Bourbon Classic Returns to Louisville: You Need to Be There

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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.

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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

    BlantonBourbon
    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

    Jim Beam
    Sean Thibodeaux, 8-UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
    Chef Todd Rushing, 8-UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen

    Michters
    Hannah Kandle, Old Seelbach Bar
    Chef Patrick Roney, Seelbach Oakroom

    Wild Turkey
    Amber Yates, Feast
    Chef Ryan Rogers, Feast

    Woodford Reserve
    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 DistilleryFour Roses BourbonMichters, Alltech Brewing & Distilling Co., Barton 1792 Distillery, Bulleit Bourbon, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, 1,000 Stories Barrel Finished Wine, BlantonBourbon, Wild Turkey, Bingham Greenbaum Doll, LLP, Old Forester, Angels Envy, Corsair Distillery, Jeffersons, 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.

Ticket sales for the event are available by calling the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts at 502-584-7777. Details are available at bourbonclassic.com.

First Look at New Riff Distilling

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View of New Riff Distilling from the Party Source

On Wednesday I got to attend a media sneak peek in the newly opened New Riff Distillery. I could tell as it was being constructed that it was going to be a beautiful facility with a lot of serious investment behind it. After talking with the production manager Jay Erisman and learning about the research, planning, and science that has gone into creating New Riff, I am firmly convinced that this will be a world-class distillery and treasure for local whiskey lovers.

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500 Gallon Pot Still

The outside of New Riff is impressive, with a glass tower showing off the 60 foot column still. Inside the copper was polished and ready for photos. The large glass windows, stone walls and urban location reminded me the Town Branch distillery in Lexington but as Jay walked me through the distillery it became clear that New Riff was going to be a very different distillery than Town Branch. To start with the equipment itself is different. New Riff has both a column pot still so that they will be able to produce a variety of spirits, even adding some modifications to the traditional column still so that adjustments can be made to the distillation process at all levels. Jay pointed out over and over again little details they had adjusted or changed to ensure that they would be producing the highest level of whiskey they could. Everything from the angle of the mash tubs to the placement of the grain silos has been deliberately calculated, not just for the product they will start producing this week, but also for what they hope to be making ten years from now.

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Taking the tour with Jay Erisman

Everyone who is opening a new distillery has to create a story behind their brand. Many distilleries do this by telling you about their grandfather the moonshiner and the secret recipe he handed down. These stories are charming but often you find the facts don’t always add up when you scratch below the surface. That is why I was so impressed by New Riff’s attitude toward the outside resources they are using to get started. One resource in particular is the consultant who was instrumental in the development of New Riff, Larry Ebersold.  Ebersold is the former master distiller at the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg and Jay repeatedly credited him for his contributions to New Riff. And speaking of that Lawrenceburg distillery, that is also the source of the OKI Reserve bourbon that New Riff will begin selling this summer. Neither of these things, hiring a consultant or bottling a sourced bourbon, are at all unusual in the world of whiskey, but it is rare enough for a distillery to even admit doing it, let alone celebrate it.

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The Doubler Room can hold up to 50 people.

Although small compared to other well-known bourbon producers, New Riff is large for a micro-distillery and even though they just opened their doors, they are planning for growth. In the meantime, while waiting for the barrels to age, you will be able to book one of their two beautiful event spaces for private events. You can also become a part of their innovative Ranger Program. Becoming a New Riff Ranger not only gives you a lifetime membership, a discount at the gift shop, and bragging rights, it allows entitles you to one personalized bottle of single barrel bourbon four years after you purchase your membership. Buy one for your friend’s wedding this summer and they can toast you with their bottle for their 4th anniversary.

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The Tower Room had a bar, outdoor patio, and can hold up to 150 people.

Needless to say, I left New Riff feeling very excited. It is great to see that our area’s distilling history is starting to be revived alongside its brewing history. And may I say, well done to Ken Lewis. Bellevue now has the country’s largest beer and spirits store with a microbrewery and a distillery all in the same location. If he can just build a monorail to take you to each location he would be the Jungle Jim of the alcohol world.

Bourbon Society of Greater Cincinnati

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Ginny, Fred Minnick, and Molly Wellmann

Last night I attended my first meeting of the Bourbon Society of Greater Cincinnati, an offshoot of the Bourbon Society in Louisville. After spending the evening with this crowd, listening to their goals, and soaking in knowledge from the amazing speaker they had brought in for the night I was asked to consider paying the dues to become a full member. My response can only be described as ‘Shut up and take my money!’

The April meeting was only the second gathering of this group but it was clear that the organizers of the society know what they are doing. Last month the speaker was bourbon historian and author Michael Veach, and last night it was journalist and best selling author Fred Minnick. Both of these men are huge names in the bourbon world and you usually can’t just sit and listen to them talk about bourbon without paying some sizable money for the privilege. Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey, which is a fascinating book. His talk last night focused on a brief outline of this history before taking questions from the audience about wider bourbon and whiskey subjects. He was entertaining, intelligent, and gracious throughout the discussion. Just don’t get him started on flavored whisky or vodka.

