As Kentuckians, we know that bourbon heritage runs deep through our veins, our history is steeped intimately within a charred oak barrel centuries ago, and now we’re sitting atop a booming resurgence of bourbon popularity. With our nation’s native spirit in a major upswing, it’s no surprise that bourbon events and specials are soaking the social calendars of Louisvillians all over town. From bar and restaurant proprietors to creatives and nonprofits, it seems everyone is grabbing ahold of the bourbon boom and using it to celebrate and raise funds. So amid a flurry of happy-hour events, fundraisers, the impending Kentucky Bourbon Festival and, soon after, the holiday season (dear god, did I just say that?), how must we decide which bourbon events warrant our darling presence? Don’t fret, my babies, I’ve climbed through the social almanac to establish the Barkeep’s picks of the best bourbon-clad soiree’s from here to the Gene Snyder and beyond over the next few weeks.
I hope you’re thirsty.
First, might I suggest the newly opened 502 Bar & Bistro in Norton Commons this coming Thursday, Sept. 8 (and every other Thursday, but call ahead). It plays host to bourbon and cigar pairings at 6 p.m. on its lovely patio (adorned with string lights and outdoor couches — what else?), sponsored by Oxmoor Smoke Shoppe, with owner, J. Paul’s hand-selected cigars, accompanied by a choice of bourbon flight (ranging from $25-$30). Admittedly, I’ve never smoked a cigar, but this seems like a keen time to begin, especially if bartendress, Veronica Shipman, is designing the flight menu.
Fast forward to next week, on Wednesday, Sept. 14, make plans to head down to Haymarket Whiskey Bar for Charitable Barrels: Whiskey for the Cause. A benefit for the Fairness Campaign, which is celebrating its esteemed 25th anniversary. Tickets are $25 and include an open bar (yep, you read that correctly), manned by celebrity bartenders and featuring food and live entertainment. Did I mention every penny goes back to the Fairness Campaign? Bourbon for equality, anyone?
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival takes place next week, as well, from Sept. 12-18, celebrating one of the “world’s finest spirit in the bourbon capital of the world,” and in one of America’s best small towns, Bardstown, Kentucky. With a myriad of events taking place throughout the week, happenings range from free and family-friendly, to cocktail and mixology classes, to distillery tours and swanky evening galas. My pick of the week? “Hawaii 502: A Kentucky Tiki Party,” which takes place at the Main Square in Bardstown, and, for just $35, includes BBQ samplings, bourbon tiki cocktails, and the opportunity to mix and mingle with distillers and bourbon enthusiasts alike. Hang loose.
Rounding out bourbon festivities, here in Louisville, on Sunday, Sept. 18, the YMCA Livestrong Foundation will host a fundraiser at The Village Anchor that includes a silent auction and door prizes crafted by the nonprofit bourbon collector’s group, The Bourbon Mafia. Guests can choose to join in on the fun for $25 at The Sea Hag’s happy hour (The Village Anchor’s downstairs bar) from 4-6 p.m., or dine from the regular menu from 5-9 p.m. If I know the founder of the Bourbon Mafia, Brian Gelfo, those auction and door prize items will be quite tasty and aged in a charred oak barrel. Yet again, another reason to imbibe for a worthy charity. I’m a philanthropist, what can I say?
“Celebrating 35 years of art and bourbon,” the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts hosts Bourbon Bash 2016 on Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. Swanky and sophisticated, with a touch of buzzy fun, Bourbon Bash 2016 seems like as good a time as any to book a sitter and enjoy all that KMAC has planned, including “Bourbon University” tastings, culinary pairings by Bobby Benjamin, dancing, and what they claim will be a “unique and interactive” art experience. Treat yourself — you deserve it.
As our summer in Derby City comes to a close, and our social calendars move from BBQs to bonfires, one thing rings true: We’ve always got our bourbon heritage to celebrate. Cities all over the country may be welcoming the impending autumn with their own cool air, but we’ve got bourbon prowess and can raise a glass to the fact that we’re the only state in the country that birthed America’s only native spirit. Friends in the industry, nonprofits, etc., I say keep churning out these stellar bourbon events, and we’ll keep stretching our social calendars to the brink.