Bourbon and Beyond Makes a Splash
Unique Festival Highlighted Culinary Talent and Kentucky Bourbon
The last full weekend of September saw massive crowds descend upon Champions Park for the inaugural Bourbon and Beyond Festival. Put on by the experienced Danny Wimmer Presents team, Bourbon and Beyond brought a unique experience to the Derby City. Focusing as much on the brown spirit Kentucky is so well known for as the musical talent was a welcome and refreshing take.
The festival opened to a small smattering of people Saturday morning, many of whom were attending the Chicken and Champs Gospel Brunch, which featured food from Gospel Bird and nationally renowned chefs Erling Wu-Bower & Cosmo Goss, along with champagne cocktails and a gospel choir on the stage next to them. It quickly filled up though, as the first music act took to the stage at noon and you could feel the energy in the park pick up. By early afternoon the event was in full swing, with celebrity chefs giving demonstrations on one stage, top level music performances happening on the other, and bourbon industry experts leading tasting workshops.
One stand out was the Big Bourbon Bar. As the main bar for the festival, it housed numerous smaller bars, each one had two to three cocktails featuring a particular brand of bourbon. Some standouts included the Knob Creek bar, which offered a great Boulevardier, a rich and full flavored drink that balances the spiciness of rye with the sweetness of vermouth and bitterness of Campari. Another was the Angel’s Envy spot, where they had a delicious cocktail utilizing their port finished bourbon and Averna amaro, a bittersweet Italian digestif. It even had its own stage, dedicated solely to bluegrass, and at times seemed like its own festival within Bourbon & Beyond. The Big Bourbon Bar was only one of many spots to get a drink, as there were multiple sponsored areas, including a New Orleans inspired seafood broil put on by Southern Comfort, a Maker’s Mark “Southern Soul Party” where you could get BBQ from Boss Hog while hearing local DJ’s spinning records on a turntable, and the Char House, a tent featuring VR tours, barrel crafts, a full bar, and tasting stations for each of Brown Forman’s brands.
For the true bourbon aficionado, Haymarket Whiskey Bar was invited out to setup a bar unlike any ever seen at a festival before. Matthew Landan and his team, including bar man Eric Snider, setup an expansive and impressive lineup of vintage and “dusty” bourbons, in addition to a great selection of single barrel selections. With prices ranging from $13 to $150 or more for a pour, it wasn’t the spot for everyone. Aptly named the Hunter’s Club, as for those who hunted out the best and wanted to experience once in a lifetime pours from such rare bottlings as an Old Crow chess piece decanter, or bonded Old Overholt, it was well worth the cost of admission. Limited to thirty patrons, and air conditioned, there was a wait during peak times, but nothing die-hard whiskey hunters weren’t willing to wait through.
Tucked away next to the Haymarket Hunter’s Club, if you were lucky enough to find it, was the unmarked speakeasy style bar put on by Rabbit Hole and Proprietor’s LLC (the people behind the famed Death & Company cocktail bar in New York), aptly called “Down the Rabbit Hole”. Not on any map, and with no identifying signage on the outside, many missed out on the chance to go down the rabbit hole. With only ten guests being allowed in at a time, the line stretched pretty far occasionally, and many found the bar just by asking what the line was for. Those who did were treated to a small, intimate bar decked out to look like it came from the set of Alice in Wonderland. Once inside, skillfully crafted cocktails that would have seemed out of place at any other music festival were available for purchase ($14), including a delightfully refreshing take on a gin highball utilizing ginger and turmeric, a smoked Old Fashioned, and a Sazerac riff that incorporated the absinthe through a fog of it captured in the bowl of the glass.
The music wasn’t neglected though, with the two main stages set side by side, an ingenious idea that meant there wasn’t a delay between acts as performers could step onto the other stage as those before them finished, without having to wait for the stage to be reset. Festivalgoers enjoyed a wide range of acts, from artists such as Band of Horses and Trombone Shorty, to Kiefer Sutherland and Stevie Nicks.
Overall Bourbon and Beyond was a resounding success, especially for a first-year festival. Highlighting the great local culinary scene and our thriving bourbon industry, it perfectly encapsulated Louisville while still showcasing guest chefs and visiting musicians. While there were some small kinks, such as only one water refill station in the general admission section, spotty enforcement of the rules and regulations regarding chairs and bags, and issues with parking, they’re nothing that can’t be learned from and improved upon. Moving forward Bourbon and Beyond should grow and continue to be a success for years to come.
Photography : Terry Steiden & Jonathan Kiviniemi
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