The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts played host to the 3rd annual Bourbon Classic in Louisville, Kentucky, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 20-21. Co-owners of both the event and the Bourbon Review magazine, Justin and Seth Thompson, rolled out the red carpet to guests with gracious Southern hospitality. The Bourbon Classic gathered bourbon enthusiasts with the makers, ambassadors and experts of the industry and offered tastings, seminars and pairings.
Last night, event organizer Andrea Parr, Director of Public Relations for FSA Management Group, announced that the Friday night event drew 450 attendees and Saturday’s festivities hosted more than 600 guests.
While bourbon was the undeniable star of the show, Friday night’s Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge brought some solid food into the liquid mix. Local chefs were matched with a mixologist and a distillery and challenged to create not only the perfect cocktail but also the perfect pairing with a small plate. Drink offerings ranged from modern takes on the classic whiskey cocktails to a bourbon mimosa to a peanut butter-cola concoction. Prizes in the form of engraved barrel heads were awarded in both classic and contemporary categories. The Blanton’s team racked up all three classic wins with Louisville favorites chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main and bartender Marie Zahn of St. Charles Exchange.
Saturday’s events began with Bourbon Classic University. A choice of ten small classes spanned two sessions, covering bourbon-centric topics such as collecting, food pairings, entertaining, storytellers, icons, glassware and flavor profiles. The general session, The Bourbon Masters, was definitely a highlight of the weekend. Eleven Master Distillers gathered on the stage of the Bomhard Theater in front of hundreds of fans, enthusiasts and journalists.
The panel included legends such as 7th generation Jim Beam distiller Fred Noe, 60 year veteran Wild Turkey distiller Jimmy Russell and Jim Rutledge of Four Roses who single-handedly brought the brand back to the United States. The panel was rounded out with fellow Kentuckians Mark Coffman of Town Branch, Wes Henderson of Angel’s Envy, Ken Pierce of Barton 1792, Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace, Denny Potter of Heaven Hill, and Joe Magliocco of Michter’s. Two distillers from outside the Commonwealth, Nicole Austin of King’s County Distillery in New York and Chip Tate, formerly of Balcones Distilling in Texas, added plenty of colorful commentary to the lively discussion led by whiskey author Fred Minnick who opened with,
If a grenade goes off in here, the bourbon business is gonna be in big trouble.
Saturday evening’s Ultimate Bourbon Experience did not disappoint. Nineteen distilleries offered over 60 spirits for tasting. Unlike Friday’s cocktail event, this night was all about the brown water- options for the tasting were limited to neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water. Although selections didn’t tend to include ultra-premium or hard to find products, the opportunity to sip on a bourbon with its maker is a rare one for the guests that came in from all over the country.
In addition to the main events over the weekend, Bourbon Classic held nightly invitation-only functions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. These included a Pappy Van Winkle tasting at Copper & Kings Distillery, an exclusive tasting of experimental small batches by Four Roses at the Four Roses Bourbon Barrel Loft at Bluegrass Brewing Company and a Michter’s dinner at the Seelbach Hotel’s Oakroom.
This event has quickly established itself as a must-do event for the Kentucky bourbon aficionado; indeed, it is a classic after only three years. Mark your calendars now for next year’s event as the demand is surely soon to outgrow availability.