The Bourbon Classic celebrates five yeas. | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

The Bourbon Classic culinary and bourbon experience has been aging quite nicely for five years now, and while that’s not very old in bourbon years, it is a testament to the quality and commitment it provides for bourbon connoisseurs near and far.

The four-day event begins Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Butchertown Grocery with a unique pairing of Chef Bobby Benjamin’s fare with none other than Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. Other highlights include a private tour and dinner at the Maker’s Mark Distillery with renown New Orleans chef and personality Dickie Brennan; the annual Cocktail & Culinary Challenge; and the final Bourbon Classic Taste celebration on Saturday.

We’ll go through the events one by one, but first we wanted to check in with co-founder Seth Thompson of The Bourbon Review to see how things were coming along for the fifth annual Classic, which is put together each year by the FSA Management Group and The Bourbon Review.

The Top Shelf event includes tastings of four Pappys. | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

Thompson says interest has been strong this year, and the good news is there are still tickets left for each event — at the moment.

“We’re indexing above what we did last year, and last year was our biggest year yet,” he tells Insider. “We’re definitely seeing some growth.”

The Bourbon Classic sets itself apart from other bourbon and whiskey festivals by adding a strong culinary component to most of the events. The Top Shelf event, which opens the Classic, moves to Butchertown Grocery this year and pairs one of Louisville’s top chefs with one of the world’s most famous bourbons.

Thompson says he’s excited to see what Chef Benjamin comes up with to go with a bourbon that has the most buzz, pun intended. We got a peek of the evening’s menu, and it includes hamachi with pickled jalepeno, fried chicken oysters, gnocchi and even beignets with bacon créme anglaise.

Insider reached out to Benjamin to first find out what a fried chicken oyster is, and then to ask how he’s handling the pressure. Turns out there’s a part of a chicken called “the oyster,” and it’s located in the thigh, encased by bones. It’s about the size of a quarter and looks like a football, and supposedly it’s as delicate and delicious as an oyster.

Chef Bobby Benjamin | Photo by Andrew Hyslop

And as for his nerves? No problem there.

“We wanted the bourbon to be the highlight, obviously, and also respect it,” says Benjamin. “But we also wanted to have fun with it and show you all the things bourbon can pair with.”

He’s most proud of his white balsamic that was aged in a bourbon barrel for a year — something he was working on even before Butchertown Grocery opened. And he’s equally thrilled to be working alongside Pappy.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun — we’re very excited about this,” he says. “Living in Kentucky and being able to showcase a bourbon known around the world — it’s surreal. It’s a huge honor to do this event.”

There are about 40 tickets available for Top Shelf, which has sold out in previous years, and they can be secured online. The cost is $250, and it comes with tastings of Pappy 10 Year, 12 Year, 15 Year and 20 Year, as well as samples of other Buffalo Trace products like Weller 12, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor and more. Info: Tuesday, Feb. 28, 7:30-10 p.m., at Butchertown Grocery.

On Thursday, there are two evening events from which to choose. The first, called Savor, is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Maker’s Mark Distillery and a New Orleans-influenced dinner with host Dickie Brennan and his team. Brennan’s family owns several top spots in New Orleans, including Palace Cafe, Bourbon House and Tableau. The event is dubbed “Where Bourbon Street meets Bourbon Country,” and tickets are $175 and include transportation. Info: Thursday, March 2, 3:30 p.m., at Maker’s Mark Distillery.

Last year, the Bourbon Classic media tour included a trip to Buffalo Trace. | Photo by Sara Havens

The other event, Bottled in Bond, is the 120-year celebration of the Bottled in Bond Act with Old Forester at the Frazier History Museum. Master bourbon specialist Jackie Zykan will lead a tasting of Old Fo’s Whiskey Row Series and share a brief history lesson on the importance of the act, and guests can enjoy a speakeasy-like setting. Tickets are $65. Info: Thursday, March 2, 7-9 p.m., at Frazier History Museum.

The Classic gets fancy for its Friday Cocktail Challenge. | Photo by Sara Havens

On Friday, it’s the Cocktail & Culinary Challenge that matches a chef with a bartender and a brand of bourbon, and the team is tasked with creating the perfect cocktail and food pairing. New this year is a requirement to use Kentucky Proud products in the small plates.

Thompson says if you’re competing in the event, you know you’re well-respected in your field. But it’s also about having fun.

“It is a competition, but I like to compare it to the NBA All-Star Game or the Pro Bowl,” he says. “Nobody cares who wins, it’s more of a celebration of talent.”

Tickets are $135. Info: Friday, March 3, 7-10 p.m., at Kentucky Center.

And finally, on Saturday, it’s the Bourbon Classic University during the day, where you can attend sessions titled “Women of Bourbon,” “The History of Bourbon Through Bluegrass Music,” and “Country Ham, Bourbon & Chocolate,” among many others.

The ticket also gets you into the Taste event that evening, where you get to sample bourbons and whiskies from all over, shake hands with the master distillers, feast on bourbon-influenced fare and mingle until you lose your voice.

Tickets are $155. Info: Saturday, March 4, 2:30-10 p.m., at Kentucky Center.

VIP packages are also available for all the events, and you can find out more online.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."