"Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough." - Mark Twain
This quote about sums it up for us when it comes to Kentucky bourbon, and there is no other event quite like the Kentucky Bourbon Affair held every year in Louisville to see this quote played out over the course of a week. We made a repeat appearance this past weekend to see what else there could possibly be to learn about this world famous libation, and believe us, there's a lot!
We started off this year with the "Rye Not?" dinner hosted by Jim Beam at what better place but Rye on Market in the Nulu area of town, known for its upscale restaurants, unique art galleries and specialty shops. Rye's offerings include a happy hour from 5-7, a Sunday brunch from 11 to 3, and a menu sure to please everyone in your group. And speaking of groups, if you are looking for a cool place to host your next event, they have an upstairs room that can hold up to 50 of your closest buds, or another space just down the street that's even bigger.
It was our first time at Rye and we were so impressed! We started our night on their lovely patio listening to the jazzy tunes of a 3-piece band while sipping cocktails...Jim Beam, of course! The Kentucky Mule was my fav and Leigh had a whiskey sour that she raved about! It was the perfect summer night and we mixed and mingled, getting to know the others who had come from all parts of the country for this bourbon fantasy camp. Passed hors d'oeuvres of spicy pimento cheese on crostini were the perfect pairing with the bourbon! Moving inside, we sat at long tables with fresh cut flowers, crystal goblets, white china atop wooden chargers with copper silverware. Beside each setting were four shot glasses with a bit of amber liquid. The crowd grew silent as the welcome and introductions were made, and the floor was turned over to Fred Noe, 7th generation master distiller at Jim Beam, and his son, Freddie Noe. We all became enraptured as the men spoke of their product and walked us through each sample we were tasting. It's absolutely fascinating the different notes that can be discerned by their highly skilled palates, that are only apparent to me when I'm told what I'm tasting!
Once the tasting was complete, the men set about telling us stories and tidbits that made the event feel more like a family reunion than a room full of strangers. They spoke of growing up as bourbon royalty and what that means to them, the pride they take in knowing the legacy they've been handed and will hand down to future generations. The one thing that we were left with is the thought that bourbon, unlike any other spirit, is all about the stories. It's the story of your grandfather sipping his Jim Beam on the front porch while your grandma cracked green beans. Or of you and your buddies throwing some back while playing cornhole at a UK football tailgate. However you like it, whatever brand you drink, it's because you like it. This is the essence of bourbon.
Dinner was served immediately after the talk and, man, was it incredible! We started off with a baby kale salad with a delicious garlic-oregano dressing. The main courses, served family style, were braised beef short ribs, rye fettucine, roasted salmon and charred beets. Think you don't like beets? Try these! Their earthy goodness will convert even the pickiest of eaters. For dessert, a chocolate cremeux, which must be French for chocolate lusciousness. Probably my favorite part of the meal, however, was the light yeast roll topped with sea salt. The hot roll slathered generously with butter had the whole table remarking on how good it was! The food really was fantastic, so don't hesitate to suggest Rye for your next date night.
Following dinner, we had the special honor of getting to meet both Noes and have them sign bottles that were given to us as favors, along with the opportunity to hand hammer metal tags to tie around the neck of the bottle. What a treat! Along with Fred and Freddie Noe, we had the chance to meet three other gentlemen and their wives who also worked in the industry. Getting the chance to hear from them about their companies, the product and how much they love their jobs was really interesting! Leigh and I came away from the event knowing we had been treated to an excellent evening of fine dining, lively libations, and informative talk from true masters. Truly, a fantastic evening!
The next morning, bright and early, we raced downstairs of the Omni Louisville in anticipation of the Higher Proof Expo, which is the day-long series of seminars, a catered lunch, and pop-up shops, all tailored to give the bourbon lover the most bang for their buck. If you can only attend one event of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair, I would highly recommend the Higher Proof Expo. This year's HPEX included topics such as Food and Bourbon Pairings, Music and Bourbon, Wine for the Bourbon Lover, Single Barrel Bourbon Selections, and for the science-minded individuals, there was a class held on the biochemistry involved in distilling bourbon from our good friends over at Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville, Kentucky. What I love most about these sessions is the speakers are industry leaders who are eager to share their knowledge with you. You are also surrounded by others who share your passion. The classes always include samplings, so be sure to pace yourself and utilize the hydration stations they have set up around the floor to keep you going throughout the day. Our fav this year was the food and bourbon pairings put on by Mitcher's Master Distiller, Pam Heilmann, Steve Cooms, author of Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke; and Kelly Ramsey Art Eatables Chocolatier and Confectioner. Who knew that bourbon and ham go so well together? Or how about blue cheese and chocolate with bourbon? The best advice they gave us was to simply experiment with different tastes you love and don't be afraid to pair it with something else! Invite your friends over and make it a special occasion!
Having concluded our second Kentucky Bourbon Affair, we can honestly say that it just gets better and better! As someone with a history in event planning, I can truly appreciate the effort that goes in to making this week go off without a hitch. All of the staff and volunteers work tirelessly to put this on and it is all for the love of bourbon, and even more so, a love of Kentucky. If you love either one of these, you should put the Kentucky Bourbon Affair on your list of things to attend in 2019. You will not be disappointed!