Neat or on the Rocks

New Orleans Bourbon Festival returns with tastings and talks


There’s a look certain bartenders give a lady who orders a bourbon on the rocks. It’s one that displays a bit of surprise, a bit of appreciation and often an immediate congeniality. I am, of course, speaking from personal experience. After 15 years of being a bourbon (and rye and whiskey and scotch…) drinker, I am especially excited about the second annual New Orleans Bourbon Festival running March 8 through 10 at locations around the city.

Just as a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square, so too with bourbon. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. This distinction is encoded in a U.S. law called the Standards of Identity for my fellow nerds out there. Basically, bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn and stored in charred oak barrels. That’s where the magic happens.

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All that and plenty more will be discussed in seminars, tastings and special food pairing dinners over the course of the New Orleans Bourbon Festival. The festival’s events are organized into four categories, which are the Bourbon Seminar Series, Grand Tastings, Sponsor Bourbon Dinners and Bourbon and Burlesque.

Most of the general seminars take place at the festival headquarters at Le Meridian hotel. Experts from around the country will speak on topics such as “Bourbon’s New Orleans Connection,” “Snake Charmers: Female Bootleggers of New Orleans,” and “The Archeology of Forgotten Distillery Sites.” Tasting seminars (I always find I’m more interesting to listen to while the audience is drinking) will highlight “Rum versus Whiskey: The Battle for American Dominance,” “Bourbon and Cigar Pairing,” “Grain to Glass: The Art and Science of Bourbon Making,” and many more.

The Bourbon Dinners take place at restaurants throughout New Orleans, where chefs have paired special dishes with specific bourbon brands. Kenton’s (sadly closing soon so get there fast) will feature Four Roses presented by Brent Elliott; Cochon will have Jim Beam presented by Fred Booker Noe III and Freddie Noe; and Kris Comstock will present a Sazerac-paired meal at Toups South, just to spotlight a few.

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There is also Bourbon Judging that features audience participation and the VIP Welcome Reception, Bourbon and Burlesque with Trixie Minx, which thankfully does not have audience participation.

Tickets vary in pricing depending on the package level and can be had for as little as $59 for food-only tickets, and up to $490 for the Ultimate VIP Judge level. They should be purchased in advance online. Also of note, the festival is donating a portion of its proceeds to the nonprofit organization Kids Can NOLA.


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