We’re less than a week out from the inaugural New Orleans Bourbon Festival. It’s really shaping up to be a great event. Tracy Napolitano, one of the festival’s founders, told me it’s becoming much bigger than originally planned. At the moment, almost 100 different bourbons and rye whiskies are expected to be featured at the festival’s two Grand Tastings, and the number of seminars has grown.
This is the first whisky festival of any sort here in New Orleans, and it’s a very welcome addition to the city’s high number of fairs and festivals. We have an adage down here, “There’s always something to do in New Orleans.” I’m glad a celebration of bourbon will be among them.
The festival will take place at both the Marriott-Convention Center and the Sugar Mill. Here’s an updated, day-by-day look at what to expect next weekend (March 23rd – 26th).
THURSDAY, MARCH 23rd
Similar to Tales of the Cocktails’ Spirited Dinners, the Bourbon Festival is hosting a night of bourbon dinners at several New Orleans restaurants. The creative retaurant chefs are creating several course dinners to match with the different whiskies being featured. Tickets are $130 a plate, and you walk away with a signed bottle of bourbon with most of the dinners.
- Foundation Room at the House of Blues, presented by Jim Beam. Master Distiller Fred Noe will lead through tastings of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection, as well as signing a bottle for participants.
- Kenton’s presented by Heaven Hill. Expect Heaven Hill Global Whiskey Ambassador Bernie Lubbers to drop some Bottled-I-Bond knowledge alongside a four-course dinner.
- Salon by Sucré presented by Jefferson’s Bourbon. Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller is sharing different Jefferson’s bourbons with guests alongside a four-course dinner.
- Bourbon House presented by Wild Turkey. A fun night with Master Distiller Eddie Russell, some Wild Turkey & Russell’s Reserve expressions, and a four course dinner.
- Morton’s Steakhouse presented by Diageo. Steak and seafood lovers will enjoy a multicourse dinner (including USDA Prime steaks… mmm… ) alongside Bulleit bourbon.
- Cochon presented by Sazerac. The night will feature pre-dinner cocktails, and dinner (including pork smoked over E.H. Taylor barrel staves!) and bourbon pairings. The whiskies will include Sazerac Rye, Eagle Rare, Col. E.H. Taylor and a Van Winkle bourbon.
FRIDAY, MARCH 24th
Friday is all about two events: the bourbon judging and the first Grand Tasting. Forty Ultimate VIP ticketholders will gather for a few hours for a blind tasting of several bourbons and ryes.
Friday night is the first of two Grand Tastings. Close to 100 different whiskies will be featured, along with a cigar lounge, jazz band and marketplace. VIP ticketholders come in an hour early, and might get to taste some “off menu” whiskies.
SATURDAY, MARCH 25th
The day will be filled with all sorts of whiskey seminars from some of the biggest names in the industry. Bourbon historian Michael Veach will talk about the Bottled-In-Bond Act, while Carla Carlton will pontificate the future of bourbon. The equally entertaining and educating Bernie Lubbers is presenting “Bourbon Thru Bluegrass”. Meanwhile, Chuck Cowdery addresses the state of the industry. There are MANY, MANY other interesting seminars scheduled that day, including cigar pairings, food pairings, bourbon basics, women in bourbon, the importance of yeast, and the boundaries of bourbon.
However, the seminar I’m looking forward to most, and not because I’m moderating it (cheap plug, I know!), is the Legends of Bourbon panel with master distillers Fred Noe and Eddie Russell. I say moderate, though “attempt to moderate” might be more accurate, because once these guys start telling stories, who knows what’ll happen.
Saturday night brings the second of the Grand Tastings. Both of the tastings will feature the same whiskies, so don’t feel the need to sample everything in one night.
SUNDAY, MARCH 26th
The last day of the festival is centered around the Bourbon Awards Brunch. Remember the bourbon tasting from Friday? The votes will be tabulated and the winners announced. Ultimate VIP and VIP ticketholders will all get invitations to this event.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit NewOrleansBourbonFestival.com. Keep in mind at least 25% of profits will be donated to the St. Michael Special School general fund.