Day 2 of the Society of Wine Educators’ Bourbon Mini-Conference in Louisville, Kentucky was filled with another group of inspiring speakers, tours, and delicious food and cocktail pairings. The seminars kicked off with Albert Schmid, CSS, CSW. Albert is Director of the Hotel Management and Hospitality departments at Sullivan University in Louisville. Additionally, he’s written several books on the history of cocktails and other beverages as well as the much acclaimed “The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook,” a copy of which all attendees were able to take home compliments of SWE.
Albert woke us all up by explaining that we were being historically accurate by drinking cocktails in the morning—a line some of us might want to use in the future—as cocktails were originally enjoyed for their ability to “stimulate” the mind and body. He then went on to focus on teaching classic cocktails by returning to one of the oldest definitions: a base, a modifying agent, a flavoring agent, and water (historically, ice was “too valuable” to be used in drinks). We learned to analyze the “build” of a cocktail and how to judge the balance of the various components of a drink.
We topped off the seminars with an essential topic—the business of Bourbon. Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillery Association (KDA), and Adam Johnson, Director of the Bourbon Trail, put the scope of the industry in perspective for us. Eric laid out the complex layers of the taxing scheme, how the KDA has been fighting to keep the industry sustainable, and how they strive to attract and include small distillers in Kentucky. Adam described the development of the tourism industry, which is of increasing importance in many segments of the adult beverage industry.
After a wonderful Southwestern lunch, we took off for two more distillery tours—Wild Turkey and Four Roses. At Wild Turkey, Bubba guided us through all the facilities, entertained us with stories of the 101 White Label, and lead us to the tasting room where Jimmy Russell himself was signing bottles! Jimmy, who as been making Bourbon for over 60 years, is the most tenured distiller in the world! At Four Roses, we saw an operation on a smaller scale and how a distillery can make a wide variety of products using different mash bills. Four Roses is also utilizing unique wooden fermentation tanks and some one-story rickhouses (while 7-9 stories is the norm).
The evening’s dinner was held at the Bristol Bar and Grill, where Master Sommelier and CWE Scott Harper led us through an incredibly innovative pairing dinner. We checked off a handful of other Bourbons that we didn’t get to cover in the seminars or tours, Buffalo Trace and Willet to name a few. Scott also talked about the terroir of the rickhouse and what it is like to maintain one of the top wine programs in Bourbon country.
Shields Hood, General Manager of SWE, delivered the thank you and farewell and alluded to next year’s Spirits Mini-Conference possibly taking place in Denver. All attendees were eager to start planning for next year as well as the wine-focused Finger Lakes conference in Rochester, June 9th and 10th, and the SWE main conference in Washington DC, August 11th-13th. We hope to see you at one of these upcoming events!