Some American states are inextricably linked with food or beverage. For example, Maine is renowned for its lobsters, Maryland for its crabs, and Georgia for its peaches.
Kentucky’s claim to fame is its bourbon whiskey, which seems to rise in popularity each year. The Bluegrass state produces a whopping 95 percent of all bourbon made in the U.S. Furthermore, its “Bourbon Trail” has done wonders for Kentucky tourism. Hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the world each year to visit the historic distilleries and drive along the countryside.
Cincinnati-based photographer Matthew Allen got to experience the Bourbon Trail for himself during a his work for Mazda Stories. This online magazine gives a historical, personal, and insightful look into the making and use of Mazdas everywhere. Matthew, s hired by Redwood after the U.K. agency found his Wonderful Machine profile, and writer Jack Baruth traversed the windy trail in a Mazda CX-5 over the course of a few days in mid-January. Despite the cold weather, the stout bourbon blends warmed Matthew and Baruth — a Kentucky hug, if you will.
Since this is a magazine tied to a car brand and we were visiting distilleries and driving the trail, we had to make sure that we were on our best behavior and forgo any tasting.
Well, okay. Fair enough. The idea of stout bourbon blends impressed Allen and Baruth.
Still, there’s much more to exploring the Bourbon Trail than just whiskey tasting. In fact, the goal was to capture the essence of Kentucky by learning about its history through its bourbon-making techniques. Allen described the guidelines he received from Aston Leach, the Art Director for Redwood.
This was part of the pitch I received from Aston: ‘Our lifestyle story would center on a road trip on and around the Bourbon Trail in the comfort of the Mazda CX-5 Signature, painting an evocative portrait of a little-seen part of America that has significance for so many across the country and the globe.’
Although Leach provided Allen with a starting point, it was up to the photographer to flesh out the look of the project.
Collaboration with Aston and Mazda was great! I received a mood board and we had a couple of conference calls to discuss the idea behind the shoot and some thoughts about the story. Aston and the magazine allowed for a lot of creative freedom, and they put a lot of trust into my abilities to get the shots they needed and to surprise them with some unexpected shots as well.
While on location it was left up to me to find the shots I needed to get, find the faces they wanted to show, and connect with the right people to get access to more than just a superficial tour of the distillery.
Kentuckians have been making bourbon for more than two centuries. Allen made it a priority to emphasize this history while shooting.
I think pushing the ISO and getting some grain in the images helps with the feel of the tradition and history of the process. A lot of this was also shot with a shallow depth of field — partially [out of] necessity due to low light conditions, but I also wanted to try and have the viewer focus on one or two elements with the photo to highlight the Mazda brand, distillery, or person in the photograph.
The project also served as a learning experience for Allen, as well as a chance to meet new people. We know Kentuckians for their easy-going, hospitable nature. Also, Allen found that to be the case at the various distilleries he toured.
I was not too well versed on Bourbon distilling and the amount of time involved in the process, so that was an interesting thing to learn.
The shooting is always my favorite part, but I think meeting all the different people that work in this field and how friendly and open everyone was with us and the project had to be a close second.
See more of Matthew’s work on his website.