What I Learned at Louisville’s First-Year Bourbon Classic
Or A Mama’s Guide to Impressing Her Man Through Bourbon Geekery
My husband is a bourbon geek. I can’t tell you how many hours I have struggled through listened with silent fascination while he and his pals chat for hours on the “nose” and color of a particular bourbon, or firmly debate which single barrel will best pair with rib-eye. First it was stereo equipment, then strollers and now… bourbon. I have often wondered where guys get this seemingly inherent geekery. Are they born with it? Do they learn it from their dads? I certainly do not have it, that’s for sure.
So, when I learned about the first-ever Bourbon Classic to be held in Louisville, Kentucky on the third week in March, I KNEW I had to get Hubby tickets to the event. A weekend in Louisville, drinking bourbon, eating good food and enjoying a few days without the kids? Heck yeah! (Best wife ever!)
Little did I know that after three days of bourbon classes, tasting and exploration, I too, would become a bourbon geek… and here I will pass along my freshly gained knowledge to you. You never know when you may want to impress your fella.
1. Bourbon is the only distilled spirit that is regulated in the U.S. and in order for it to be qualified as Bourbon Whiskey, it must be:
- Made from a mixture that is 51% corn (the rest is wheat, rye and/or malted barley).
- Aged in new, white-oak charred barrels.
- Distilled to no more than 160 proof.
- Must be aged for at least two years.
- Must contain no additives.
2. Does NOT have to be produced in Bourbon County, Kentucky (contrary to popular belief), however it must be a distinctive product of the United States and is often referred to as America’s Spirit.
3. Limestone can be found in more than 50% of surface rocks in Kentucky and, interestingly, has been touted as a key player in the distillery process because it filters iron out of the water. Who knew?
4. Bourbon warehouses are ugly. I was a bit distraught at their prison-like appearance when we toured a few distilleries in nearby Bardstown. But, come to find out, that “design” (if you want to call it that) is a part of the distillery process. Warehouses are mostly white, 7-floor buildings with metals roofs, small windows and dirt floors. Ventilation is key, so the design is such that the barrels on the bottom floor evaporate at a lower rate than the barrels on the top floor. Bourbons from lower level barrels are more often the fancier kinds.
5. And, about those “fancier” kinds. There are three types of bourbon: standard, small batch and single barrel.
- Standard bourbons are the most widely distributed bourbons; Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark. These bourbons are a combination of between 100-2000 barrels taken from all over the warehouse.
- Small batch bourbons are made from a smaller lot of 100 barrels or less. A few small batch bourbons are Bookers, Baker’s, Knob Creek. The whiskey in these barrels are typically aged from six to nine years.
- Single barrel bourbons are just that, they come from a single barrel. Each bottle must bear the barrel number on the label. The single barrels are often aged longer, come from the bottom of the warehouse (with less evaporation) and have a deeper, more complex flavor. This IS the fancy stuff!
6. Distillers can only use the barrels ONCE. One time. No repeats here. Used barrels are shipped all over the world for more spirit making; Canada for Canadian Whiskey, Scotland for Scotch Whiskey (you get the idea) and some wineries and brewpubs even use these barrels. Very cool.
7. The official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby does not use bourbon (GASP!) Can you believe that? It is made with Early Times Whiskey.
8. Bourbon drinkers should be stocked with three key essentials; the proper glassware (not rocks glasses but glencairn aka ‘nosing’ glasses), the correct size of ice (one big block) and bitters (to up the cocktail ante).
I was most impressed with the science of bourbon making – from the building architecture to the water used to the specific wood barrel – every detail altars the taste. Master distillers lovingly monitor, gauge and tweak each barrel to produce the perfect product.
I left the Bourbon Classic with a newfound appreciation for the art, science and love of America’s Spirit.
The Bourbon Classic is a brand-spankin-new bourbon-themed event based in the heart of bourbon country. This first-year event showcased world-class chef and bartending talent, offered numerous educational sessions and, of course, highlighted bourbon (more than 80 varieties!) It is held at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts. Next year’s event will take place on Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1. Tickets are now available at bourbonclassic.com.
Special thanks to FSA Management Group for providing this experience.
Bouldermama, I am impressed by your prose, your support of your husband’s penchant for tomfoolery, and mostly, your ability to capture the tastes, smells and aura of the event without so much as one single mention of a hangover. Kudos!
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