An international array of whiskeys will be on offer at Whisky Live Louisville, June 18. | Photo courtesy of Whisky Live USA
An international array of whiskeys will be featured at Whisky Live Louisville on June 18. | Courtesy of Whisky Live USA

When it comes to spirits, Kentuckians are down with the brown, especially if you’re talking bourbon. Here, we make it, shake it, bake it and will surely start a fight with anyone who tries to fake it.

But in the broader whiskey world, the sun doesn’t rise and set on bourbon. Distillers from Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Thailand and many more nations have their own ways of fermenting grains and distilling them into unique whiskey — or whisky, depending on its country of origin.

Come Saturday, June 18, Louisvillians will get a chance to celebrate and sip hundreds of those whiskeys from around the world at Whisky Live. This one-of-a-kind tasting event will be held at the Louisville Marriott East and run from 6-9:30 p.m.

They pour, you sip. It's that simple at Whisky Live. | Photo courtesy of Whisky Live USA
They pour, you sip. It’s that simple at Whisky Live. | Courtesy of Whisky Live USA

And don’t worry, there will be lots of bourbon there, too.

Whisky Live is held in more than 20 cities around the world. To get a sense of how significant this is for Louisville, the only other U.S. cities to host it have been New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“That it’s happening now in Louisville is long overdue,” said David Sweet, director of Whisky Live USA and Canada. “It makes sense since it’s at the center of our nation’s distilling industry.”

It also makes sense for Sweet to schedule it for June 18, when it’ll serve as the culmination of this year’s Bourbon Affair, he said.

“You’ll have a lot of whiskey connoisseurs in town for that, so it’s a natural thing to do,” Sweet said.

And, ironically, at the end of the Bourbon Affair.

“One thing that really amazed me when we were planning this was to hear the Kentucky bourbon distillers say, ‘Make this about all whiskeys, not just ours,’” Sweet said. “They really stressed inclusion of all, which I think is pretty remarkable.”

So here’s what happens: Every Whisky Live attendee gets a Glencarin tasting glass used for nosing and sipping responsibly from an offering of about 175 whiskeys (click here to see a partial brand lineup; scroll down once you get there). Distilleries from all over the world will pour at the event, giving brown spirits fans a unique chance to taste things they may have never seen or, better yet, ones they’ve only dreamed about tasting. Guests will get quarter-ounce pours of whatever they choose, lots of water to cleanse their palates, plus a lavish Four Roses bourbon-influenced buffet from which to eat throughout the evening. Between bites and sips, attendees can soak up master classes on spirits, or just relax and listen to live music.

According to local whiskey writer Fred Minnick, this is a pretty special treat for Louisville spirits lovers.

“An event of this caliber coming here is recognition by the distillery world that Louisville is in the same vein as San Francisco, Chicago, New York, all great spirits towns,” said Minnick, the bourbon authority at the Kentucky Derby Museum and author of the book “Bourbon Curious.” “It shows that distilleries view this market from a connoisseurs’ perspective.”

Base tickets to Whisky Live Louisville cost $133, and a limited number of VIP tickets are available for $193. That lucky group gets in 30 minutes early, receives a specially cut crystal Glencarin glass and access to the VIP Experience Area. There they’ll get some rare pours and face time with an array of international distillers and brand reps. The VIP area also is hosted by Jack Rose Saloon, one of the country’s best regarded cocktail bars and whiskey lounges.

Local whisky author and expert, Fred Minnick. | Photo courtesy of Whisky Live USA
Local whiskey author and expert Fred Minnick. | Courtesy of Whisky Live USA

Think you’re up for three hours of tasting? A pro taster himself, Minnick advises the following:

  1. Eat beforehand.
  2. Drink lots of water throughout. “I like to have a drink or two of water after every sip of whiskey.”
  3. Taste and dump. Much as it may kill you to pour out good whiskey, do it, or as Minnick does, “ask the brand ambassadors to pour you just a nip.”
  4. Branch out and taste whiskeys you’ve not tried.

“Bourbon is great, but if you just stick to bourbon, it’s like sticking to one type of wine,” he said. “There will be a lot of different whiskeys there to taste and appreciate.”

The event’s master classes cost $20 each and are limited to 35 people. Sweet said those tend to sell out early, so act quickly if you’d like a seat.

Want to get 20 percent off your ticket price? Order tickets online and use one of these two promotional codes I’ve received in email alerts: promo code “westport” or promo code “KBT.”

Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.