Liz Roach: The Bourbon Classic — Louisville with a Twist

When asked about the art of pairing bourbon with food, the James Beard finalist for best chef: Southeast, Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia, offers valuable advice.  “If you don’t eat with bourbon, you’re gonna get real drunk.”

This tongue-in-cheek maxim aside, Lee articulates an oft-overlooked truth about the meaning of Southernness, something many bourbon drinkers appreciate.  “Being Southern is not geographical; it’s an emotional connection.”

The same could be said about bourbon.  Contrary to popular belief, not all bourbon is made in Kentucky.  The Bluegrass State, however, is the predominant source, creating 95% of the beverage. And many would say it’s done best here.

There’s no doubt that no one throws a bourbon party like Kentuckians.  Case in point: The Bourbon Classic, a two-day event celebrating all aspects of the libation.  Organized by The Bourbon Review and FSA Management Group, the revelry took place from March 22-23, 2013, at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville near the famed Whiskey Row.  In its inaugural year, The Bourbon Classic provided a chance for attendees to sample bourbon in many forms: served neat at tastings, mixed into cocktails, or cooked into savory hors d’oeuvres.  

Guests had a chance to sample multiple innovative dishes from some of Kentucky’s finest chefs on the Bourbon Classic’s opening night.  Pairing up with master bartenders, chefs participated in a “Cocktail Challenge,” which required each team to provide a coordinating beverage and small plate featuring bourbon.  Along with Chef Lee, judges included Joy Perrine, author of The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, and Noah Rothbaum, editor-in-chief of A buzzy crowd of serious connoisseurs and curious imbibers mingled over glasses of Seviche chef Anthony Lamas’ Tuna Old-Fashioned and Jonathan’s Chef Jonathan Lundy’s bourbon banana pudding.

Other highlights of the Bourbon Classic included a master distillers roundtable featuring the patriarchs of bourbon, who shared lore and described the craftsmanship of their storied products.  Breakout sessions provided a range of ways to experience the brown nectar, from pairing chocolates with bourbon (courtesy of Holly Hill Inn chef Ouita Michel) to concocting a cocktail called the Boulevardier to listening to tales of historical bourbon barons.

After two days of tastings, after-parties, and after-after-parties set at local hotspots, participants walked away well-fortified with mash and a collection of new friends.

If you’re already salivating for next year’s event, we have something to tide you over. Bourbon Classic 2013 Grand Champion Jared Schubert of the Monkey Wrench in Louisville kindly provided his recipe for the “Dust Bowl Smash,” which snagged the award for best Contemporary Cocktail.  Schubert’s tipple provides a taste of bourbon in the new era, while maintaining that quintessential Kentucky flavor.

Dust Bowl Smash 
2 ounces Four Roses Single Barrel
½ ounce Honey Syrup*
1 dash Bitterman’s Hellfire Shrub
2 dashes Peychauds Bitters
6 large mint leaves

Combine ingredients in a shaker. Shake vigorously, and double strain into a double old-fashioned glass with ice.  Garnish with a leaf of mint.

* To make honey syrup, combine two parts honey with one part water. Stir until thoroughly combined.

(Cross-posted from The Local Palate, Photography by Weasie Gaines Photography)


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