By Rhonda Reeves
On a recent sunny afternoon at his neighborhood office, legendary Hamburg developer Pat Madden sits down to share the story of the infamous horse with a Hamburg legacy, Never Say Die — the namesake for Madden’s latest bourbon venture.
As most residents of the neighborhood know, the Madden family transformed Hamburg Place into the thriving commercial corridor that it is today, and our neighborhood is steeped in the farm’s history. Sir Barton, Old Rosebud, Hamburg, and Pink Pigeon are just a few of the familiar horses depicted in the office’s collection of artwork.
Madden explains, “Never Say Die was a chestnut colt born on my family’s farm here in Hamburg. Following a traumatic birth, the young foal couldn’t breathe, and its life was in danger. As a last resort, legendary Kentucky horseman John A. Bell III gave the struggling foal a shot of Bourbon. Throughout the night, the foal made a startling recovery and was aptly named Never Say Die.
“Flash forward three years, Never Say Die was entered into the biggest race in the world, the Epsom Derby, and in front of an incredible 250K spectators, including Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Winston Churchill, at 33-1 odds, he became the first American-born horse to win the race in over 70 years.”
Fifty seven years later, Madden ran into an old University friend, David Wild, at the Kentucky Derby, and shared with his friend “the incredible story of the spirited horse.” He adds, “After a few mint juleps, we decided to create a premium bourbon that would travel in barrels to the UK, following in the hoof steps of the racehorse. Not only does the aging process follow this transatlantic journey, but the bourbon is made with Kentucky’s limestone rich water, responsible for the bluegrass which helped to make Never Say Die a winner.”
Of course bourbon doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lengthy process, and this story has been in the works for nearly a decade. Madden continues, “Once David and I had developed the idea for Never Say Die we built a fantastic trans-Atlantic team of co-founders to bring the grain of an idea to life. In 2017, the first Never Say Die liquid went into its barrels and after five years of maturation in Kentucky, the first batch of barrels set sail on a six-week ocean voyage to the White Peak Distillery in England to further mature.”
There were the inevitable hitches in the giddyup along the way. Madden says, “it wasn’t always smooth sailing, and the long-awaited launch was only made possible when the British 25 percent whiskey tariffs on US imports were reversed as a result of the campaigning efforts of the Bourbon Alliance, led by my Never Say Die co-founder Martha Dalton.”
In September 2022, Never Say Die Barrel Strength was launched to UK whiskey fans, and now it’s headed this way. Madden says, “we are delighted that ‘Bourbon is coming home.’ arriving back in the US, where it is now available in 38 states. Few Bourbon brands launch outside the US first, so we hope that American drinkers will enjoy the adventurous spirit of Never Say Die and its unique British character.”
Madden tells bourbon lovers, “saddle up for something different because it really isn’t like anything else out there.”
In spirit, it’s a love letter to Kentucky, and to Hamburg.
Bonus Lightning Round with Pat Madden
What do you love most about Hamburg?
The fact that it has become so well received by the people of Kentucky, with retail, residences, offices, hospitals, schools, and restaurants.
What might surprise the Hamburg Journal readers to learn about you?
I was a contestant on the show American Gladiators at Rupp Arena in the early 1990s when they did their 50-city tour. It was the only time my dad, Preston Madden, ever went to Rupp Arena.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Hamburg and Lexington’s southeast side?
Providing employment opportunities for our talented Kentucky college graduates.
What’s your next big project?
A mixed-use development on Beulah Church Road in Louisville, Kentucky
What book is on your nightstand right now?
Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk by Billy Walters
What’s the best meal you ate this week?
Moo Goo Gai Pan from Shanghai Bistro Hamburg
What’s your favorite Kentucky Tradition? Kentucky Derby of course!
“The Family Farm”
The “family farm” Pat Madden describes is Hamburg Place.
In 1898, “Wizard of the Turf” John E. Madden parlayed the sale and winnings from his horse, “Hamburg,” into the purchase of the farm and breeding operation that would become Hamburg Place along Winchester Road.
The first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, was bred at Hamburg Place. So were four more Derby winners, and four Belmont Stakes winners.
Grandson Preston Madden became heir to one of the most prominent families of horse racing, and took over the management of the farm in the 1950s, reviving the successful breeding of thoroughbreds at Hamburg Place. Wife Anita Madden became famous for her legendary Derby parties, benefiting the Bluegrass Boys Ranch.
In a 2018 HJ interview, Preston Madden told us, “Before this end of the farm was developed, I was extremely busy breeding horses. I had 100 horses on the farm, so my son [Patrick] did the actual [Hamburg] development and my wife, Anita, named the streets. I think she did a hell of a job.”
The Rest of the Story
Never Say Die’s legacy didn’t stop with horse racing and bourbon. “In an unbelievable tale of serendipity,” the horse shaped “rock and roll history forever.” As Pat Madden tells the rest of the story, “A woman in Liverpool named Mona Best had fallen in love with the name and story of Never Say Die and pawned all her jewelry to literally ‘bet it all’ on him at 33-1.” She used her winnings to set up a venue, The Casbah Coffee Club, for up and coming musicians. In 1959 Liverpool, the opening night of the Casbah Coffee Club featured a band called The Quarrymen — whose members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Mona Best’s son, Pete, became their drummer. It has been said that without Never Say Die there would be no Beatles.”
This article appears on pages 8-9 of the November 2023 issue of HJ. To subscribe to digital delivery each month, click here.