Three weeks ago I went on a bourbon adventure to Kentucky. You can read more details about that trip HERE. It was an expedition with dear brothers. Our Buffalo Trace private tour guide Freddie gave us a hypothetical situation: You are celebrating a very special occasion—a milestone. You pull out that bottle of bourbon that you’ve been saving for years. You ask your guests how they would like it? You go around the room and get to someone and they said “mixed with Diet Pepsi please!” What do you do? One of the men in our group said “Kill them.” Haha

Freddie went on to ask “Have you ever tasted 23 year-old Pappy Van Winkle with Diet Pepsi?” We said no. And no one ever should. Then Freddie shocked us by replying he actually made that drink for someone recently. It wasn’t a hypothetical situation. It was a celebration hosted by Freddie within the last couple of months. And he said to the person I will make you a little drink just like you said and if you want more, I’ll make you more. Because this occasion is not about the bourbon. It’s not about the whiskey. It’s about the memory we’re about to create. It’s about the people. And you are that important to me. I care more about you and this time than I do this bottle. We couldn’t believe it. The people are more important than the bourbon. Our tour was littered with teachable moments. Here are my Top 10 Leadership Lessons from the Bourbon Trail.

Our crew at the Woodford Reserve distillery. That’s a big still!

Here are the first 5 (of 10) Leadership Lessons Learned on the bourbon trail

1. Honor tradition and embrace change. This is Buffalo Trace’s motto. It was also in another form on the Angels Envy building. Angels Envy’s motto on the side of their building: Revere Tradition. Embrace Progress. Sound familiar?
Buffalo Trace distillery founded: 1771
Angels Envy Distillery founded: 2013

2. People are more important than stuff.     The most important thing in the world is people. People are more important than possessions, even rare bourbon.

3. Everyone has something valuable to offer.  In the days of old, no one ever came to the distilleries alone. They worked in teams. The early distillers were the “Apple nerds” of their time. Chemists, Biologists, Biochemists, arborists, architects, etc. Everyone brought something to the table.

4. History can be baggage or an enhancer.   The one thing it is–a constant, and everyone brings it with them.

5. The passing down of knowledge is vital.   In the early days of distilleries, the masters never wrote any notes down because then they could be stolen. So the family knowledge and “discipleship” in the business was of utmost importance. We are missing this in the current age.

Pete Hardesty

Author Pete Hardesty

Pete Hardesty grew up in Baltimore, MD and graduated from the University of Virginia. Pete then joined the staff of Young Life in 1997 till present. He lives outside of Washington D.C. where he leads the college division of Young Life for the eastern part of the U.S. He loves college students, beach volleyball, and his 2 nieces very much. Likes: His nieces, Ravens football, college people (even though they make him feel old), movies, cigars, Thai food, the Middle East. Dislikes: Country music, tomatoes, shrimp, rice crispy treats, and wet socks. Pete believes because we only get one shot at this life we need to figure out what matters and give ourselves to it. Let’s make it count. If you have a problem with this, he challenges you to meet him behind the dumpster after school to fight.

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