Bourbon Tasting at the Palace
Last night was the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon Preview Party put on by Heaven Hill Distillers. Officially an event of “The Bardstown Bourbon Society”, this year’s program was held at the gorgeous Louisville Palace, an 80 year old venue featuring a Spanish Baroque interior designed by famous architect John Eberson. The beauty of the Palace always threatens to compete with the shows and events held there, but last night the focus was definitely on the bourbon. Each year Heaven Hill brings forth another in the “vintage” dated Evan Williams Single Barrel line – the 1999 edition goes on sale in January – and the annual preview party is the first opportunity for the public to taste the upcoming new release. The evening started with a cocktail reception and a truly delicious buffet of hors d’oeuvres and desserts. The wait staff circulated with plates of scallops and what appeared to be burgoo shooters, and there was of course the omnipresent bourbon. In addition to the current vintage of Evan Williams (1998), one could also choose from Heaven Hill’s other premium brands such as Elijah Craig 12 or 18 year old, Henry McKenna Single Barrel and Bernheim Wheat Whiskey (not technically a bourbon, but still a very nice drink). During the early part of the evening the Palace really stole the show, with every nook, cranny and remote outpost occupied by people eating, drinking and generally enjoying the festivities. In the second floor lounge three caricature artists had a steady line of customers throughout the night. A band provided live music off the downstairs grand foyer. As the temperature outside continued to drop, the anticipation inside began to rise as the appointed hour drew near.
At 9:15pm, Heaven HIll President Max Shapira stepped onto the podium and announced it was time to unveil the 1999 vintage. I should note that Heaven Hill is the only remaining family owned distillery in Kentucky. Master Distillers Parker Beam and his son Craig were on hand to tap into the first barrel (yes, they are related to those “other” Beams). While samples were passed around for everyone, Shapira lead the assembled bourbon aficionados in a toast. That being done, it was time to get on with the party.
Evan Williams Single Barrel has won numerous awards over the years, including “Whiskey of the Year”. The 1992 release was a particular favorite of mine. In case you are wondering, yes you can actually tell the difference between the editions. I once tasted the 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 bourbons side by side and the individual flavors of each were noticeable even to the inexperienced bourbon drinkers in the group.
The Evan Williams Preview Party is something that I look forward to every year, and in many ways it signifies for me the start of the holiday season. Over the next 6 weeks there will be much bourbon drank, gifted and shared. That is, after all, something you come to expect in a Kentucky home, particularly at this time of year.