It started off as a small thing for several hard core bourbon fans that simply couldn’t get enough bourbon knowledge. It’s grown into something much larger but, not too large to lose its intimate feeling that not only allows you to visit many historic distilleries in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky but, it allows you to break bread and sip (responsibly) with many current and future industries icons.

The Kentucky Bourbon Affair

“It’s the nearest thing to heaven we have in Kentucky
~Words never spoken by Cary Grant in “An Affair to Remember.”

The 2017 Kentucky Bourbon Affair which runs June 6 through 11, is now in its fourth year. It is the only event that is actually hosted by the Kentucky distilleries themselves and is revered for its intimate, one-of-a-kind experiences.

Higher Proof Expo – A New Tradition

Higher Proof Expo is a brand new daylong event at this year’s Affair. This is no fluff day camp that retells the story that bourbon must be at least 51% corn or the fact that “No, it does not have to be made in Kentucky to be called Bourbon.” No, this camp peels the onion back on how bourbon is really made by people that really make bourbon. And, this isn’t just tales from the big maker’s, its tales by craft spirits makers, it’s small businesses and startups. That said, many of the big maker’s will be there as well. After 100+ years in the business, they know a thing a two about making great distilled spirits.

18 Jam Packed Sessions

There’s so much, it will be difficult to choose. The workshop is packed with unique educational events and tasting sessions (some rare) led by top industry professionals that is capped off with a vintage spirits appraisal session from one of the country’s top collectors.

“Higher Proof is a deep dive into the history, techniques, science and lore of Kentucky Bourbon culture,” said Adam Johnson, Senior Director with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) that coordinates the Kentucky Bourbon Affair. “The whiskey you’ll be tasting is alone worth the ticket.”

The event is curated by Stave & Thief Society, the official Bourbon Certification Program of the KDA, which sifted through dozens of submitted presentations to select the most exclusive experiences for attendees.

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Session 1 | 9:30 – 10:30am

Dark Fired Distilling in Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky is known for three things: Barbeque, burgoo, and dark fired whiskey. Discover the secrets and science of the dark firing process, and get hands-on with Paul and Merry Beth Tomaszewski, Co-owners of MB Roland Distillery. Taste and compare samples of fired and non-dark fired distillate to gain a real appreciation for how this smoking process influences MB Roland’s products.

Exploring Yeast, Fermentation, and other Determinants of Flavor in Bourbon

Think you know flavor? You don’t know yeast. Dive into the world of this complex organism with Dr. Pat Heist, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-owner of Wilderness Trail Distillery and Ferm Solutions. Take a look at Bourbon through the eyes of a microbiologist in this entertaining and highly informative session. Dr. Heist takes you on a fascinating journey through the metabolic life-cycle of nature’s magician and unlocks the flavors and faults produced during fermentation. Improve your Bourbon IQ – it’s the most fun you’ll ever have in science class!

High Proof Bourbon: The Tell-Tale Hearts

Creating a single barrel, barrel proof Bourbon is a detailed process. So many variables affect the final product, and only so many can be controlled. Examine the pieces of the process with Wade Daniels, Owner and Master Distiller at Wadelyn Ranch Distilling. Discover sensory analysis methods and their importance to ensuring quality and consistency. Learn how Wadelyn Ranch approaches this process including mash bill components, barrel characteristics, proof, and the division of head, hearts, and tails.

Orphan Barrel: Tales and Tasting

The Orphan Barrel Distilling Co. was started to share barrels of delicious and rare whiskey, hidden away and nearly forgotten in the back of rickhouses and distilleries. Diageo’s Master Whiskey Educator Doug Kragel takes you behind the scenes at this private Orphan Barrel tasting with the tales and secrets of these rare selections. Discover the unique flavors and personalities inside each of these expressions before they are gone forever.

Tasting the Grains: The Magic of Corn

By law, Bourbon must be made of at least 51%  corn. But why corn? Of the cereal varieties, corn is not necessarily the most outstanding. Yet, dig a little deeper, and the grain indigenous to Kentucky has a fascinating role to play in the world’s best Bourbon. Join Joyce Nethery of Jeptha Creed Distillery as she discusses the role corn plays in fermentation, distillation, and finished Bourbon, its flavor contributions, and the way heirloom varietals, such as Jeptha Creed’s own Bloody Butcher Corn, can impact the distillate.

Session 2 | 10:45 – 11:45am

Balance and Counter-Balance: An Interactive Food & Bourbon Pairing for the Advanced Palate

Science can be delicious! Spend some quality time with Bourbon Master Taster and Founder of Bourbon Women Peggy Noe Stevens as she presents an advanced and proven method for identifying flavors and their intensity levels in Bourbon.  Broaden your flavor dissection skills with selections of Kentucky Bourbon paired with culinary offerings from local chefs as Peggy leads you through unusual food and Bourbon combinations.

