Events Maggie Kimberl

Bourbon Classic 2021 Recap

The Bourbon Classic is back!

The Bourbon Classic is back! This multi-day festival celebrates the best that Kentucky Bourbon country and beyond has to offer, from a cocktail and small plate competition featuring local chefs and mixologists and local ingredients to pourings of great whiskeys. After nearly a decade, this festival has outgrown two previous spaces and found a new home at Louisville’s Slugger Field.

The Top Shelf kickoff event on Thursday evening, November 4th, was held at 21C Museum Hotel and featured the entire Van Winkle Bourbon lineup as well as pours from Buffalo Trace and Thomas S. Moore. Chef Jeff Dailey from Proof on Main provided progressive food pairings for the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year, Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 year, Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, and Pappy Van Winkle 20 year bourbons as guests enjoyed the art installations and return to in-person events.

The Friday evening event has been a fan-favorite since the start of the Bourbon Classic back in 2013. Kentucky Chefs work in tandem with bartenders and mixologists on teams that represent a different participating whiskey brand. There are two rounds, one for classic cocktails and small plates and another for contemporary cocktails and small plates. 

Event attendees have the opportunity to circle the room and try each combination of classic pairings before the tables are flipped to another round of contemporary pairings. A judging panel judges each combination live in front of the audience.

This year’s winners were:

Best Classic Cocktail 

Representing Bardstown Bourbon Company 

Bartender: Mara Hartings, The Kitchen & Bar at Bardstown Bourbon Company 

Cocktail: Falling 

Best Classic Small Plate 

Representing Blade & Bow 

Chef Lee Mayfield, Louisville Thoroughbred Society 

Dish: Sweet Potato Crostini with Goat Cheese, Molasses & Balsamic Glazed Figs, Broadbent Country Ham 

Featuring: Broadbent Country Ham 

Best Classic Pairing 

Representing Log Still Distillery 

Bartender: Jayma Neese, Bob’s Steak and Chophouse 

Cocktail: Creole Cocktail 

Chef Christopher McIntosh, Bob’s Steak and Chophouse 

Dish: Shrimp & Grits with Andouille Sausage and Creole Gravy 

Featuring: Weisenberger Mill Grits, Kenny’s Cheddar Cheese, KY Onions, Celery, Peppers 

Best Contemporary Cocktail 

Representing Michter’s 

Bartender: Isaac Fox, La Chasse 

Cocktail: Matzatli Mole

Best Contemporary Small Plate 

Representing 1792 

Chef Jeff Dailey, Proof on Main 

Dish: Cocoa Foie Gros Mousse with Maple Cotton Candy & Black Locust Vinegar Featuring: Rivercrest Farm Chicken Liver, 3D Valley Maple Syrup 

Best Contemporary Pairing 

Representing Buffalo Trace 

Bartender: Jacob Buckingham, Repeal 

Cocktail: The Blind Pilot 

Chef Joshua Carter, Repeal 

Dish: Grilled Carrots with Tahini Yogurt 

Featuring: Mount Pleasant Acres Carrots 

Saturday’s events kicked off with an option of tours to Stitzel-Weller, Justins’ House of Bourbon, Michter’s, or Kentucky Peerless Distillery or an option to attend an onsite seminar. Seminars included Castle & Key’s history and blending, Bardstown Bourbon Company’s grain to glass story, a food and whiskey pairing, and a Bourbon cocktail class.

Afterward the main floor opened up for whiskey pours including Widow Jane, Jeptha Creed, Blanton’s, Lux Row, Michter’s, Rabbit Hole, Old Dominick, Barrel Craft Spirits, Four Roses, Old Carter, Four Gate, and more.

Safety precautions blended seamlessly with the event. All patrons had their vaccine cards or recent COVID tests checked at the door along with a picture ID to ensure borrowed tests and vaccine cards did not make it through. Buffet lines were served and the standard Glencairn was given out at the end instead of being used for all the pours, as in years past.

Despite the changes, it still felt very much like the Bourbon Classic as it always has been. The changes were barely perceptible while still feeling completely safe and comfortable.

The food was great and the whiskey was better, but the best thing about being back was the people. It was an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, all because of a shared love of the water of life. Cheers!

Photos Courtesy of Kriech-Higdon Photography/Bourbon Classic

Maggie Kimberl is a spirits journalist focusing on whiskey culture in the United States, though she considers herself to be 'geographically blessed' to live in the epicenter of the bourbon world, Louisville, Kentucky. When she's not covering the bourbon beat you can find her browsing through vintage vinyl with her kids or tending to her homegrown tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and check out her blog.

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