One of the major highlights of the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic this year was getting the chance to interview a spirits writer that I greatly admire, Esquire Drinks correspondent David Wondrich. Thanks to his books and articles, most notably Imbibe! and Punch, his name is closely associated with the classic cocktail movement and documenting the history of drinking culture in the Unites States. My partner Charlie and I sat down (more accurately, stood up in the corner of a tent in Washington Park) to talk with him about his writing and why he decided to attend the Food and Wine Classic in Cincinnati. You can listen to the full interview in Episode #195 of The Charlie Tonic Hour but here are the highlights.
This year I was once again lucky enough to be asked to attend the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, held September 11-13 in Washington Park. This year’s event proved itself to be a significant increase over last year, with an additional day of tasting and events on Sunday as well as more things to seek out throughout the weekend. I was immensely satisfied with this year’s event. Last year felt like a wonderful local event with a lot of potential. This year they went a long way toward meeting that potential. The Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic felt much bigger and more vibrant this year, and I was thrilled to see our city producing something that seems destined to grow into a nationally recognized event.
Many times I have praised Cincinnati’s proximity to the heart of bourbon country, but never was I more thankful for it than last February when I was able to attend the Bourbon Classic. I learned more about bourbon history and the current bourbon industry in that weekend than I had in the previous year. This year it is back and looks to be just as good as 2014. Once again Fred Minnick is MCing the Bourbon Masters Session and this year Jim Rutledge of Four Roses will be joining the line up. He was the one distiller I was very disappointed not to meet last year. The Bourbon University has some great classes lined up, including a very timely class on bourbon collecting. Here is the press release but for now all you need to know is this is the best bourbon opportunity you have within such an easy drive. And keep in mind that WhiskeyFest in Chicago is already sold out. Hope to see you there.
Bourbon & Culinary Weekend Returns to Louisville in February
Third Annual Bourbon Classic Focuses on World-Class Culinary and Bartending Talent
Louisville, KY (February 2, 2015) –Bourbon Classic 2015, the third annual Bourbon-culinary experience will take place in Louisville at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts next weekend, February 20 – 21, 2015. The event attracts Bourbon enthusiasts and culinary adventurists from across the country. A complete cross-section of the Bourbon industry will attend: Bourbon distilling legends, writers, chefs, bartenders, connoisseurs, and casual enthusiasts.
This year, Bourbon Classic will kick off with an exclusive pre-event reception, Bourbon Classic Taste, on Tuesday, February 17th. Chef Ed Lee and Julian Van Winkle will participate in this progressive tasting experience hosted at Copper & Kings American Brandy. Kentucky Proud-inspired food, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Four Roses Bourbon, Copper & Kings Brandy, Copper & Kings Absinthe, Van Winkle Special Reserve (12 year), Van Winkle Family Reserve (15 year), Van Winkle Family Reserve (20 year), and 1,000 Stories Barrel Finished Wine will be available. A limited number of tickets to this Kentucky Proud supported reception are available to the general public.
Friday, February 20 – Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge:
- MC Jared Schubert, winner of the 2013 Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge, will guide attendees through the event featuring contemporary and classic cocktails and small plates prepared by teams of chefs and master bartenders representing distilleries. Cocktails and pairings will be judged by an expert panel including Hannah Hayes, Southern Living, Joy Perrine, Jack’s Lounge, and Chef Albert Schmid, Sullivan University. Participating teams are as follows:
Barton 1792 Distillery
Beth Burrows, Down One Bourbon Bar
Chef Newman Miller, Harrison-Smith House, Bardstown, KY
Marie Zahn, St. Charles Exchange
Chef Levon Wallace, Proof on Main
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Jason Cobbler, Harvest
Chef Coby Ming, Harvest
Four Roses Bourbon
Isaac Fox, Volare
Chef Josh Moore, Volare
Heaven Hill Distilleries
Gary Gruver, Southern Wine & Spirits
Chef David Danielson, Churchill Downs
Sean Thibodeaux, 8-UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
Chef Todd Rushing, 8-UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
Hannah Kandle, Old Seelbach Bar
Chef Patrick Roney, Seelbach Oakroom
Amber Yates, Feast
Chef Ryan Rogers, Feast
Jacquelyn Zykan, Doc Crow’s
Chef Jonathan Schwartz, Doc Crow’s
Saturday, February 21 – Ultimate Bourbon Experience:
- Bourbon Masters Session
Mark Coffman, Alltech Brewing & Distilling Company
Wes Henderson, Angel’s Envy
Ken Pierce, Barton 1792 Distillery
Fred Noe, Jim Beam
Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace Distillery
Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Bourbon
Denny Potter, Heaven Hill Distilleries
Nicole Austin, King’s County Distillery
Willie Pratt, Michter’s
Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey
Author Fred Minnick will MC this session sponsored by the Urban Bourbon Trail.
- The “Bourbon Classic University,” exploring focused learning sessions like Country Ham & Bourbon, The Life of the Barrel, Essential Bourbon Cocktails Past and Present, Straight Up Storytellers, Bourbon & Cheese Pairings, The Art of the Glass, Entertaining with North American Whiskey, Bourbon Collections, Bourbon Flavor Profiles, and Bourbon Icons. Sets of five sessions will be offered and attendees will have the opportunity to choose which sessions to join.
