When it rains it pours, and, as we learned last week, when it snows it sleets, making for one slippery ice job of epic proportions. But no amount of sludge and slush could stop me from attending this year’s week-long Bourbon Classic and the Tailspin Ale Fest on Saturday.
Here’s a recap of my whirlwind week of sampling the best of both bourbon and beer. I preface this with the fact that I’m now on a detox to restore balance and prosperity to my liver.
Color me Pappy!
Tuesday night I was invited to the grand opening of the Bourbon Classic featuring samples of all three Pappy Van Winkle’s — 12-Year, 15-Year and 20-Year — plus an open bar featuring a handful of other well-respected bourbons like W.L. Weller 12-Year (one of my new favorites).
Naturally I was drawn to the eldest Pappy, the 20-Year, because of its robust flavor and smooth finish, but my second choice would be the 12-Year. The 15-Year had a bite like a shark after some chum. Yowza!
The highlights of my night were meeting Pappy president Julian Van Winkle and successfully restraining myself from asking the mayor for a key to the city again.
Four Roses Reception/Buffalo Trace Bound/Woodford Samples
Up next was the Four Roses Reception at BBC on Third Street, where we sampled some limited edition Four Roses bourbons and had a fine manhattan made with some BBC bourbon-barrel beer. I tried my best to mind my diet, but the temptation of hot brown bites was just too much.
On Thursday, I joined the Bourbon Classic team on a media tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery with fellow cocktail journalists from around the country. It was my first visit to this distillery as well, so I learned and sampled right along with them. With temperatures that day dipping below zero, our outdoor portion was kept to a minimum, and we were thankful for each rick house and bottling shop we could duck into.
I learned all about master distiller Harlen Wheatley’s $1 million experimental rick house they call “Warehouse X,” and we got to investigate first-hand what’s going on with that. Basically, the small building consists of three chambers that are temperature and light controlled. As distillers are always on the quest for that Holy Grail of Bourbon, Wheatley hopes one of the 150 or so barrels here produces a good crop. In 12-15 years, we shall see.
Due to road conditions, we didn’t make it to the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky., so we returned to Louisville to St. Charles Exchange for a short and sweet tasting with Woodford’s master distiller, Chris Morris. He walked us through the flavor profiles of his high-end bourbon, and we sampled the Distiller’s Select, Double Oaked, the new Straight Rye and this year’s Master Collection.
While the rest of the tour continued on to Lexington’s Alltech Distillery, I stayed back and enjoyed a mint julep made with Woodford Double Oaked — it thawed me from head to toe and made me officially ready for Derby season. Is it March yet?
Later that evening was a dinner/reception sponsored by Michter’s at the Seelbach Oakroom, and while everyone appeared to enjoy themselves munching on the fancy food and sampling the drinks made by Jeremy Johnson and Hannah Kandle, I was in the corner chugging water and trying to pace myself. I knew I had another long two days ahead of me.
Cocktail Competition heats up!
Finally, the main event of the Bourbon Classic: The Cocktail Competition took over the Kentucky Center for the Arts Friday night, as local bartenders paired with local chefs to compete. Attendees leisurely shuffled along and sampled each dish and drink.
I completed my first round in record time — NASCAR fans would be impressed, although I did feel the need for a quick tire rotation and oil change. I figured I’d have the rest of the evening to mingle, until I learned each station was putting out another round of different drinks and food. Happy Christmas to me!
The night’s winner was St. Charles Exchange’s Marie Zahn, who was paired with Proof on Main’s Levon Wallace. Her Battle of New Orleans drink was made with Blanton’s bourbon, rich Demerara sugar, herbsaint, and orange and peychauds bitters with a lemon twist. Yeah, I don’t know what half that stuff is either, but it made for one hell of a cocktail!
(Side note: St. Charles has an amazing happy hour every day, with some cocktails priced at $5, so you should get over there, meet the lovely and talented Zahn, and have her whip you something up. This Friday happens to be their Tiki Happy Hour.)
I’m only here for the beer
I’d be lying if I told you I was unhappy to take a break from bourbon for a day. Beer is like comfort food for me — it makes me happy, jolly and bubbly.
So the Tailspin Ale Fest on Saturday was my much-needed reprieve from the brown spirit of Kentucky. Held at Bowman Field again, the trudge into the airplane warehouse was slushy, long and freezing. If you didn’t have rain or snow boots, basically you walked around all day with squishy socks and numb toes.
But the beer made it all better, as it tends to do, and my friends and I sampled our way through some of the hundreds of beers available. Of course I didn’t have 100 beers, but I tried to find as many IPAs and ciders as I could. One of my favorites was an Orange Mimosa Cider from Ciderboys — but unfortunately, they ran out fairly quickly.
Again, I saw the mayor but avoided any direct contact, and that should be reason enough to give me that damn key!
A few heated moments in the Port-o-Pot lines were the only drawbacks of the sold-out event — basically there weren’t enough, so lines could be up to a 45-minute wait.
Thank you to everyone who put together the Bourbon Classic and Tailspin Ale Fest. But like all good things, we must part. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.