A trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival – Tasting and Gala

This year, I have been fortunate enough to head down to Kentucky for three separate bourbon related events.  In February, my wife and I went to Louisville to take in the second ever Bourbon Classic, a fantastic celebration of bourbon and its culture.  In June, we headed back to tour some distilleries and attend the “Pappy For your Pappy” tasting dinner with the Van Winkle family at Buffalo Trace Distillery.  And last week, we headed down for the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a yearly event in Bardstown, Kentucky in the heart of bourbon country.  It started small in 1992, and has grown every year, as a week long full celebration of all things bourbon.  There are barrel making exhibitions, events for families, kids, tours of Bardstown, mixology lessons, cooking demonstrations – this is a full scale celebration!  As the week goes on, there are nightly events for the bourbon faithful – dinners and dancing, country and bluegrass concerts, all culminating in the big event, the Gala – a black tie affair.  It was for this event my wife surprised me with tickets, and for this event we headed down.

We stayed in Louisville, in the 21c Museum Hotel, which had treated us so well during the Bourbon Classic.  On Friday night, we had dinner at Proof on Main to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary, and the food (and drink) was outstanding!  One of the greatest parts was their offering of bourbon tasting flights:

Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu
Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu

I went with the KY Bourbon Distillers Flight, as it offered three products I cannot find in Michigan, the Johnny Drum Private Stock, the Rowan’s Creek and Noah’s Mill.

KY Bourbon Distillers Flight
KY Bourbon Distillers Flight

We’ve sampled the good from Chef Levon Wallace‘s kitchen before, and this time was every bit as fantastic and delectable as expected.  Dining in Louisville is an exceptional experience, and Proof on Main may be the best of the bunch!

Saturday, we did some exploring of the stores between Louisville and Bardstown, looking for new, limited or fun bourbons that we can’t attain in Michigan, and finding a few of note.  Particularly wonderful were the people of Old Town Wine and Spirits – they had a fantastic collection of spirits, particularly bourbon.  After some perusal, I noticed they had two different store choice barrel strength Four Roses selections.  I asked a gentleman about the differences, and he was wonderful enough to not only walk me through it, but to taste each.  And by taste…I mean he poured me a glass of each.  That is hospitality!  With some new bourbon’s purchased, it was back to the hotel to get gussied up for the big Gala event.

Now, I will be the first to admit, wearing a tuxedo is not exactly a point of comfort for me. By my count, I have worn one five times in my life: senior prom, standing up in three friend’s weddings, and now the bourbon tasting and gala.
Dressed in my best James Bond impression, and with my wife looking stunning in a new dress, we headed to Bardstown.

Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala
Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

The first surprise was the location. Having not been to the festival, it came as a bit of a shock when we pulled into the parking lot of what appeared to be a massive distribution or warehouse facility. There was no doubt, however, that it was the right place to be, as the parking lot was full of shuttle and tour buses, and elegantly dressed people got out of cars to line up for the event. We took our place in line and soon enough the doors opened.

A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala
A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

Inside the first massive room we went into lay a bourbon lovers delight. Each of the major represented distilleries had bar setups around the outside walls. Each one was unique and different. Upon entry, each attendant was given a bag – this would be where we would stash our collected goodies as the night unfolded.

A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!
A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!

Each distillery had a full selection of their products available to drink. Most would serve your drink of choice in a glass specially made for the occasion, which you were to keep (by storing in the aforementioned bag). Most of these individual bars would also have a choice of mixed drink cocktail, ice, water, or to have the drink neat.

In the center of the room was a long spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Bourbon Festival ice sculpture
Bourbon Festival ice sculpture

Our first stop was the Blanton’s bar. Always a favorite of mine, it seemed a great way to get the night started! We sipped our drinks, and moved around. Wild Turkey had a backdrop for guests to have their red carpet style photo taken. They also had perhaps the most ornate bar, practically a saloon set up there where I was short to procure a glass of the Russell’s Reserve I love so much.

In addition to a wonderful set of cocktails and a beautiful display, Makers Mark had an ice luge, where I enjoyed a glass of Makers 46, chilled in this most fun way possible.

Maker's 46 from an ice luge
Maker’s 46 from an ice luge

After some food, & a wonderful conversation with former Maker’s Mark and now Bardstown Bourbon Company master distiller and Kentucky Bourbon Festival Hall of Fame member Steve Nally and his lovely wife, we made our way over to the Heaven Hill set up, where Jen enjoyed a Ezra Brooks smoothie , and I indulged in a pour of Evan Williams Single Barrel.


Buffalo Trace had the most elegant glasses of the evening, with a raised Buffalo etched in the side. Ridgemont Reserve 1792 served a bourbon orange cream drink that would certainly fit as a dessert on any fine menu.

Ridgemont Reserve 1792
Ridgemont Reserve 1792

By the time I wandered up to the Jim Beam bar, we had only been there for about an hour and a half. I asked the bartender for a glass of my favorite Jim Beam product, the Jim Beam Black 8 Year. When he asked if I wanted a single or double, I laughed and said the night was so young I better keep it a single. He quickly responded that the night was so young, it was early enough for a double!

