The drinks will be shakin' at the 2107 Bourbon Classic. Past cocktail competition winner Michael Anderson shows off his metal mettle.

If you’re a bourbon fan and haven’t been to the Bourbon Classic, you’re shorting yourself on a terrific experience. It’s a bucket list item if you like great whiskey, a large and friendly crowd and the chance to meet some of the most famous names in the industry.

This is the fifth edition of this event, held always at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, and this year from Feb. 28 to March 4. In addition to its three marquee events on March 3 and 4—the Friday night Bourbon Classic Cocktail & Culinary Challenge, and Saturday Bourbon Classic University and Bourbon Classic Taste—the Classic features some run-up events earlier in the week that will pique interest for those who might not have time for the weekend show.

The first of which is Top Shelf, held Feb. 28 at Lola at Butchertown Grocery (upstairs at 1076 E. Washington St.) There, guests will enjoy the comingling of Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys and chef Bobby Benjamin’s food. Brand ambassador Preston Van Winkle will be on hand to share stories and pour 10-, 12-, 15- and 20-year expressions of his family’s namesake whiskeys, which will be served along with passed appetizers by Lola and the Butchertown Grocery. On his menu are tastes such as hamachi with pickled jalapeno, Calabrese chiles, bourbon barrel aged white balsamic; pork belly with curry apple sauce; fried chicken oysters with bourbon maple reduction; gnocchi with bourbon mushroom conservera; cauliflower with carrot hummus and bourbon barrel aged white balsamic; and beignets with bacon crème anglaise.

Last year's Top Shelf kick-off event was held at Copper & Kings Distillery in Butchertown. This year's event will be held across the street at Butchertown Grocery's Lola lounge upstairs.
Last year’s Top Shelf kick-off event was held at Copper & Kings Distillery in Butchertown. This year’s event will be held across the street at Butchertown Grocery’s Lola lounge upstairs.

According to Benjamin, some of the appetizers will be done on the spot in a cooking demo, while others will be passed.

“I want the food to be the backup singer to the bourbon,” he said. “When it comes to Pappy Van Winkle, I want it to be the highlight.”

Asked whether beverage manager and mixologist Nic Christiansen had any special cocktails planned, Benjamin declined to share details.

“Oh, she is, but that’s kind of a secret,” said Benjamin, adding that tastes of Elmer T. Lee and Weller 12 will be in the whiskey lineup as well. “Wait ‘til you show up and see what’s up her sleeve. She does with beverages what we do with food—fun things.”

Tickets are $250 per person. Click here to buy them.

On Thursday, March 2, two more pre-events are scheduled: A Bourbon and Culinary Experience with Maker’s Mark and Dickie Brennan at Maker’s Mark Distillery; and the Bottled-in-Bond Anniversary at the Frazier Museum.

The first begins with a bus ride from 21c Museum Hotel to the Loretto distillery. There, host Dickie Brennan and a crew from his three-restaurant company in New Orleans will prepare hors d’oeuvres, dinner and cocktails served during and after a tour of the historic distillery. Expect gumbo ya-ya, crawfish ragout, seared strip steak with green peppercorn bourbon au poivre, and tarte a la Bouille.

Expect excellent bites on Friday and Saturday nights during the Classic.
Expect excellent bites on Friday and Saturday nights during the Classic.

Tickets are $175 per person. Click here to get yours.

The Bottled-In-Bond Anniversary party, hosted by Old Forester, will celebrate the 120th anniversary of the passing of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. The brand’s master bourbon specialist and longtime Louisville mixologist, Jackie Zykan, will walk guests through bourbon history, focusing on that significant day when legislators passed a transformative standard of identity to protect some of our nation’s most important spirits.

The evening begins with a cocktail and light appetizer reception, followed by Zykan sharing samples of Old Forester’s Whiskey Row Series to illustrate the brand’s long heritage of bourbon.

Tickets are $65. Click here to get yours.

On Friday, the big party gets rolling with the Bourbon Classic Cocktail & Culinary Challenge. This event sees some of Louisville’s top chefs paired with top mixologists in a whiskey and bites battle like none other. (Personally, I’ve been to several of these, and there’s no better place to be in the city that night than this contest. The food and cocktails are that good.) The goal is to have their small bites and small cocktails voted the night’s best by a panel of judges.

Click here and scroll down to see the evening’s teams and their sponsor distillery. It’s a lot of local talent under one roof.

* Word to the wise: There’s a lot of food and drink at your disposal that night, so take a date and split everything. There’s no way to taste it all safely or comfortably.

(Ticket prices are varied and explained below. Keep reading …)

The following day sees Bourbon Classic University, an afternoon of whiskey and cocktail-centered seminars that includes tastings, pairings and distillers’ panels where you learn lots about the industry.

Session 1 includes four early afternoon events:

  • Women of Bourbon
  • Small Grains Paired with Big Flavors
  • 21st Century Bourbon Cocktails: Modern Classics
  • The History of Bourbon Through Bluegrass Music

The midday general session includes:

  • Up Close and Bourbon: New Masters, New Perspectives

Session 2 includes for late afternoon events:

  • Bourbon Creations
  • Bourbon Legend: Bill Samuels
  • A Pairing of Country Ham, Bourbon & Chocolate (* I’ll be co-leading that session, and it’ll be amazing!)
  • Entertaining with North American Whiskey

The evening’s main event is the Bourbon Classic Taste, where distillers pour endless sips of their whiskeys—neat or on the rocks—and local chefs pour on the small plates. You needn’t plan the evening out anywhere else as there will be lots to consume this night also.

Here’s the price breakdown for Friday and Saturday events.

  • Pricing for Friday and Saturday events are tier and packaged priced as follows:
  • Standard Package for both nights is $269.
  • VIP Package for both nights is $375 and includes all events and access to the VIP lounge where there are special pours, food and lots of cushy furniture on which to rest—because it’s a long day!
  • Friday Only Admission is $135
  • Friday VIP Admission is $195
  • Saturday Only Admission is $155
  • Saturday VIP Admission is $215.

Click on this link to buy tickets.

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Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 25-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass, Whisky Magazine, WhiskeyWash.com and The Bourbon Review. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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