Kentucky Bourbon and an Orange Blossom Special

Orange Blossom Special |

How to Become a Bourbon Lover in One Night? Simple: attend a bourbon dinner where each course is perfectly executed to entertain your palate with subtle nuances of bourbon and is expertly paired with tastes of premium, aged Pappy Van Winkle, the world’s most elusive bourbon.

Seviche, Chef Anthony Lamas, foie gras apple bread pudding

Foie Gras Apple Bread Pudding | Bourbon dulce de leche, Marcona almond, Horchata ice cream

pairing: Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-year old

With bourbon enjoying a decade long revival, I’ve seen more and more drink menus with intriguing handcrafted bourbon cocktails that have swayed me away from the martini list and ignited a yearning to know more about this truly American spirit. I’ve dreamed of taking a trip to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky for several years and, finally, the stars were aligned with my calendar and I was able to join my online friend Gwen of Bunky Cooks and On The Road culinary adventures for their second Bourbon Country tour to Louisville, Kentucky.

Sure I’ve drank bourbon, but I didn’t really KNOW bourbon. First of all, I learned that bourbon is a whiskey, but all whiskeys are not bourbons – picture a Venn Diagram. For a whiskey to qualify as bourbon, the law–by international agreement–stipulates that it must be made in the USA from at least 51% corn; is distilled at no more than 80% alcohol; is matured at no higher than 62.5% alcohol; and is matured in new charred oak barrels for no less than two years. (Source: Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book by Joy Perrine and Susan Reigler.) My whiskey education centered around college and early post-college shenanigans with Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and some Wild Turkey thrown in because I liked the name… but those days are nothing but a hazy memory from another lifetime … and this is most definitely not that kind of whiskey.

Pappy Van Winkle, bourbon pairings, Kentucky bourbon trail

The two-day itinerary was a food and spirit lovers dream: beginning with 2 nights at the historic Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby and gateway to the Bourbon Trail; dinner  with bourbon pairings at award-winning Chef Anthony Lamas‘ restaurant, Seviche with guest of honor Julian Van Winkle and son Preston whose family distillery Old Rip Van Winkle produces premium aged bourbon. Julian launched the Pappy Van Winkle line in the mid 1990’s and started selling aged bourbons because he preferred them over younger whiskies.

Chef Anthony Lamas, Seviche, Louisville, Kentucky bourbon

Nuevo Latino Shrimp & Grits | Ponce Inlet shrimp, Weisenberger grits, Manchego, Chorizo, Bourbon Red Eye gravy

pairing: Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-year

In 1998 his 20-year-old won a “99” rating, the highest ever from the prestigious Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago. The judges said it “finishes with a seemingly endless and evolving cascade that introduces notes of cigar box, sweet tobacco, leather, and dried tangerine.” After that, Van Winkle says, “the phone started ringing off the hook and we were short — didn’t have nearly enough of it. (Source: CNN Money) Since then, the elusive Pappy Van Winkle has gathered many more awards and ratings anointing them among the best whiskies in the world resulting in a fervent cult following and garnering Julian the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year.

Julian P. Van Winkle III, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon

Julian P. Van Winkle III

Chef Anthony Lamas’ signature nuevo Latin cuisine held up to the bold bourbon pairings and showcased his focus on sustainable seafood, seasonal local ingredients, and the exciting Latin influence with a dash of southern flair that Seviche, a Latin Restuarant, consistently ranked as one of Louisville’s top establishments, is known for.  Chef Lamas artfully incorporated bourbon into each course which we savored along with one of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons spanning the years: Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year, Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-year, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15-year, 20-year, and 23 -year.

Seviche, Chef Anthony Lamas, Maple Farms duck with bourbon red eye gravy

Maple Leaf Farms Duck | Carolina Gold Rice, Sea Island Red peas, duck cracklins, black Mission fig bourbon demi glace

pairing: Van Winkle Special Reserve 15-year

 Our group was captivated as Julian spoke of the legacy of his grandfather Pappy Van Winkle and why his special recipe, which substitutes wheat for traditional rye, and the aging process distinguishes them from other bourbon makers and how their strategy of scarcity, with a little luck and an unwavering commitment to quality and limited quantities, has served their family through the years. Pappy’s mantra, “we make a fine bourbon, at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always a fine bourbon“, endures.

Most bourbons use 70% to 80% corn and a mixture of rye, malted barley, and yeast. Naturally, the Pappy Van Winkle mash mix is a closely guarded secret and one that they mean to keep in the family. The Van Winkle recipe ages gracefully in oak barrels and  doesn’t pick up as much of the oak and char flavors as rye. Wheat also imparts a sweeter, softer, smoother whiskey than rye, which tends to be spicier and have a bite. Why is aged bourbon so darn expensive and hard to find? It’s the mathematics involved in the careful distillation process and the aging in oak barrels for years – in the case of the 23-year, nearly a quarter of a century. A new barrel yields 30 cases of bourbon, but each year of aging yields less as product is lost “to the barrel” (evaporation). After 23 years a barrel yields only 7 cases.

Buffalo Trace Distillery tour, barrel room

In addition to the three courses pictured above, our bourbon repast began with a refreshing Tuna “Old Fashioned” ceviche starter accompanied by Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year and ended with Ashbourne Farms Pork Belly with local greens, Benton’s bacon, maple, and Bourbon Barrel Foods sorghum paired with Pappy Van Winkle Special Reserve 20-year before the grand finale: the beautifully-plated and stunning sweet and savory dessert of Foie Gras with Bourbon Dulce de Leche and Apple Bread Pudding paired with Pappy Van Winkle Special Reserve 23-year to complete a decadent, but delightfully unpretentious evening, with two of Kentucky’s most respected gentlemen.