Bulleit had their 10 year bourbon available, and I spoke with one of their representatives about the recent reopening of the Stitzel-Weller distillery under the name that had occurred that week. It is certainly on the short list of places I want to visit soon.

The line at Four Roses was intimidating – they were also offering photographs – so I visited Michter’s and grabbed a few more munchies just as the lights flashed to usher us into the main room where dinner was about to be served.

They have a bag check so we wouldn’t carry around the impressive number of glasses we had collected during the evening, and we entered the large room for dinner.

The dining room part of the evening...
The dining room part of the evening…

As you might imagine, a room sitting what I estimated to have been seven or eight hundred people for dinner would be massive. And it was. There was a stage set up on the far side of the room, where the toast and a few short speeches would be given. Later in the evening, this would also be the bandstand for the dancing part of the night. We found our table, to the far side from the stage and took seats.

We were seated with two lovely groups. One group of four had come in from Atlanta, Georgia. One of the groups gentleman was celebrating his 50th birthday, to celebrate at the Bourbon Festival. What a fantastic idea! There was also a young couple from Cincinnati, Ohio at our table as well. With a bottle of Ridgemont Reserve at each table to toast with, we enjoyed talking to our fellow tablemates while eating our salads. I was particularly overjoyed to find out our new Georgian friends where sports fanatics as well! We talked about baseball at length, as well as SEC football. To my dismay, my Missouri Tigers fell that afternoon to the Indiana Hoosiers, a rather embarrassing loss.

By this point, we all had noticed the lack of climate control in the facility. The temperature outside hovered around 85, and inside the lack of air flow had begun to take its toll. Many a brow was sweaty, and for the men, our tight collars and ties became slightly oppressive.

As the toasts and short speeches began, we found we were too far on the other side of the room to be able to discern what was being said. The sound system was not clear enough for us to here the toast itself, or any of the comments of Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell who had showed up and made some comments of his own. Unfortunately, all we could hear was a sound more similar to the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon.

By the time the delicious dinner was served, we dug in. A band playing Motown and classic soul favorites struck up, and some revelers, including ourselves, went to dance for a bit.

Time to dance!
Time to dance!

The gala goes on until 1 in the morning, but by 11, the heat had taken its toll and Jen and I were ready to retreat the distance back to Louisville. We bid our new friends farewell and safe travels, and beat the path back to Louisville, for a good night’s sleep.

Overall, the bourbon tasting and Gala is a fantastic event, and one I believe we will return to in the future. Next time, we would like to take in more of the entire Bourbon Festival. And hopefully it’s a few degrees cooler…


Happy Pi Day (3.14) – Dirty Bourbon Pie and Bourbon Whipped Cream

Happy Pi Day (3.14) – Dirty Bourbon Pie and Bourbon Whipped Cream

Hello, and happy Pi day! Not that one needs a reason to celebrate pies, or to cook with bourbon, but just in case you are interested in doing just that, I’ve got a recipe for you.  It comes from the fine website Doughmesstic, with a few changes suggested by my wife Jen.

Last year, my work celebrated Pi day with a pie-potluck of sorts, where people brought in pies of all shapes and sizes, including quiches, breakfast specialties and some desert items.  That’s when Jen first made this Bourbon pie, and even included bourbon whipped topping.

I won’t lie, it was a bit of a wake up at 8 in the morning…

But that said, at the end of the day, I took home TWO empty pie tins, and regretted we had not made a third just for our own consumption.

So make the pie with the recipe below, and enjoy!

Happy Pi Day - Dirty Bourbon Pie
Happy Pi Day – Dirty Bourbon Pie


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
1/4 tsp. salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon bourbon (I prefer Woodford Reserve for this)

Combine flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor (if possible) and combine with ‘pulse’ mode

Take the butter pieces and lay over dry ingredients. Once more, ‘pulse’ to allow butter to cut in.  It will be in varied sizes – that’s ok.

Break up the yolk and stir it in, slowly, ‘pulsing’ with each small addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, whisk will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.*

Add bourbon.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

To press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked.

Don’t be too heavy-handed–press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.*

*italicized text from Doughmesstic website


1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Vanilla Sugar (or regular sugar – vanilla sugar can be difficult to find)
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup Melted Butter
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 cup Semisweet Chocolate Chips
1/3 cup Milk Chocolate Chips
3 Tablespoons Bourbon (I prefer Elijah Craig for this)
1 Tbsp Vanilla

Combine flour and sugar, then add beaten eggs. Pour over melted butter and stir to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour into frozen pie crust, and bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until a nice crust forms on top and appears set. Do not overbake. Also, be careful of burning crust – if it appears to be getting too brown, wrap it in foil and continue to bake the remaining time.

Jen’s Bourbon Whipped Topping:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp Bourbon

Mix well and chill

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!

