Bourbon Classic Day One: Cocktails for two

Bourbon Classic Day One: Cocktails for two

After a month of anticipation, I am here in Louisville Kentucky for the Bourbon Classic, and so far it has been tremendous fun. We got in late afternoon yesterday, with enough time to check into the beautiful and unique 21c Museum hotel, and get ready for the event itself starting at 7:00.

Welcome to the Bourbon Classic
Welcome to the Bourbon Classic

This is the Bourbon Classic’s second year, and the presentation last evening was fantastic. For last night’s sampling and competition, several different bourbon brands pared up with some fantastic chefs and mixologists to prepare small plate tastings and cocktails.

Each distillery/chef had a table serving area, and visitors were free to walk up to each one and try the dish, cocktail, or ideally, the pairing of both. The bourbons represented some of the best and most well known in the industry: Angels Envy, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Michters, Blantons and Wild Turkey. We started out on the far side of the convention hall, with Angels Envy, who served up a beef satay with green chili grits, a deviled egg, and paired it with a Boulevardier cocktail. A delicious pairing for, A.E. and Chef Terry French (winner of the Food Network’s “Extreme Chef” contest in 2012).

Chef Terry French at the Angel's Envy table
Chef Terry French at the Angel’s Envy table

The treats kept coming – Highlights included the Sable Manhattan mixed by Issac Fox of Volare using Jim Beam black (delish!), Woodford Reserve and Chef Bobby Benjamin paired up for a chicken and waffles that was truly breathtakingly good, and the work of Blantons and Proof on Main Chef Levon Wallace.

Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main pairs with Blanton's
Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main pairs with Blanton’s

Now, my love of Blanton’s is known to readers, so it’s hardly shocking I would find this to be my favorite pairing. But the taste of Chef Wallace’s Lamb scrapple with red eye hollandaise and cornbread fried in duck fat, paired with a Blantons based Fancy Free was the highlight for Jen and I. Both were delicious, and went together so nicely, that we had to give Chef Wallace our compliments – and it was our great pleasure to find him to be a fantastic guy to boot! Suffice to say, we look forward to eating at Proof on Main next time we are in Louisville, and enjoying the fantastic foods.

Chef Levon Wallace talks with Jen and I
Chef Levon Wallace talks with Jen and I

After the first pass through, many of the brands and chefs started rolling out second options, and dear reader, that’s where my notes fall off. We met some wonderful people, like the aforementioned Issac Fox and Chef Wallace, and made some new friends. We spent a good portion of the evening chatting with Gregory and Chris, two very nice gentlemen from Virginia who headed here for a bit of a college reunion. We also met a pair of ladies who are are close to launch on a Bourbon-lifestyle centered website, and who kindly directed us to some other local cuisine to try.

Today is day two, with some learning sessions and more tastings this afternoon and evening. We drove around Louisville a bit today, procured some future bourbon of the week bottles, and ate lunch at the fantastic Garage Bar. We’ve met some wonderful people – from knowledgeable collectors who have helped me augment my own, to the chefs, restaurant managers and people here at the hotel, so far everyone has been fantastic. On to day two!

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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)

Tonight, I visited a bottle that’s been on my shelf a little while – A bottle of Buffalo Trace, with a special twist: the Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition.

A few years ago, my sisters found themselves in Kentucky and, while there, took a tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery.  Neither of my sisters are bourbon afficionados (or even really like it), but knowing I am, brought me back some gifts.  Among them was this bottle.

At the time, it was my understanding, the barrels these bottles were from were still hand picked by Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T Lee, godfather of the Single Barrel bourbon.  Mr. Lee, who passed away this year at the age of 93, was calling the shots at Buffalo Trace (then still the Stagg Distillery) in 1985 when he pushed for the launch of Blanton’s, birthed the single barrel craze and revolutionized the industry.  Elmer was renowned for his palate and skill, so the thought that he still selected these bottles is enough for me to be enthusiastic.

Of course, I don’t know if he actually did.  What I do know is that at the time my sisters procured the bottle for me, it was only available at the distillery itself and, having sampled it next to a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace, there are some, allbeit subtle, differences.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)

I like Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  As a mass produced bourbon, I have preferred it to most of the others in it’s price range for everything other than pure sipping.  I’ve used it in cooking, in cocktails, in baking, and straight.  It’s not my choice for sitting back with a glass neat or on the rocks, but it certainly is a great product.  This particular bottle is a touch better.

My take: right from the get go, the color is a deep yellow-amber, darker than many others.  The nose opened up with corn, vanilla, and a sort of baking spices that made me think of rum or even fruitcake.  It wasn’t extremely strong in scent, but was pleasant enough.

It sipped a bit on the thin side, with a pop of pepper and spices.  There were tastes of orange peel, and I noted cinnamon, all spice and while I didn’t feel it was thick or had great mouth coat, it didn’t feel empty.

The finish was long and had both the sprite sparkle of cinnamon, but also a nice radiating warmth that lasted for some time.

A quality selection, and a good one to toast to Mr. Lee.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 7.9

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Blanton’s Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Blanton’s Single Barrel

Ahhh, Blanton‘s.  This is the granddaddy of the Single Barrel bourbon craze.  They started releasing it in single barrel form in the 1980s, and it is still  produced from barrels in Buffalo Trace warehouse H.  One of the cool things about Blanton’s is it’s unique bottle, and the tops. There are eight different horses on the top of Blanton’s bottles, representing a jockey and horse coming to the gate, running a race, and winning – how very Kentucky!  I picked up this bottle from the Buffalo Trace Distillery when we were there in June.  It didn’t disappoint.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Blanton's Single Barrel (Barrel no. 328, 5-9-13). The granddaddy of the single barrel bourbons.
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Blanton’s Single Barrel (Barrel no. 328, 5-9-13). The granddaddy of the single barrel bourbons.

The nose was fantastic – corn, apples, cinnamon, rye, and a hint of…apricot?  But the taste – so smooth, so clean.  It’s has a nice mouth coat – soft and buttery.  It’s got a bit of wood char bitterness, but is as smooth as almost any I’ve tasted. You can taste the corn, and there’s a sweet detection of summer fruits, like apples. 

The finish is mild, not overwhelming.  I love this bourbon.

Dan scale (1-10): 9.3