the hotel’s Round Robin Bar, Henry Clay introduced the classic Bourbon Mint Julep to Washington, D.C. Clay famously shipped to the Willard barrels laden with his state’s signature beverage for use in his own “diplomatic” efforts.
“Re-enactment of Henry Clay’s delivery of a barrel of Kentucky Bourbon to Washington, and its reception by the Majority Leader, are meant to remind America’s youth and today’s leaders of the value of dialogue, negotiation and compromise to the effective functioning of government at every level,” said Robert Clay, co-chairman of the Clay Center and a distant cousin of the statesman, in a statement to be released to the press.
“Clay’s reliance on these tools and principles was key to the development of our Republic 200 years ago and is just as crucial to successfully meeting the challenges of today,” he said.
Henry Clay served in both houses of Congress, as speaker of the house, and as secretary of state. He was one of the most consequential statesmen of the 19th century.
Master Distillers from Kentucky’s famed bourbon producers will accompany the barrel on its journey to Washington.
It will be met in the lobby of the Willard around 7 p.m. on Feb. 3 by Sen. McConnell and – at his insistence – Kentucky’s entire bi-partisan congressional delegation and other dignitaries including former Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, now a special White House adviser to President Obama.
After what is sure to be highly anticipated remarks by Majority Leader McConnell, the greeting party will join special invited guests for a private reception and premium bourbon tasting.
The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship hopes to make the delivery of bourbon to the Willard a biennial event celebrating the swearing-in of every new Congress and promoting the spirit of compromise.
Will POTUS be a surprise guest?
Will calendars open up for the taste of Bourbon and the possibility for the more civil discourse we expect of our public servants?
Will the whole world learn what Kentucky has long known: That bourbon is more powerful than tea.