Preston Van Winkle, Julian P. Van Winkle, Pappy van Winkle bourbon

Preston and Julian P. Van Winkle III autographing our tasting sheets and dinner menus

We didn’t come away from the dinner with any Pappy Van Winkle – it’s virtually impossible to find and Julian graciously shared some of his own private stash with us, but you can find them by the glass at high end restaurants and, since 2002 when Van Winkle contracted with Buffalo Trace to make limited quantities of Pappy’s, their national sales force distributes it to selected liquor stores in 35 states Please stay tuned for Part Two of my Bourbon Trail adventure when we tour Buffalo Trace Distillery with a surprise tour of the Mash House led by Julian himself, then traveled to the Butchertown location of Bourbon Barrel Foods for a chefs demonstration and lunch with Chefs Anthony Lamas and Bobby Benjamin.

Aged bourbons are meant to be sipped “neat” or, as Julian suggested, with a dash of water to open up the flavor. But you’ll not insult a younger bourbon such as the award-winning Buffalo Trace by mixing them in a cocktail, in fact, The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book has over 100 recipes for seasonal refreshments, after-dinner cocktails, and unforgettable special occasion drinks such as the Mint Julep and the classic Manhattan created by Joy Perrine, the presiding mixologist at iconic Jack’s Lounge in Louisville.

Until we meet again, I give you this cocktail tribute to the only true native spirit of America and, in honor of the Bluegrass State, a bluegrass fiddler’s favorite: the Orange Blossom Special.

bourbon cocktail, Orange Blossom Special

17 Responses to “Kentucky Bourbon and an Orange Blossom Special”

  1. Colleen @ The Taste Place November 29 at 8:54 am #

    Sounds like a wonderful event! We’re both big bourbon drinkers, so this would have been right up our alley. If you’re ever visiting the Smokies, be sure to venture over to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for fabulous tastings and tours, and beautiful scenery — we visited a couple of years ago.

    We like our bourbon straight up, but I will have to try that cocktail sometime!

    • Priscilla November 29 at 9:37 am #

      Yes, I remember you and Jeff having bourbon that night we were at Kim & Barry’s. The next day we visited Buffalo Trace Distillery on the Bourbon Trail. I like bourbon neat and in cocktails – depends on my mood and the weather :)

  2. Bunkycooks November 29 at 6:22 pm #

    Hi Priscilla,

    This is a really nice recap. Thank you so much for making the trip to join us. It was great fun and I am so glad that we were finally able to meet in person. I look forward to seeing your second post and enjoying one of these cocktails. :-)



    • Priscilla November 30 at 2:37 pm #

      Thanks, Gwen :) It was a pleasure meeting you and Roger and all the other fine folks on the tour. I look forward to another OTR culinary trip – maybe Charleston or Savannah??

  3. Nami | Just One Cookbook November 30 at 9:43 am #

    I’m going to send this link immediately to my husband who enjoys burbon!! I think he’ll be very jealous that you attended this special event. I’m not much of a drinker but I’d love to try this burbon course meal… sounds fun and interesting!

    • Nami | Just One Cookbook November 30 at 9:44 am #

      kept mistaking word *bourbon. lol.

    • Priscilla November 30 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks, Nami – if your husband is a bourbon lover he will definitely be jealous – so he’ll just have to pour himself one and imagine he was there 😉

  4. Terra December 2 at 6:45 pm #

    Oh wow, hubby and I would have loved attending a bourbon dinner, how delicious! I bet everything was amazing! Hubby and I love making bourbon balls this time of year! Love your cocktail, it sounds really refreshing! Hugs, Terra

  5. Jean December 3 at 8:18 am #

    I can appreciate more reading this post this morning. I just bought my first bottle of bourbon yesterday for a holiday snack I was inspired to make. When I was at the store, I looked for bourbon but all I found was bourbon whiskey. I had no idea bourbon was a type of whiskey. I picked the most recognizable label but I just knew there would be other special brands out there. Thanks to this post I now know what to look for next time. I’ll just keep myself busy with boozy recipes until I finish this huge bottle!

    Lovely write-up, as usual, Priscilla. I am jealous that you got to eat that foie gras apple bread pudding and I’ve got just about everything to make this orange blossom special. Perfect for the holidays!

  6. Daniela December 9 at 10:31 am #

    This looks like a great drink for the holiday season!

  7. Ashley - Baker by Nature December 17 at 4:22 pm #

    God I love bourbon… this drink is right up my alley!

  8. Magic of Spice December 23 at 1:43 pm #

    What a great event this must have been, and I could use on or two of the orange blossoms :)

  9. thatskinnychickcanbake November 8 at 9:16 am #

    What fun for you and Gwen! I have the same memories of whiskey…most of them hazy from decades ago. I think I’d like an education from a bourbon master plus sampling all that amazing food (and your cocktail!) sounds incredible!

  10. mmwine January 29 at 6:41 am #

    What a pleasure to have read this. I’m a big scotch fan, but of course, that spills over into bourbon as well! I have not had the pleasure of trying Pappy, as you have! I’ll need to give it a sip!



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