Bourbon Fancy

Get much into the South and you find that many city folk, even those of quite modest means, own their own formalwear. Having a tux in the closet (even a cheap one like mine) can be important in a place like Louisville. It’s evidence that, unwashed heathen that you are, you can still don the armor of the civilized and go get polluted in style.

Case in point this past weekend, over which Mrs. Pastry and I attended the annual Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala down in Bardstown, Kentucky, the epicenter of the state’s whiskey industry. It’s an event that’s one part society ball, two parts trade show, and nine parts all-you-can-drink bourbon whiskey blowout. I never miss it.

The venue is usually a distillery warehouse of some sort, inside of which all the state’s major distillers set up booths where the whiskey flows unimpeded for about two solid hours. Each distiller is eager to show off its new wares — new liquors and cocktails that its mixologists have prepared — and pours, pours, pours until the ceiling lights come up and the tipsy are funneled into a wedding tent for dinner, dancing and meet-and-greets with the governor, et al. We skip everything after the drinking.

What I like about the “Bourbon Ball” as it’s often called, other than the inebriation of course, is that it teaches you quite a bit. For the curious, it provides access to the master distillers from all the major Kentucky brands (Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Blanton’s, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, 1792 and others) who’ll answer any question you might have about the art of spirit-making.

Something I’ve learned over the years is that there are two main schools of bourbon fanciers in Kentucky. There are those who fondly regard bourbon as a low-class hillbilly tipple — and thus relish young whiskies for their burn and bite — and those who view it as a potential rival to any of the fine spirits of the world (cognacs and brandies) and seek to elevate it through more refining and aging.

Kentucky produces whiskeys for both those groups and many shades in between. Thus you have the sweet, accessible vanilla and caramel flavors of Maker’s Mark and 1776, the slightly rougher and more wood barrel-tasting Jim Beam and Wild Turkey, and the downright earthy Michter’s. Of course most distillers produce whiskeys in several different styles in an attempt to capture more of the total market for themselves.

Being a member of burn and bite school, I have a great time at the ball pestering the brand reps for whatever young and belligerent bottle they might have hanging around in the back. Usually the response is a polite brush-off, but occasionally I’m rewarded with a taste of some just-from-the-vat 125+ proof bourbon that has the taste and nose of a lumbering backhoe and the finish of a low-flying jet aircraft.

I wake up the next day with all the symptoms of a severaly sprained liver, but at least I know I spent the evening drinking like a Kentuckian. Here’s to next year!

16 thoughts on “Bourbon Fancy”

  1. I like bourbon for its affinity with chocolate. There’s nothing quite like a good chocolate bourbon bundt cake, not to mention bourbon ball candy. Yummm!

    1. I agree, Ellen. I confess I still haven’t found a bourbon ball I really like here in Kentucky. Maybe I should try my hand at making some.

      – Joe

  2. I always think adding bourbon to a dessert is a great idea, but when I do it, it never seems to come out quite right. Could you help a Northerner out and post about a dessert that features bourbon, done right?

  3. Hmmmm, maybe sweet potato pie or chocolate cake? Really, I’d be up for anything that featured bourbon and tasted great! 🙂

    1. Hmm….I think I can whip something up. But tell me in a little more detail: what specifically were the problems in the past?

      – Joe

      1. Problems: I would sub bourbon in a recipe that called for another liquor (chocolate cake with ground pecans in the batter), or add it to a recipe that didn’t already have it (pecan pie), and the combination and/or balance of flavor wasn’t right.

        That bottle of bourbon sitting in my liquor cabinet has some pretty amazing aromas wafting out of it, every time I take a whiff I think there must be something wonderful to do with this stuff in the pastry world!

  4. I’m a Makers Mark guy, have been since my Louisville friend introduced me to the stuff back when I thought JD was enjoyable. A note about using the bottle sitting in the cupboard though. Booze does go bad! I love MM and a few liqueurs but was nursing them a bit because they are expensive & I’m not a big drinker. I discovered that after being open for a few weeks the change taste & not in a good way. I assume they oxidize but the bourbon really loses its luster and takes on an edge while something like Frangelico is almost unrecognizable.

    I might have to find out more about this little Soirée & take a vacation there one year!

  5. See, I like your blog for the interesting sciencey cooky bakey bits, and the fact that every now and then I can entertain the husband by reading him posts about bourbon. He’s a Four Roses single barrel kind of guy, although he’s up to try anything. Yep I’d be up for some good bourbon based recipes as well.

    1. Four Roses is good bourbon! Once I didn’t think it was so great, but than I tried their single barrel at the bourbon ball. Wow, that’s good stuff. Your husband has great taste!

      Thanks for the kind word, Annemarie!

      – Joe

  6. I know this post is from last year, but I never thanked you for the fantastic idea! I am taking my bourbon-loving boyfriend to this ball (and a few other events) in a couple of weeks, and we are so excited! We’re from San Francisco, so I’m really looking forward to checking out Kentucky, and of course, lots of bourbon 🙂

    1. Great, Erin! I’ll be in the crowd! If you see a guy who looks like that fellow from The Hangover who pulled his own tooth out, that’ll be me. 😉

      – Joe

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