- The Bourbon Marketplace offering exhibits and displays featuring Bourbon tastings, book signings, food tastings, and culinary and Bourbon-related products.
- Bourbon Culinary Tastings prepared by Coby Ming, Harvest, Sean Ward, Ward 426, Levon Wallace, Proof on Main, and Ouita Michel, Holly Hill Inn.
Some of the bourbon industry’s most well-known brands are sponsoring the event. The Urban Bourbon Trail is the welcoming sponsor of this event joining Buffalo Trace Distillery, Four Roses Bourbon, Michter’s, Alltech Brewing & Distilling Co., Barton 1792 Distillery, Bulleit Bourbon, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, 1,000 Stories Barrel Finished Wine, Blanton’s Bourbon, Wild Turkey, Bingham Greenbaum Doll, LLP, Old Forester, Angel’s Envy, Corsair Distillery, Jefferson’s, Kings County Distillery, Copper & Kings American Brandy, and Willett Distillery. Media sponsors include The Bourbon Reviewand Louisville Public Media.
The Bourbon Classic was co-founded by Tony Butler of FSA Management Group, an established event planning and marketing firm based in Louisville, and Justin Thompson, Seth Thompson, and Bob Eidson of The Bourbon Review.
It is Sunday afternoon and I am slowly coming down from the food high that I have been riding since Friday evening. I think I can safely say that the first Cincinnati Food and Wine Classic was a solid success with plenty of room to grow in the future. The event took place Friday evening and all day Saturday in Washington Park, with a few surrounding restaurants playing host to various after parties. I was lucky enough to attend both days with a VIP media badge and here are some of the highlights.
The Bourbon Classic was held last weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. The event drew bourbon fans from around the country to join with distillers, bartenders, restaurants, and media representatives in celebrating all things bourbon. I was lucky enough to be among them and I left feeling very lucky to be living so close to bourbon country.
The Run Down of Events:
The event began Friday night with a cocktail competition that paired local bartenders, chefs, and sponsor distilleries in pairing bourbon cocktails with small plates of food. The cocktails were great that night but the food was outstanding, including the best chicken and waffles I’ve ever had. Saturday afternoon began with a welcoming question and answer session with master distillers. MC’ed by Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women and bourbon authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum, the question and answer session featured Wes Henderson (Angel’s Envy,) Fred Noe (Jim Beam,) Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey,) Harlen Wheatley (Buffalo Trace,) Tom Bulleit (Bulleit Bourbon,) Drew Kulsveen (Willett,) Willie Pratt (Michter’s,) Daniel Preston (Widow Jane,) Colin Spoelman (King’s County,) and Dave Schmier (Redemption.) This event was easily the highlight of the day for me. Listening to stories, learning more about the industry, and even witnessing some moments of tension on stage was all fascinating. We spent the rest of the afternoon in “Bourbon Classic University.” Guests got to attend two classes during the sessions including ‘Bourbon Recollections…A Trip Through Time’ with Fred Noe and Fred Johnson, as well as a variety of other classes like bourbon pairing with cheese, entertaining with bourbon tastings, bourbon and beer, bourbon and chocolate, and home bar essentials. The final event was a night of bourbon tastings, with books signings from well-known bourbon authors like Charles Cowdery and Joy Perrine.
You can read a more detailed and bourbon-focused recap of the event over on Bourbon & Banter and Charlie and discussed the event in detail on The Charlie Tonic Hour, but here are a few of the best moments of the event from my point of view.
– Hanging out with Jonathan Piercy of “What’s Cooking Now” and his lovely wife throughout the weekend.
– Spending time with Molly Wellmann at Friday’s cocktail event and seeing Tom Bulleit call her up to take a bow at the distiller’s welcome on Saturday. He credited her, along with countless other bartenders across the country, in helping to bring about the bourbon revival.
– Getting to talk once more with Wes Henderson from Angel’s Envy. Such a down-to-earth and great guy.
– Sitting in an audience and listening to stories from legends of the industry like Fred Noe and Jimmy Russell, as well as hearing the perspectives and explanations of newer and/or non-producing brands.
– Attending a session on bourbon tastings with a rep from Blanton’s that will help me when contacting bourbon tastings in the future.
– Talking with bourbon lovers from around the country and starting to feel more like I am a part of a wider, boozy community.
The Bourbon Classic was a success all around, despite the notable absence of one of my favorite distilleries, Four Roses. At a length of just a day and half, give or take a promotional dinner or hung-over breakfast, it is a perfect amount of time to immerse yourself in bourbon and the perfect balance between educational and drinking events. Bourbon lovers in Cincinnati who are ready to take their knowledge and enthusiasm to the next level should definitely look into making the drive south for next year.
I originally set out to make a list of some of the best bars in the city for this article. Nothing too fancy, just a list of places I would recommend to people from out-of-town if they wanted a great cocktail. Once I sat down to think about it I realized I had a problem. Not only do we have too many great bars and restaurants who are putting skill, art, and love into their cocktail menu to list in one article, but I was missing out on a great excuse to try a whole bunch of new places in the name of research. So for now I decided to limit myself to the one area of the city I am already way too familiar with and will be adding the top five cocktail bars of other neighborhoods in future weeks.
