You may not know Brian Shemwell and Tom “Fish” Adams, but if you sit down with them for just five minutes you’ll feel like you’ve been lifelong friends. The pair met in August 2014 and immediately bonded over their love of two things: Kentucky bourbon and charitable causes. This chance meeting led the two of them to found The Paducah Bourbon Society.
“I have a stupid amount of bourbon.”
This was the phrase uttered by Fish that caught Brian’s ear. “We both have a deep love for Kentucky and for bourbon,” explains Brian. “Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon. The bourbon that flows out of our state is known worldwide as THE best. This is well known in the Golden Triangle – Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville – but not so much here in the western end of the state. We wanted to change that.”
The pair launched The Paducah Bourbon Society with a kickoff meeting in June of 2015. Prior to that meeting, they created a website and a Facebook page. Brian went door to door in downtown Paducah telling people about the group. They anticipated 30 people would attend. They were astonished when 85 people arrived at that first meeting held at Kirchoff’s Bakery & Deli. By Christmas 2015, membership had grown to 270 individuals!
“This group took off well beyond our expectations,” says Fish. “Our goal from the start was to share our love of Kentucky bourbon in a way that was inclusive while also using the group as a way to give back to our community. We wanted people, regardless of their background, age, gender, level of experience, etc. to come together over a mutual love and appreciation of bourbon. We have found people want to learn. The Paducah Bourbon Society provides a place where all are welcome regardless of their knowledge or skill. We encourage people to shed their inhibitions and come to enjoy the fellowship of one another.” Today the group has nearly 400 members. Since its inception, over 700 people have been involved in the group. Membership dues are $50 per year. All membership dues are used to cover the food and beverages expenses of the monthly meetings.
Charitable giving is ingrained in the mission of the Paducah Bourbon Society. The pair teamed up with Paducah Cooperative Ministries as their sponsored charity. Food drives followed.
In 2017, the society launched Project Helios and set out to raise funds to install solar panels on Paducah Cooperative Ministries’ Fresh Start Village.
“The grid-tied solar system on the roof of the Fresh Start Village will produce free and clean energy from the sun to offset PCM’s monthly energy costs,” explained Bryant Hileman, Paducah Bourbon Society Member and architect of the fundraising initiative. “Utilities are one of the most expensive items in the shelter’s operating budget, and our goal is to help Paducah Cooperative Ministry become more sustainable and self-sufficient by producing their own energy for the next 25 years.“ Installation of the panels on one of the Fresh Start Village homes is complete with work continuing on a second home. The group is three-quarters of the way towards their fundraising goal of $40,000.
“Bourbon is of huge importance to our state,” Brian added. Kentucky Bourbon contributes $8.5 billion each year into the state’s economy. There are over 17,000 jobs in the state associated with the spirit which returns over $825 million in tax revenue. “Bourbon is America’s only native spirit. As Kentuckians, bourbon is our birthright. Fish and I take great pride in this. We want to share that with others in our community to instill a sense of honor and excitement over the product and the experience.”
“Enjoying a glass of bourbon is not about the glass,” concluded Fish. “It’s about the fellowship you surround yourself with while drinking it.”
So, what is the best way to enjoy a glass of Kentucky bourbon? To quote Jim Beam 7th generation Master Distiller Fred Noe, “any damn way you please.”
Connect with the Paducah Bourbon Society
The Paducah Bourbon Society will host its next meeting Monday, July 30, 2018 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Paducah’s Freight House. The group will be welcoming Louisville-based Cooper & Kings Master Distiller, Brandon O’Neill, along with Louisville Chef, Author, and Dear Friend of the Paducah Bourbon Society, Steve Coomes. The pair of special guests will be introducing the brandy-making process to western Kentucky and will be pairing it with gourmet chocolates. Newcomers welcome!