Bourbon Society of Greater Cincinnati

The Bourbon Society had also arranged for a sponsor for the evening, Cresent Springs Tobacco, Liquor & Wine Shop, which meant that attendees were treated to two pours of bourbon while we listened. The  bottles selected were Woodford Reserve and Michter’s, both chosen because of the prominent involvement of women in their production. In addition members who had a birthday in April were encouraged to bring a bottle of their own to share with the group so there was also a chance for guests to try a few new things that weren’t on the menu. The discussion that followed the tasting was great. Nothing like being in a room of 60 bourbon lovers and just sitting back and watching the opinions and questions fly.

Bourbon Society of Greater Cincinnati

All told it was a highly successful evening. Several of the attendees were there for the first time and many decided to make the leap and become full members. Future meetings will take place in new locations and speakers will include distillers as well as new authors and historians. In addition there are plans to eventually purchase barrels directly from distillers and then auctioning bottles off to raise money for charity. For more information about the Bourbon Society and to make sure you don’t miss the next meeting check out their Facebook page or follow them on twitter.

Bourbon Classic 2014

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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.

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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.

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Highlights:

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.

– Leaving the over priced after-party at Milkwood to go drink bourbon and sodas at a dive bar called The Levee.

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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.

New local beer alert: Lexington Brewing Co. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout

Ok, this isn’t actually a local beer, but with how wacky people are about Lexington’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale around here (I am not one of those people wacky about it), I thought I’d put this up for you to keep an eye out for. At the Craft Beer Symposia at Teller’s this year, a representative from Lexington noted that they would be releasing a bourbon barrel-aged coffee stout, but he didn’t give any details in terms of the timeline. I’d assume, since the label has been approved, that it’s not too long from being released. Anyways, just something to watch the shelves for.

From Lexington Brewing Co.’s website:

Barrels that once contained world-famous Kentucky Bourbon lend a sweet hint of caramel and vanilla to dark-roasted malts and finish with the essence of a lightly roasted coffee. The barrel-aged flavors native to Kentucky compliment this complex stout brewed and aged with Haitian coffee to create the bourbon country’s own Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Coming soon to Kentucky and Ohio markets.

Know more about this beer? Email me at QueenCityDrinks@gmail.com

(H/T to Beer Pulse)

Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar

Bourbon* and I are old friends. We first got to know each other back in my 20’s and we’ve been enjoying each other’s company ever since. Of course at first I thought bourbon was a little out of my league. I was intimidated by his reputation and some of his friends seemed a little cooler-than-thou if you know what I mean. But the more I get to know him, the more I liked bourbon. Sure we’ve had our ups and downs but I’ve forgiven him for the hangover from my 30th birthday and he’s forgotten all about how I used to mix him with coke.

If you have yet to become acquainted with bourbon I can recommend no better place than the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar on Main Street in Covington. This week marked my second visit to Molly Wellman’s new bar, dedicated to showcasing American whiskey of all kinds, but there is obviously a heavy focus on bourbon. The OKBB is small, clean, and modern looking on the inside. At no point during either of my visits was the bar crowded. That is probably because this is not really a bar in the typical sense of the word. It is hard to imagine a group of friends piling into the OKBB to mindlessly enjoy drinks while chatting about their week, let alone going there to pound back shots and get rowdy. This is not so much a bar as it is a museum that showcases one of the true American art forms: bourbon.  You go to the OKBB to be educated and if you come out with a buzz, that’s just a happy coincidence.

A flight of rye whiskey at the OKBB.

I realize that this description is going to put off the vast majority of people reading it but I encourage you to give it a try anyway. The bartenders are incredibly knowledgable about the entire process of making, drinking, and mixing whiskey but they are also very approachable. On my first visit I was brought a tiny little cup of spring water and the bartender clearly read my confusion when he set it down next to my drink. He kindly asked if I would like a glass of water for drinking in addition to the one for mixing. If you don’t like the taste of whiskey by itself the staff knows many excellent cocktails, like the Horse’s Neck or the Manhattan, to give you a taste without overwhelming you. But if you do already enjoy bourbon this is a great location for discovering new things. On my first trip I got to try a selection of much older bourbon than I could usually afford. On this last trip I tried a flight of rye whiskey, something I’d had little experience with in the past.  In addition to the top shelf bottles, the bartender was also very helpful in pointing out some good “everyday” bourbon that were surprisingly strong for their price. The quite atmosphere, talkative staff, and chance for trying new things together also makes the OKBB ideal for a date night.

And speaking of price, that does bring us to the main downside of the OKBB and the reason why, despite my love of bourbon, I’ve only been there twice. It is not a cheap place. As I said earlier, this is not somewhere you go to get drunk. The pours have been described as small considering that they tend to start around $6 and quickly go up to $9 or more. In this case I think it is clear that you are paying for the knowledge of the staff as much as for the whiskey itself. It is a great place to go and invest a little money in order to increase you knowledge and to try small portions of expensive delights but it is something I save it for a special occasion.

