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Recap: 2016 Bourbon Classic

Louisville, Kentucky’s, 2016 Bourbon Classic has drawn to a close. This event has grown from a two day event just four years ago, to now a five day event showcasing the best of Louisville’s cultural and culinary destinations and talent. What really sets this event apart from other bourbon-centric events is the emphasis on the immense culinary and mixology talent in Louisville. Not only is Louisville a great place to enjoy bourbon, it’s also a great place to get a killer cocktail and an unforgettable meal. All of these things are showcased during the many events comprising The Bourbon Classic.

Kentucky Bourbon Classic
image via Maggie Kimberl

TUESDAY: Bourbon Classic TOP SHELF: A Bourbon and Culinary Experience

This was the kickoff event for the Bourbon Classic hosted by Preston Van Winkle, co-owner of the Old Rip Van Winkle company. It takes place at the beautiful Copper and Kings American Brandy Distillery in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, which has the best view of downtown of anywhere in the city. Chef Sean Brock of Husk Restaurant in Nashville created several wonderful food pairings to compliment the full lineup of Van Winkle bourbons. Tickets to this event sell out immediately after it is announced in the fall, so keep a close eye on The Bourbon Classic’s social media pages if you want to attend next year.

WEDNESDAY: Bourbon Classic LOFT: A Bourbon and Culinary Experience

Guests had the opportunity to meet the newest Master Distiller in the Kentucky Bourbon industry, Brent Elliott of Four Roses, while sampling the major offerings from his distillery. Local up-and-coming chefs whipped up harmonizing small plates as guests enjoyed cocktails and mingled. The BBC Bourbon Barrel Loft is an excellent venue for an intimate event overlooking Main Street in Louisville.

THURSDAY: Bourbon Classic SAVOR: A Bourbon and Culinary Experience

This event took advantage of Louisville’s newest bourbon industry-themed venue: The Frazier History Museum’s Prohibition and Kentucky exhibit. Blackberry Farm’s Corporate Chef Josh Feathers whipped up a four-course meal complete with cocktail pairings which included citrus-cured trout paired with a gin cocktail, fried rabbit with sweet potato cornbread bourbon sauce, beef short ribs with grits, and an oatmeal bourbon casserole paired with Blackberry Farm Whiskey. This event began with a cocktail and “Pappy Hour” hosted by Preston Van Winkle.

Kentucky Bourbon Classic
image via Maggie Kimberl

FRIDAY: From the Barrel to the Bar: Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge

Named one of Travel + Leisure Magazine’s Top 7 Cocktail Competitions in the nation last year, this event is both a sprint and a marathon. It’s important to pace yourself as you go, because there are two rounds of cocktails and small plates- traditional and contemporary.  That adds up to 18 cocktails and small plates in just two hours- it’s a sprint to get to each one. A panel of judges critiques each pairing, and winners are announced at the end of the evening. There were variations of whiskey sours, old fashioneds, and boulevardiers as well as completely new cocktails. Small plates included death by chocolate cupcakes, shrimp and grits, pork belly and greens, and many others.  Winners were:

Best Classic Pairing: Damien Cooke and Chef Newman Miller on team Barton 1792

Best Classic Cocktail: Michael Anderson on team Heaven Hill

Best Classic Small Plate: Chef Mike Wajda on team Heaven Hill

Best Contemporary Cocktail: Beth Burrows on team Michter’s

Best Contemporary Small Plate: Chef Newman Miller on team Barton 1792

Best Contemporary Pairing: Evan Watson and Chef Michael Crouch on team Four Roses


Distillery Bartender Chef
Barton 1792 Distillery Damien Cooke, Proof on Main Chef Newman Miller, Harrison-Smith House- Bardstown
Blanton’s Bourbon Isaac Fox, La Chasse Chef Alexander Dulaney, La Chasse
Buffalo Trace Distillery Barry Himel, Bourbon House-New Orleans Chef Jimi Setchim, Bourbon House-New Orleans
Calumet Bourbon Clayton Livingston, 8-UP Chef Jacob Coronado, 8-UP
Four Roses Distillery Evan Watson, Bistro 1860 Chef Michael Crouch, Bistro 1860
Heaven Hill Distilleries Michael Anderson, Butcher and the Rye – Pittsburgh Chef Mike Wajda, Proof on Main
Jim Beam Keri Smith, Doc Crows Chef Charles Frede, JQ Public House
Michter’s Distillery Beth Burrows, Down One Bourbon Bar Chef Patrick Roney, Harvest
Wild Turkey Amber Yates, Feast Chef Ryan Rogers, Feast

SATURDAY: Bourbon University Sessions and Bourbon Classic Taste “Bourbon Street Meets Bourbon Country”

Saturday began with five small Bourbon University sessions ranging in topic from New Kids on the Block: The Young Faces of Distilling, to Kentucky Perfection: A Pairing of Bourbon and Country Ham. Some guests traveled from session to session to get a taste of all of them, while others picked their favorite topic for the hour. The second session of Bourbon University was the Bourbon Masters General Session featuring people who make the bourbon industry happen.  Panelists were:

  • Alltech / Town Branch – Mark Coffman
  • Kings County – Colin Spoelman,
  • A Smith Bowman – Brian Prewitt,
  • MB Roland Distillery – Paul Tomaszewski
  • Barton 1792 – Ken Pierce
  • Mitchter’s – Joe Magliocco
  • Buffalo Trace – Harlen Wheatley
  • Old Taylor – Marianne Barnes
  • Four Roses – Brent Elliott
  • Wild Turkey – Eddie Russell
  • Heaven Hill – Charlie Downs.

Topics included the marijuana lobby in Kentucky, what makes a Master Distiller, and the reasoning behind the demise of age statements. The final Bourbon University session included topics such as The New Whiskey Row: Same City, Same Great Bourbon; Who Nose Bourbon?; and Take the Bourbon with the Sweet: Bourbon & Sweets.  The night ended with Bourbon Classic Taste, where guests were given a Glencarin glass and set loose to enjoy everything the participating distilleries had to offer.

See the Bourbon Classic website for announcements about next year’s events.

Maggie Kimberl

One night during Derby week, I was working in the liquor store while Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge was doing a tasting. I kept trying to make my way over to talk to him, but we were super busy (did I mention it was Derby week?) and I didn't make it in time. Dejected, I went back to the break room and started eating my lunch. The next thing I knew, Rutledge came through the door, saying, "You didn't get to do my tasting!" He sat down and explained how to taste bourbon, the ten recipes of Four Roses, and how it was different than other distilleries. I had liked bourbon before that point, but Jim Rutledge made me care about it. That's the beautiful thing about the bourbon industry- the people love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Now here we are. :)

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