Five years ago the Bourbon Classic began as a way to showcase not only Kentucky’s native spirit, but also the vast culinary talent in Louisville and surrounding areas. During what was originally a two day event, chefs, mixologists and distilleries would showcase their top talent for bourbon enthusiasts in a central location. Today, just five years later, The Bourbon Classic has grown to include events during the entire week leading up to the grand finale, and what was once a regional favorite has become an international draw for tourists.
Kickoff: Bourbon Classic Top Shelf
In just its second year, this event began to draw guests from as far away as Canada, New York, and California. Featured pours include Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year bourbon, Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 year bourbon, and Pappy Van Winkle 15 and 20 year bourbons, all while guests had the opportunity to mingle with Preston Van Winkle. Also in attendance was Dixon Dedman, founder of the modern-day version of his family’s Kentucky Owl brand of bourbon. Chef Bobby Benjamin took the stage at Lola, the speakeasy-style upstairs bar of the Butchertown Grocery, to demonstrate his technique for making gnocchi from scratch.
Bottled In Bond Anniversary Party with Old Forester
Old Forester brand ambassador Jackie Zykan hosted a party to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the passing of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 at The Frazier History Museum’s Speakeasy. Guests mingled and enjoyed cocktails in the speakeasy for about an hour and then were taken downstairs to a tasting of and presentation about the history of the Old Forester brand portfolio. George Garvin Brown, founder of Old Forester, came up with the idea to exclusively package bourbon for consumers in sealed bottles to ensure quality, nearly 20 years before the idea became law. Before that consumers, physicians, and pharmacists never knew what they would be getting when they opened up a jog of whiskey, and it could be anything from iodine and tobacco spit to sulfuric acid and rattlesnake heads. Brown was a pioneer in quality, and the company on which he founded these principles is still going strong nearly 150 years later.
Bourbon Classic Savor with Dickie Brennan at Maker’s Mark
Famed New Orleans restaurateur Dickie Brennan brought his crew to Kentucky for the second year in a row, but this time they partnered with Maker’s Mark to have a fabulous dinner at the distillery. Guests dined on such bayou favorites as gumbo ya-ya and crawfish ragu, and each course was paired with a special bourbon cocktail from Brennan’s beverage director Barry Himel.
Bourbon Classic Cocktail and Small Plate Competition
A staple of the Bourbon Classic, this competition is a fast-paced way to showcase the versatility of bourbon as well as the talent of local culinary teams. Isaac Fox and Alexander Dulaney from La Chasse represented team Woodford Reserve in a sweeping victory that scored them four of the six awards for the evening. The other two awards went to the Heaven Hill team, Rye’s Doug Petry and Zach Chancey.
Bourbon Classic University and Grand Tasting
Participants chose from classes broken into three sessions which included Women of Bourbon, 21st Century Bourbon Cocktails, a New Masters Keynote Panel discussion led by Robert Burke, Bourbon Legend Bill Samuels, and Entertaining with North American Whiskey, among many others. After the learning came the crown jewel of the week – A Toast to the Commonwealth, in which participants toasted the 225th anniversary of Kentucky’s statehood with generous pours of our native spirit.
Bigger and Better Than Ever
As the Bourbon Classic continues to grow, look for not only higher attendance- this was another record setting year- but also look for more events to be added to the roster as well as guests from all over the world to be in attendance. Cheers to five years of the Bourbon Classic!
Maggie Kimberl is a bourbon writer focusing on bourbon culture and tourism in Louisville and Kentucky. When she's not covering the bourbon beat you can find her browsing through vintage vinyl with her kids or tending to her homegrown tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/LouGirl502 Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lougirl502/ and check out her blog LouGirl502.com.