*I was reluctant to give bourbon a gender but the flow of the writing required it. So I went with the masculine but I think that an equally strong case can be made for going with the feminine. You can hear more about my trip to OKBB on last week’s episode of The Charlie Tonic Hour.

Bourbon Trail Roadmap

Similar to Josh, I have recently become more intrigued by bourbon.  When the chance came up to participate in the bourbon trail with some friends, I jumped at the opportunity.  Below is a rundown of the tour we took.  I recommend a similar path to anyone thinking about the bourbon trail themselves

Friday – Lexington, KY

Stop 1 – Four Roses

It was a good thing Four Roses was the first stop on the tour because we would have been extremely underwhelmed had it in been at any other time.  The tour consisted of a 15 minute video, and then the same information on the video was regurgitated on a 15 minute walking tour of the facility.  The facility was by far the smallest of the distilleries, and it was also shut down for the summer (it does not produce bourbon in the summer because of the heat).

On a brighter note, the bourbon here was phenomenal.  There were 3 tastings offered: the standard yellow label, the small batch, and the single barrel.  The small batch at Four Roses may have been my favorite bourbon of the trip.

Best Part Of Four Roses

Stop 2 – Wild Turkey

We didn’t actually take a tour here, but from the looks of the gift shop and building, I don’t regret this.  The set up was by far the most “gimmicky” of all the stops.  I’d love to hear someone who has been on the tour chime in, but it seemed like a good place to get a quick sample and move on.

Stop 3 – Woodford Reserve

One of the funniest things I noticed on the tour is that the customers at each distillery matched the brands persona to a T.  This was particularly the case with Woodford Reserve, where the average patron had on khaki pants and a sport coat.

The grounds that Woodford is on are absolutely gorgeous.  The tour was also a very good and comprehensive one.  You got to see the end to end bourbon making process from start to finish, as well as see a barrel aging room and the bottling line.  This was the only tour that charged for attending ($5), and the sampling was the most underwhelming of any distillery – a single serving of Woodford Reserve served in a plastic shot glass.  Our tour guide was also a bit of a stick in the mud, and I could see the tour being even better with a different guide.

Don’t Forget Your Khakis and Polos When Visiting Woodford!

Stop 4 – Buffalo Trace

We did the “Hard Hat Tour” at Buffalo Trace which requires advance reservations.  If you do the bourbon trail, this is the number one must stop on the trail and I cannot recommend this tour enough.  It was the most comprehensive, real view of the distilleries we saw all weekend.  Plus, Buffalo Trace just looks like the type of place bourbon should be made at.  Many of the buildings are from the 1800’s, and the facility itself is a bit of a multi-story maze that seems like the bourbon equivalent of Willy Wonka’s factory.  We got to taste fermenting wort at several stages of fermentation, as well as uncut bourbon before it went into the barrel.  Our tour guide was also hilarious and a straight shooter, at one point telling us he didn’t understand all the fuss over Pappy Van Winkle and saying there was not a single experimental batch of Buffalo Trace that he cared for much.

The tasting here consisted of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, White Dog, Rain Vodka, and a bourbon cream.  I preferred the standard Buffalo Trace to Eagle Rare.  They also had tasting glasses signed by Pappy Van Winkle’s grandson who runs the company now, which was a cool surprise.  Also, technically Buffalo Trace is not part of the official “bourbon trail” anymore, but that is just semantics.

The Buffalo Trace Factory
Distillation Room At Buffalo Trace
The Experimental Batches Are Made On This Micro Still

Stop 1 – Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark was my second favorite tour of the weekend, but I must warn you that it is an absolute haul to get to.  It is at least 40 minutes further than any other distillery on the trail and a solid hour and a half from Louisville.  However, it is still worth seeing.  The tasting here consisted of Maker’s Mark and Maker’s Mark 46, and they probably have the coolest gift shop of any stop on the bourbon trail.  You can also dip your own bottle of Maker’s Mark in the gift shop.

Stick Your Finger In The Fermentation Tank!

Stop 2 – Heaven Hill

There are three tours offered here; a 30 minute one, a 60 minute one, and an hour and a half one.  They don’t distill the bourbon on site here, so the more comprehensive tours just consist of videos and seeing the aging rooms.  We opted for the 30 minute tour and were glad that we did.  This was probably the most boring stop on the trail, but the bourbon was fairly good.  We got to taste Evan Williams Single Barrel.

Stop 3 – Jim Beam

This was the 7th stop in two days, and since our entire group was hung over from the night before still, I was at the point of ready to be done by this stop.  However, the tour was surprisingly very cool, and we got to see their barrel house and learn about their blending program.  The tasting here was for Booker’s Single Barrel (135 proof) and Honey Tea Red Stag. The Booker’s was extremely tasty for how strong it was.

Ever been on the tour?  Let me know if you agree or disagree!  If you haven’t, it makes for a very fun weekend.  And make sure to check out the Holy Grale when in Louisville!

Steve