Although often maligned, a properly made mint julep is a lovely sight.
I really, really like experts; being able to talk with them and learn from them is one of the best parts of my work. People who dedicate themselves to their topic are nothing short of awesome, especially when they love to share their knowledge. And when you find yourself super interested in something, it's tempting to want to become an expert. But you know what? It's perfectly o.k. to not go that route. I'm just as happy as I can be as a bourbon enthusiast.
I got a late start appreciating bourbon, avoiding it long after an imprudent introduction to it at a too-young age. Fortunately I overcame my aversion two years ago, and have jumped in with much exuberance, embracing my good fortune at living in the heart of bourbon country. Even a dive bar here in Louisville is likely to have a couple dozen bourbons – several of them better than the top shelf stuff you see in other places. And at a good bar – well, the potential is incredible. But once a year I am exceedingly lucky to experience a crash course in bourbon that many enthusiasts only dream of.
I'm talking about the Bourbon Classic, an absolute shining moment in a bourbon enthusiast's year (and a true test of willpower!). “So many whiskeys, so little time,” is my lament for the two-day event, even after non-stop tastings over the three-day bourbon camp for media leading up to the Classic. Let's face it, even with a tolerance developed by enthusiastic tasting at every chance, I still have a finite capacity for the spirit. Therefore as much as I'd love to take a kid-in- a-candy store approach and have ALL THE BOURBONS, I try to limit myself to those I've yet to taste – o.k., and maybe a few sips of favorites.
That's no easy task in this veritable wonderland of whiskeys. The Classic brings together a slew of distillers, including some from outside Kentucky, all eager to talk bourbon as you sample their prized bottles. And if this alone weren't enough to make a bourbon-lover giddy, you're also surrounded by fellow enthusiasts -- and there's little that makes it easier to strike up a conversation than sharing a smile over a pour, matching glints in the eye as you make your mental notes about this bourbon or that.
But it's not just tastings that make me so gleeful about the Classic. Workshops designed to make my heart flutter bring in experts to boost the enthusiast's bourbon IQ. Consulting with my husband, another budding learner, we discussed and compared workshop options with the intensity of a professional handicapper at the track, finally arriving at two. I knew that Entertaining with Bourbon Tastings would fill up fast so I dashed from the all-star master distiller welcome session to grab our seats. And good thing – this session, repeated from last year by attendee demand, proved to be just as popular as before. The hour-long class was a rollicking good time, fueled by our blind tastings of three bourbons, and left my husband and me plotting to host our own bourbon tasting soon. We kept our seats for the next session – Five Essential Ingredients for Your Home's Bourbon Bar – where we took copious notes. Thanks to the great passion our instructor, Michael Anderson of St. Charles Exchange, has for the topic, we left feeling quite capable in our plans to outfit our modest home bar (feeling quite festive as well after three rounds of cocktail samples).
Next year, I swear I'll take a more tactical approach and make a wish list of what to try during the Ultimate Bourbon Experience on Saturday night, but for the second year running I found myself darting from table to table, in and out of the VIP room, too excited at all the whiskeys on offer to slow down and do this methodically. Look, it's Angel's Envy Rye! Wait, there's a George T. Stagg? Oh, and they're pouring Elmer T. Lee! And I haven't tried Forgiven, and I wanted my husband to try Devil's Cut … and, well you can see how a girl might be overwhelmed.
When I reached my purely arbitrary limit (it's not a number, just a sense of 'o.k., that's enough') and had to pour out the remainder of a sample I wanted to weep at the waste of a good whiskey. But much like a small batch of the finest bourbon has to come to an end, so too does the Classic, so I toasted one last time to my good fortune at being a bourbon enthusiast in this time and place, and went home to wait for next year.