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood

Sometimes the most fun a bourbon enthusiast can have is hunting down a hard to find libation.  Now, obviously this can stop being fun and get to frustrating when it’s a Pappy Van Winkle.  But when it’s something still obtainable, the thrill of the hunt is on!

This summer, I have heard from several people how the Woodford Reserve Masters Collection ‘Four Wood’ release was both hard to find, and terribly mediocre.  I scouted out a few stones, but couldn’t seem to find it here in Michigan, so I went to the next level.  The state of Pennsylvania state controls all liquor sales, and state-runs the stores (rather than independent retailers).  On top of that, they have a great, robust web site and mobile app so that you can easily purchase your booze online.  I searched, and quickly found the elusive Four Wood, and the game was afoot.  Only one problem – they don’t ship to Michigan.  How to solve this?  Well… my wife is a former Pennsylvanian, a native of the Philly suburbs.  And her mother, my mother-in-law, still lives there.  Even more serendipitous, she was coming to spend some time with us this very weekend.  So, I purchased the bottle online and shipped it to her!  It took a bit of convincing that she wasn’t breaking any laws in bringing it to me, but a two hour plane ride later, and here she (and said bottle) is!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Wood

Now this is an oddball.  Matured in oak and finished in maple wood and wine barrels, this selection takes the finishing process to a new level.  Which is exactly what made it less popular with bloggers on the interwebs – it was described as a schizophrenic flavor profile, too wildly veering between tastes to be satisfying.  Would I agree?

My take: Yes, the naysayers are right…sort of. It had a very strong nose and a loooong, strong finish, but a few too many flavors keeps it from having a clear taste profile. Fun for a try, but not as nice as other Woodfords.

Dan scale (1-10): 7.4

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

So as I mentioned last week, one of the highlights of this summer has been my visit to some of Kentucky’s finest bourbon distilleries: Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace.  I cannot say enough about the beauty and enjoyment we experienced at Woodford Reserve – from the copper kettles to the shaded storehouses, it was a great time.

One of the extra bonuses we got by serendipity was the opportunity to meet Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris.  We chatted with him for a few minutes in the gift shop about Woodford’s history, and the unique Master’s selections Woodford puts out yearly (more on that in the future).   The Woodford Reserve Distillery gift shop also engraves bottles on site so, after purchasing some gifts for good friends, my wife and I chose a bottle of the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked for ourselves and had it engraved to remember the trip.  Mr. Morris signed it as well!

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, engraved, and signed by Master Distiller Chris Morris

What makes the Double Oaked unique is the finishing process.  At it’s heart, it’s Woodford Reserve, distilled in copper kettles and with the same sour mash recipe.  But after it spends its time in the charred oak barrel, it is transferred to a second, more toasted but less charred barrel, for 9 months.  This allows for a whole new set of flavors to come out, and it shows in both the sweetness of the nose and first taste, as well as the bitterness on the finish.

My take: From a nose perspective, this is a winner for me right from the get go.  The sweet sticky smells of toffee, molasses and butterscotch are evident, as well as wiffs of…vanilla.

The first taste belies that sweetness, as I tasted cinnamon, allspice and clove – a spicier blend than I anticipated.  Then, the warm bitterness of oak took over, through the finish. Other reviewers noted the sweetness came back in the finish, but I didn’t experience that.

My flavor profile is sweet, where as my wife Jen veers toward the spicy,  and that was exactly how this played out. I loved the nose, but was not crazy about the woodiness and spice of the sip, where as Jen loved all the above.  A very unique try, and with some rich characteristics, but not cracking my top five.

Dan scale (1-10): 8.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Four Roses Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Four Roses Single Barrel

Last month, I received a wonderful birthday gift from my family.  Knowing what a fan of bourbon I was becoming, they purchased my wife and I tickets to a private dinner and bourbon tasting with none other than the Van Winkle family, or Pappy Van Winkle fame.  We trekked down to Kentucky, and made a bourbon day of it – first we visited the Woodford Reserve distillery, pictures of which will be coming shortly.  Then, it was on to Buffalo Trace, where some of the absolute best bourbons – including Pappy Van Winkle, as well as Blanton’s, Eagle Rare and others – are produced.

The dinner was great and the tour fun, but the highlight was sampling the 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 year old Pappys.  After wards, in a Q&A, I asked Preston Van Winkle a question I was dying to know the answer to: knowing how very very hard (read impossible) it is to get one’s hands on a bottle of PVW, what was his other favorite bourbon? His answer was Four Roses Single Barrel. And so with that, I bought a bottle to try for myself.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

I tasted the bourbon in the way I have seen other connoisseurs on the web do it, as well as that way I had been taught to by the guides at Woodford Reserve.

My take: Very nice. Smooth, hints of clove, mint, nutmeg. Good nose, warmth from the finish. I liked it even better with an ice chip. Jen was particularly fond of it as well.  Spicier than I like, but definitely a treat.

Dan scale (1-10): 8.0