Photos: Big Bourbon Toast and Tug-of-War Contest
The Purple People Bridge across the Ohio River was once again host to the now annual Big Bourbon Toast, hosted by Newport’s own New Riff Distilling. After a successful 2018 edition celebrating the release of their Bottled In Bond bourbon, the 2019 event sought to be even bigger than its predecessor.
“We thought a community celebration was the best way to do it,” says Amy Tobin, Director of Communications at New Riff. “This year’s toast is a chance for us all to celebrate.” New Riff has much to celebrate, after winning Double Gold for every product at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
“The response to our products has been overwhelming - and humbling,” says Tobin. “We continue to work hard to produce the best quality Bourbon, Rye and Gin that we possibly can.”
All 1,000 of the commemorative glass shot glasses had long been claimed before the start of the event as people continued to stream onto the bridge, where they were greeted with a free shot for the toast, cash bars featuring New Riff cocktails, and bourbon-infused cannoli from Del Gardo’s.
New to this year’s toast is an Ohio-vs-Kentucky Tug of War, with teams representing the 2020 Community Barrel recipients: the Cincinnati Parks Foundation 25th Anniversary, and the City of Newport’s 225th anniversary. Teams featured local notables, including various mascots such as Horsepower from the Kentucky Speedway, Splash McClean from SD1, Who Dey from the Bengals, and Gapper from the Reds.
Just before the 6 p.m. start time, distillery founder Ken Lewis called the teams to their ropes as the crowds gathered from each end of the bridge to cheer on their respective sides. Lewis counted them down, and the war was on.
The Kentucky team put up a valiant fight, refusing to give in to an overpowering Ohio effort, but in the end, they were no match for their neighbors to the north. By 6:04 p.m., the dust had settled, and Ohio had won the day, as well as bragging rights until next year’s event. Who Dey, magnanimous in victory, quickly went to gladhand the Kentucky participants in a gracious show of sportsmanship.
Immediately after the conclusion of the Tug of War, Lewis raised his glass, and all in attendance with him, toasting the day, the cities, and the people that make them.
In the end, participants were treated to spirited competition and flowing spirits, followed by a party on the bridge punctuated by perfect weather and warm camaraderie, in what promises to become one of the premiere annual traditions in our region.
Story & photos by Brandon Wheeler, RCN contributor