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First Annual Bourbon Classic In Louisville, Kentucky

bourbon1by Jenny Block

I’ve been drinking for seven days straight. It’s not because I have a problem. No, seriously, I don’t. It’s because I’m trying to come down slowly from my visit to Louisville, KY last week.

I went there to attend the first annual Bourbon Classic. But before things got underway Friday night, I attended “Bourbon Camp.” In two days, we visited six distilleries: Four Roses, Town Branch, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, and Jim Beam. If there’s a better way to kick off a weekend of celebrating bourbon, I have no idea what it is.   

You can do your own “bourbon camp” any time by visiting the Bourbon Trail, which consists of seven distilleries. (We did not make it to Wild Turkey or Woodford Reserve. Next time!. I would highly recommend it any time the weather is hospitable. But I would especially recommend it as a pre- or post-interlude to next year’s Classic, should you decide to partake.

All I know is that the people were friendly. The bourbon was delicious. And it was so cool to see how bourbon is made. Each place makes it in exactly the same and a totally different way. The bourbon rules are simple:

It must be produced in the US.
It must be crafted of at least 51% corn.
It must be distilled at less than 160 proof.
It must not have any additives. (Other than distilled water as required to lower proof.)
It must be aged in new, charred, White Oak barrels.
It must be aged for a minimum of two years. (If it is to be referred to as “straight” bourbon.)

But every distillery manages its own spin from time in the barrel, to placement of the barrel while aging (up high vs down low), to recipe. Interestingly, 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky. Why? Because of the awesome water in Kentucky thanks to its underground limestone shelf that removes bourbon’s arch enemy – iron.

Once the touring and the tasting (and the Five Hour Energy drinking!) were done, it was time for the Classic.

The Bourbon Review Magazine and FSA Management Group partnered to host the Classic at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, a festival intended to be the first of many.

Things kicked off Friday night with an event called “From the Barrel to the Bar: Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge” and included a competition for the title of “perfect cocktail.” Eight teams of master bartenders were teamed up with an acclaimed chef and one of the Bourbon Classic sponsor distilleries. Think Savor Dallas, heavy on the bourbon.

The food was nouveau with a Southern flair and the drinks were Bourbon old school favorites with a twist. And I do not mean a lemon. After we were finished getting drunk, I mean tasting, at the Classic Cocktail Challenge, we went on to get even more drunk, I mean, taste more of Kentucky’s finest at the evening’s after-party, which showcased Michter’s Distillery.

Saturday’s events began with a welcoming session with the Master Distillers from eight distilleries:

Lincoln Henderson, Angel’s Envy, Fred Noe, Jim Beam, Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace, Al Young, Four Roses, Craig Beam, Heaven Hill, Mark Coffman, Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company, Greg Davis, Makers Mark, Willie Pratt, Michter’s

The main event of the day was Bourbon Classic University. Two time slots were offered and attendees could choose one session per slot to attend. The sessions offered included:

Balance and Flavor, Bourbon and Chocolate: Creating the Perfect Pairings with Ouita Michel and Tim Knittel from the Holly Hill Inn

How the Barrel Influences the Bottle: Exploring Maturation and Bourbon Production with Al Young from Four Roses Bourbon

Entertaining with Bourbon Tastings with John Shutt from Blanton’s

Culinary Tips for Bourbon on the Plate with Chef Danielle Gleason from Sullivan University National Center for Hospitality Studies

Making a Splash: New and Noteworthy Bourbon Trends with moderator Jane Conner from Maker’s Mark and panelists Jennifer Cole from Southern Living; Fred Noe from Jim Beam; and bartender and author Joy Perrine Crafting the Perfect Cocktails (and Serving them Right) with Josh Durr from Hawthorne Beverage and Larry Rice from the Silver Dollar Saloon Lives, Legends and Legacies: An Interactive Conversation about the Bourbon Barons with moderator Charles K. Cowdery, Author of Bourbon Straight and the Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste and panelists Freddie Johnson from Buffalo Trace Distillery; Bill Samuels Jr. from Maker’s Mark; and Michael Veach, Filson from the Historical Society.

And, yes, there was more drinking at the sessions. Why wouldn’t there be? That was the theme of the event. And I liked it. Too much apparently since it’s Wednesday and I am just now writing this and still recovering. Saturday night’s event, called “The Ultimate Bourbon Experience,” included bourbon tastings and bites from Chef Jeremy Ashby of Azur Restaurant and Patio and Chef Coby Ming of Harvest Restaurant, as well as a variety of bourbon related products.

I am happy to report that it was much like Friday night’s festivities. Plenty of food, plenty of bourbon, and plenty of getting drunk. Damn, I mean tasting.

That night’s after party featured Four Roses and guest bartenders who were each serving up there own take on bourbon done right. From what I could tell from the crowd, they were all doing right by all of us.

To sum it up. Bourbon, bourbon, bourbon, you don’t want to miss next year’s event, bourbon. That is all.

Resources: The Bourbon Classic The Bourbon Review The Bourbon Trail Mint Julep Tours  Louisville

Jenny Block is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer who will be contributing to craveDFW.



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