I was in such a deep slumber after the previous night's Pappy Van Winkle tasting that my wakeup call was my driver, dialing me from the hotel lobby. He was ready to take me to the first event of the day. Whoops. Damn unicorns. There was no time for breakfast or even a cup of coffee, but when you're at The Bourbon Social, you don't really care too much about that kind of nourishment. As long as there's a good yeast strain and Kentucky branch water around (in the form of bourbon), your meal is your drink. And that's just what I was handed when I arrived back at Fasig-Tipton. A hot cup of Town Branch bourbon and coffee liqueur. Take that well-balanced-breakfast.
Town Branch bourbon's master distiller, Mark Coffman, spoke to us about the history of bourbon and the special qualities of Kentucky branch water. We had a lengthy Q & A session with him afterwards followed by… samples of their fabulous bourbon. Are you getting a clear picture of what The Bourbon Social is all about?
A traditional Southern lunch followed the morning sessions and thank goodness because the afternoon would be filled with one bourbon tasting after the next. I devoured pulled-rib burgers (yes…plural), cornbread, southern ratatouille, spinach salad, and a couple scoops of bourbon ice cream to boot. Smart move on my part if I do say so myself because mixologists Jim Meehan, Mark Stoddard, and Dale DeGroff were there to each conduct a class that required drinking and tasting and sipping and drinking. These men are so extremely knowledgable, very humble, and extremely serious about their craft. The only thing missing from this part of the program was a woman. The audience was obviously dominated by men as it usually it as when it comes to cocktail conventions, yet at every turn, people wanted my perspective on this whole cocktail explosion, the drinking choices of women, and the ways in which women are influenced to make spirit, wine, and beer purchases. Well would'ya look at that… A seminar topic for next year!
Evening landed before my afternoon buzz faded and brought with it the main event of The Bourbon Social. Although we were all there to have a good time, eat amazing food cooked by chefs from around the state, and dance to live music by Coralee And The Townies, we were also there for a good cause: to raise money for the Makenna Foundation.
Makenna was a beautiful little girl who passed away before she was two years old due to a terminal illness called pulmonary veno-occlusive disease. Her parents, Sheila and Greg David, created the Makenna Foundation to bring awareness to the disease, and to raise funds for their hometown pediatric hospital in the hopes that other children who suffer from the same sickness will survive. Because of the generous donations of friends, family, and strangers, the Davids have helped to create areas in the hospital where young patients can be with their families and perhaps even distracted from their illness, even if it's just for a moment.
Part of the charm of this three-day affair is being in the company of various bartenders from around the country who come from all over to compete for cash and kudos. Those whom I spoke with were having the best time and didn't seem the least bit nervous about mixing and shaking drinks in front of a full house. And they weren't. At 9:30 PM the cocktail competition began. The bartenders had 6 minutes to prepare their pre-planned drink that was supposed to taste like "fall." Every single drink presented looked so good that the woman sitting behind me literally got upset that only the four judges were doing the tasting. She wasn't alone. After winner Greg Baldia was crowned, a third of the crowd rushed the stage to get a sip of each mixology master's creation.
The last stop of the night was back in downtown Lexington at the Parlay Social. I wish I could go into detail about the live music, the bourbon selection, the people watching, the Angel's Envy…but my Jimmy Choo's marched me right back to my hotel suite. Enough was enough. Days one and two were a whirlwind and if I was going to get home to LA in one piece, rest was a must!