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
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
Bartender: Isaac Fox, La Chasse
Cocktail: Matzatli Mole
Best Contemporary Small Plate
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