Edited to include the Legends of Bourbon seminar.
There’s always something to do here in New Orleans. Every weekend there’s a festival in the area, whether it be the Jazz & Heritage Festival, Oyster Festival, or Shrimp & Petroleum Festival (yes, that’s a thing). But no bourbon or whiskey festival. Sure, there’s Tales of the Cocktail, but it covers all spirits and focuses on cocktails. New Orleans is a major bourbon market, and has been pretty much since the beginning. Remember that story of barrels of white whiskey being floated down the Mississippi River to New Orleans from Kentucky and picking up color and flavor along the way? Even bourbon historian Michael Veach said bourbon is named after Bourbon Street. Sazerac Company is based down here. You get the picture. We’ve been overlooked when it comes to a bourbon or whiskey festival.
The recently announced New Orleans Bourbon Festival kicks off it’s inaugural year March 24th, 25th & 26th with three days of events planned. I recently had the chance to talk to the festival organizers, and after about three hours of chatting and a lot of whiskey, I came out excited and optimistic about their first outing. Here’s a look at some of what they have planned:
There will be a big whisky tasting both Friday and Saturday night at the Sugar Mill. Ultimate VIP and VIP ticket holders get early access (and some “off menu” whiskies and possibly a unicorn or two). For all others, the Grand Tasting runs from 7:30 to 10:30. As of the writing of this post, the following brands are confirmed to show:
Diageo (Bulleit, IW Harper, Blade & Bow), Jim Beam, Virgil Kaine, Sazerac (Sazerac Rye, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare), Brown Forman (Cooper’s Craft, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve) Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, Jefferson’s, Calumet Farms, and Limestone Branch.
There are currently more than 50 different whiskies confirmed to show, but organizers are expecting 20 – 25 more to sign up soon.
Saturday is filled with whiskey-related seminars. It’s not all sitting and listening to great speakers – many of these seminars include their own whiskey tasting. In terms of speakers, some very notable names are showing up and imparting some knowledge. Among the many speakers are Chuck Cowdery, Michael Veach, Bernie Lubbers and Peggy Noe Stevens. A full updated list of all speakers and seminars can be found here.
The big one… at least the one I’m looking forward to most, is the Legends of Bourbon Seminar featuring two distilling legends: Fred Noe and Jimmy Russell. I can’t begin to imagine the stories they’ll tell!
Borrowing a page from Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Dinners, the New Orleans Bourbon Festival is organizing bourbon dinners at various New Orleans restaurants the night before the festival officially kicks off, Thursday, March 23rd. Heaven Hill is sponsoring a dinner at Kenton’s Restaurant, while Jim Beam is taking over the Foundation Room at the House of Blues. Jefferson’s Trey Zoeller will host a dinner at Salon by Sucre. Festival organizers plan to announce a few more bourbon dinners as soon as they’re confirmed.
On Friday, March 24th, there’s a bourbon judging event for Ultimate VIP ticket holders. Participants will blindly judge different bourbon and rye whiskies, awarding the top prizes during a Sunday brunch. There aren’t a lot of availabilities for this event, so you’d better sign up quickly if you’re interested.
On paper, it looks like it will be a couple of great days for whiskey geeks and newbies alike. Also, keep this in mind – at least 25% of the net profits from the festival will go directly to the St. Michael Special School, an organization very close to festival organizers. Giving to charity earns them a great mark in my book.
I do wish the festival great success, as it can only grow bigger and better in the future. I’ll be attending, and hope to see you there. I plan to update this post weekly, as news is announced. You can also go straight to the source: neworleansbourbonfestival.com