Five Places to Get a Great Cocktail in Over the Rhine
The rapid change of Over the Rhine from an economically depressed historical neighborhood to the city’s newest hot spot for trend setters and foodies has been a boon for cocktail aficionados. Craft cocktails are a must for every new bar and restaurant in the area, leaving us with dozens of places within a three block radius to get a $10 cocktail. Luckily we are talking about really good cocktails here and they are pretty darn strong to boot so that makes them easier to swallow (har.) But with limited time on your hands you may wonder which spots to hit on a night out. Here is my list of five places in Over the Rhine where you are guaranteed to get a great cocktail.
5. The Lackman: This bar is probably my least favorite on the list when it comes to atmosphere and price but since this is a list is about the quality of cocktails it made the cut. The drinks I’ve had there are always wonderfully executed and served with a consistent quality. They have some barrel-aged drinks on a rotating basis, including a barrel-aged negroni last time I was there. The bottle selection is not very deep, but it is high quality. Service is usually very good even when crowded. The beer choice is great and rotates regularly. In short they are doing everything right, they are just missing some of the heart of other places and they charge you a bit more for the pleasure.
4. Bakersfield: I’ve written before about my admiration of Bakersfield’s cocktails. They were the first place in the area where I ordered a barrel aged Manhattan and I love their Red Headed Stranger Cocktail. I also am a big fan of their $3 shot specials which always include a solid bourbon or tequila selection. I recommend stopping by on Fridays for a $3 shot of Four Roses. The cocktail list shows a great deal of thought and compliments their food and the vibe of the place. Just don’t go there if you are looking for a gin martini. Bakersfield loses points for being a tequila and whiskey only kind of place, but you can’t expect urban cowboys to drink fruit flavored vodka now can you?
3. Neon’s: When Charlie and I did our run around OTR for Yelp Drinks Neon’s ended up with the winning cocktail with a smoked elderflower that was out of this world. They make their own bitters and syrups for their cocktails as well as a huge number of infusions so the variety of drinks you can get there is almost endless. They have a beautiful patio and a really excellent beer selection that is always good for trying something new. The drawbacks seem to have a lot to do with how popular it has become, with crowding and slow service being the most common complaint. Also, although I enjoy the creativity that can come from making your own infusions, they can be hit or miss. I’ve tried several bourbon infusions at Neon’s and, unfortunately, many of them seemed to be a waste of good bourbon.
2. The Senate: The Senate Restaurant is one few places in OTR that manages to be a triple-threat. Great food, extensive beer list, and amazing cocktails that rotate out on a regular basis. The senate hits all the flavor profiles in their house cocktail list, from bitter to sweet, from fruity to fatty, from classic to cutting edge. I had a drink there once with duck fat, it looked like sludge but tasted divine and was served with a fig newton garnish. Recently I took my friend there for her bachelorette party and this was her reaction to the Fidel Castro she was drinking.
I think that says it all.
1. Japp’s: I realize that a lot of people probably think I am on the payroll for Japp’s considering how often I rave about it. But seriously, this place has everything a cocktail nerd could ask for. First of all, the atmosphere is great. Beautiful historic building with no TVs and frequent live bands that compliment the style. But this is an article about cocktails and here is where Japp’s really shines. They train staff the amazingly well with a really high degree of professionalism and consistency for all of their drinks and I am willing to bet that this is one of the few places you can go in the whole city where you can order a Blood and Sand or a Martinez and not have the bartender ask you what’s in it. On top of the classic cocktails, the rotating weekly list of house specials is always great and the bottle choice is amazing. And let’s not forget that fresh juices and house-made syrups and bitters that are standard at this location. Nothing but the quality and the price is actually pretty reasonable if you look at what the other places are charging for similarly crafted cocktails. Not to mention that the bar’s owner and still regular bartender Molly Wellmann literally wrote the book on craft cocktails.
So now is the part where you go ahead and tell me how wrong I am. What places did I leave off? What places are overrated? I want to know. And before anyone says anything I do want to give honorable mention to Arnold’s, where I would actually rather drink most nights than a lot of the other places on this list. Arnold’s has a personality that can’t be beaten in this city and they have upped their cocktail game considerably in the past few years, but the mixed drinks are still inconsistent and rely on pre-made mixes. And let’s face it; wouldn’t we all rather keep Arnold’s feeling a little more down to earth and little less trendy?
Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. This Valentine’s Day instead of a box of chocolates you picked up at Walgreens on the way home, fix your sweetheart this prohibition era cocktail to show your love and affection. Although it may seem quaint compared to Sex on the Beach or a Screaming Orgasm, the name of this cocktail was considered slightly shocking when the drink was popularized in the 1930’s. A variation on a Sidecar, Between the Sheets uses light rum in addition to cognac for an additional kick. Mix one up tonight and you’ll thank me in the morning.
Between the Sheets
3/4 ounce cognac
3/4 ounce light rum
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and enjoy.