March is a very busy season for the KentuckySportsRadio.com team as the SEC and NCAA tournaments have us working around the clock and out of arena workrooms. So to clear my mind and have some pre-madness fun, I attended last week’s Bourbon Classic in Louisville, one of the premier cocktail and culinary events in America.
The fifth annual Classic, my second, was an absolute blast this year, beginning with a Pappy Van Winkle tasting party on Tuesday, which I could not attend because it was UK’s Senior Night in Rupp Arena. I instead caught up with the Bourbon Classic on Wednesday for late-night drinks and conversation with The Bourbon Review guys, and then stayed for all of the action through Sunday morning.
Let me tell you all about it with these valuable lessons, facts, and other fun things I learned throughout the event:
Pickled hot links taste like actual shit.
I first met up with The Bourbon Review team at The Pearl of Germantown during an open night for Bourbon Classic goers. I got to the bar 45 minutes early because they were finishing up a fancy dinner somewhere else, and because I was dying for my own bite to eat after missing lunch and dinner.
As luck would have it, The Pearl doesn’t serve food and I didn’t learn this fact until I already caught an Uber across town and sat comfortably at the bar. But it did have a selection of “small snacks,” as they were described to me by the bartender; one being “hot links” for six dollars.
Hot links? I can do hot links. I like hot things. And links. I have six dollars.
Let me show you what appeared in front of me:
That is a jar of pickled hot links and I couldn’t take another bite of one of those if my life literally depended on it. I would rather die.
Take a closer look. Lean in. Do you want to vomit? I wanted to vomit. Imagine going all day without eating and then that is your first opportunity at nourishment and filling the growling belly. I may vomit right now. At least one of you probably already did.
Luckily, the guys eventually showed up to The Pearl, they also almost vomited, and then they took me to the Silver Dollar for some very good food.
So, I recommend The Pearl for drinks, not pickled hot links, and then the Silver Dollar for a great dinner.
Buffalo Trace accidentally dug up the foundation of a really, really, really old distillery.
During our first media tour of some our state’s best bourbon distilleries, I learned that, just last year, construction workers at Buffalo Trace stumbled upon the ruins of the old 1873 O.F.C Distillery where Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. used to make his bourbon. The workers were renovating the property for new event space, but the project was put on hold once the foundation of the original distillery was found. The plans have obviously changed with the new discovery.
If you find this interesting, read more on “bourbon Pompeii.” The accidental find is going to become a cool new attraction at Buffalo Trace.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon really exists; it’s not an urban legend.
And we tried it.
The tornado-surviving bourbon is just that: bourbon that survived a tornado. It came to be when a tornado tore apart some of the siding of Warehouse C at Buffalo Trace, exposing those barrels to the elements. Buffalo Trace bottled those barrels as a special bourbon and it is delicious.
There are two new must-see distilleries: Jepthra Creed in Shelbyville and Peerless Distillery in Louisville.
Looking for a new place to see the bourbon-making process in Kentucky? Allow me to recommend the Jepthra Creed and Peerless distilleries, two family owned and operated distilleries that are new to the bourbon world (although the original Peerless dates back to the 1880s). Both have fascinating stories of how they came to be and both have very impressive facilities for tourists and bourbon fans. Check them out.
I look a lot like the nude model hanging up in Proof on Main.
Proof on Main was a popular hangout for me all weekend as I was staying in the 21c Hotel downtown. And this portrait hanging on the wall that separates the hotel lobby and the Proof bar really creeped me out.
I sent a pic of it to my mom and she honestly thought I posed nude for a free bar tab.
Jim and Don from Mint Julep Tours are good people. (And UK fans.)
For me, being in the city of Louisville for four days can be very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, but it was comforting to meet Jim and Don from Mint Julep Tours, who were our shuttle drivers and fellow Cats fans. We took this picture outside Maker’s Mark to send to their co-workers, all of whom are big Louisville fans, I’m told.
It was very nice to meet you, Jim and Don. Keep those other guys at Mint Julep in line.
Bill Samuels Jr. is a Louisville fan.
I learned this the hard way.
For some reason, I thought Bill Samuels Jr., former president at Maker’s Mark and son of the Maker’s founder with the same name, was a big Kentucky Wildcats fan. Turns out, he likes Kentucky just fine, but Bill Samuels Jr. is indeed a Louisville fan.
That made our introduction an awkward one when I turned to my new friend Sasa from Slovenia and told her to show Mr. Samuels how I taught her the Ls down on the way over for our dinner and nighttime tour at Maker’s. He then let me know he likes Louisville over Kentucky, and I then wanted to crawl in one of his mash tanks and disappear.
There is no better meal than a meal prepared by Dickie Brennan.
I got to know the famous New Orleans chef and restaurateur Dickie Brennan at last year’s Bourbon Classic, when he told me the story of Adolph Rupp recruiting his father, Dick Brennan Sr., to play for Kentucky in the 1940s. If I remember correctly (and the events of that night are a little foggy), Dickie told me an illness in the family forced his father to back out of his commitment to the Wildcats to stay home at nearby Tulane.
Anyway, that UK connection sparked up some conversation over a good cocktail or five around this time last year, and then Dickie hosted a group of mine at his Bourbon House in the French Quarter last summer.
Then this past Thursday, Dickie and his team held a SAVOR bourbon and culinary event at Maker’s Mark and I can’t remember having a better meal. (Sorry, Taco Bell.)
Not pictured: the cocktail pairings and the mountain of fried oysters and other finger foods that were served first.
Michter’s Celebration is an outstanding bourbon, but a little outside my price range. (Okay, a lot outside my price range.)
During our Friday morning stop to Michter’s Distillery, which normally doesn’t do public tours, company president Joe Magliocco and his team broke out the Michter’s Celebration after our tour of the super-secret facility. You may be familiar with Michter’s Celebration (it was on last Sunday’s episode of Billions), but for those who aren’t familiar, it is a 30-year sour mash whiskey that goes for around $5,000 per bottle.
And let me tell you, friends: it was soooooooooooo good. (And I hope they don’t call me up asking for that $5K.)
After the Celebration, we cracked the seal on the Michter’s 20-year bourbon, valued at only about $1,000 per bottle.
Thank you, Michter’s.
The Bourbon Classic is an awesome week for bourbon enthusiasts or anyone interested in learning more about (or drinking a lot of) bourbon.
I highly encourage all of you to check out next year’s schedule of events and then seriously consider whatever you’re able to attend. It has been named one of the top cocktail festivals in America and it only gets better each year.
The only bad thing about it is the following Monday morning, which I spent shaking and sweating in the fetal position. I blame that jar of hot links.