Still Recovering from the New Orleans Bourbon Festival? So are we!

Two weeks ago, the ‘who’s who’ of the Bourbon Industry landed in the Big Easy for the 3rdAnnual New Orleans Bourbon Festival. It was a whirlwind 3-Day weekend of whiskey infused activities from dinners, grand tastings, seminars, lounge experiences, and more. Armond and I tried to do it all and are still trying to process (and detox our livers) all that went on. Here’s our quick rundown of our time at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival – or at least what we remember!

Day 1 
The Festival kicked off with the VIP Judges Competition and a host of Bourbon Dinners sponsored by a variety of bourbon brands. We actually missed most of this because we were setting up for our own BBS event over at Whiskey & Sticks – one of our member’s cigar and whiskey bar in Uptown. Our sold out event featured a Heaven Hill Distillery Whiskey Tasting and curated cocktails featuring Evan Williams and Peter Spanton Tonics. In the middle of greeting my guests and thanking my sponsors, my dear friend (I call him my Bourbon Bae) Bernie Lubbers walked through the door with Heaven Hill’s newly appointed Master Distiller, Conor O’Driscoll! Needless to say, I was completely surprised and star struck by their presence. We closed out the night with lots of laughs, infinite cocktails, and new friends made with our local BBS membership.

Day 2
Armond and I kicked off the first day of NOBF seminars with our interactive session called, The Blind Date. At 10am in the morning, we led 50 conference attendees through a blind tasting experience similar to the process that we score whiskies on our podcast, Bonded in Bourbon. We tasted through: Uncle Nearest, Michter’s Small Batch, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Breckenridge, and Old Forester 86. Hands down, the winner of our Blind Date session, was Elijah Craig Barrel Proof!

After our session, we caught up with all of our favorite industry buddies. We had breakfast with the Uncle Nearest team, shared a dram of Little Book 2 with Michael Veach, popped in on Linda Ruffenach as she was setting up for her event, and ran into more BBS members who were attending the conference. My favorite session was with Andrew Weihebrink, R&D for Independent Stave Company. He gave a fascinating seminar on wood and how it plays a major role in flavoring bourbon. 

Later in the day, Armond and I joined the ABV Network on a round table discussion about why Steve and the ABV Network Crew is so cool… It was a little more serious than that, but yeah – we’re pretty cool! 

I ended up spending the rest of the day in the Bourbon Women’s Lounge with my self-appointed mentor, Peggy Noe Stevens. We sipped whiskey and I made cocktails for her and her members while we enjoyed the sunset over the Mississippi River. 

Day 3
The last day of the Festival brought even more seminars, more familiar faces, and was the debut of Steve’s new film project, Kindred Spirits. If you haven’t seen it, get it now! 

After having a few private meetings, I checked in at the Festival to see Steve’s film and then sat in on a seminar given by Fawn Weaver, the co-Founder and CEO of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. She told the fascinating story of Uncle Nearest and then debuted her short film narrated by Jefferey Wright. I was so moved, I cried and had to blow my nose on Evan Haskill’s shirt.. (okay not really, but really….)

We then finished up the afternoon back in the Bourbon Women’s Lounge where we poured more cocktails – this time featuring Uncle Nearest Whiskey.

Later that evening, we hung out with all of our bourbon industry friends at the Grand Tasting. Sampled all the bourbon and ate all the delicious foods we could possibly consume. The night went on and on somehow ended with us on Bourbon Street! 

So what can I say, the three days at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival were indeed jam-packed, full of our industry’s greatest talents, and fun, fun, FUN! A whole lot of fun that the average almost-40 year old still needed two weeks to fully recover. If you missed it this year, start planning to be there next year, now. The official dates for the 2020 New Orleans Bourbon Festival are March 11-15th.


(Originally published in The Bourbon Zeppelin on April 1, 2019)

Samara RiversComment