Bourbon for Wine Lovers

Who says you can’t love both? Open up your palate and discover the complementary flavors in wine and Bourbon. Master Sommelier and Executive Bourbon Steward Scott Harper invites you to explore the similar flavor profiles of wine and Bourbon and guides you on proper selection of  Bourbon according to wine preference. Train your palate to detect subtleties and connect profiles, and enjoy a whole new way to experience Bourbon as you pair it with white and red wines.

Smoke’em If You Got’em

Since its opening, Corsair Distillery has been enthusiastically pushing the limits in the whiskey category through experimentation with grains, malting, distillation, and aging. Geek out with Senior Head Distiller Clay Smith as he dives into the innovative experimental techniques and methods that distinguish Corsair as a leading craft brand, and taste a number of samples that will surely enhance the appreciation of whiskey-making for all guests.

You Complete Me: Unleashing Flavor Through Pairings

Rev up your taste buds and prepare to polish your palate with this delectable series of whiskey and food pairing exercises. Experience the bold flavors and discover the subtle notes of country ham through whiskey as Andrea Wilson of Michter’s Distillery and author Steve Coomes team up to take your flavor detectors to the next level. Learn the art of complementing and enhancing flavors through pairings in this delicious and fun seminar.

Lunch & Expo Hall | 11:45AM-1:00PM

Grab your boxed lunch & join fellow Higher Proof Expo participants for lunch. You can also peruse, meet and learn about local partners throughout Kentucky that bring a unique flavor to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in the pop up spaces.

Session 3 | 1:00-2:00pm

Parker’s Heritage: A Decade of Decadence

Each year as part of the Parker’s Heritage Collection, Heaven Hill Distillery selects a special whiskey to be released in the name of their late Master Distiller Parker Beam. Join Heaven Hill’s National Whiskey Brand Ambassador, Bernie Lubbers, as he reviews the origins and history of this acclaimed annual series of  American Whiskey. Sample both this past year’s 24 Year-old Bottled-In-Bond offering and three no longer available prior editions, including the 5th, 6th, and 8th editions. Help us honor Parker’s legacy and enjoy a rare opportunity to taste critically-lauded whiskeys from this groundbreaking collection.

Peerless Caliber

Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. is alive and producing fine Bourbon and rye whiskey for the first time in generations. In honor of the first whiskey release in 100 years, Corky Taylor, 4th generation owner of the distillery, will share the irresistible story of his family’s journey through Kentucky’s rich distilling history. Be one of the first to taste their rye whiskey, released May 20th of this year, while Head Distiller Caleb Kilburn discusses the blend of tradition and innovation he used to honor the family legacy in this first release from Kentucky Peerless.

Rum and Whiskey: Of Love and War

Once, whiskey distillers and rum importers were locked in legislative battle to decide which spirit became this country’s drink of choice. It came down to the base–American grown grains or imported molasses. Whiskey won. Today, the same wars are playing out, but not in Congress. Rather, consumers are making their choices known–rum or whiskey. But why not both? The two spirits greatly complement one another. Experience Bourbon and rum in an entirely new context as author Fred Minnick takes guests on a tantalizing  adventure through American spirits history. You can pick up Fred’s latest book, Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit here.

Single Barrel Bourbon Selections: An Insider’s Look at Each Distillery’s Process

Explore the single barrel selection programs offered by Heritage distillers with Chris Zaborowski, owner of Westport Whiskey & Wine. You will be able to taste and evaluate the carefully chosen flavor profiles distinctive to each barrel. Throughout your tasting, Chris will share tips about how to secure a selection date and the process to choose the perfect barrel.

Vintage Spirits: History in a Bottle

Dive into the world of vintage spirits with the owner of the largest whiskey collection in the Western Hemisphere. Join Bill Thomas, Owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon, and Jared Hyman with Bourbon Source for a robust discussion of the history, evaluation, and collection of vintage whiskeys. Taste some of Bill and Jared’s rare findings, and settle in for some personal time with two of the country’s greatest collectors.

Session 4 | 2:15-3:15pm

Brandy Rocks!

Meet the guy that distills for a brandy company in the middle of the Bourbon Boom. Join Master Distiller Brandon O’Daniel of Copper & Kings Distilling Co. for an exploration of Cask Strength American Brandy and the role different barrel maturation vessels play in creating unique individual brandy expressions. Get a real taste of innovation and experience the way different cooperage can impact the flavor of brandy while sampling barrel pulls of brandy aging in Bourbon barrels, sherry casks, new oak, and whatever else Brandon decides to bring along.

Four Roses: 50 Years Young

Four Roses Brand Ambassador Al Young is celebrating 50 years with the company this year, and to commemorate this milestone, Four Roses is releasing a special 2017 Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Small Batch Bourbon in his honor. Master Distiller Brent Elliott and Al worked together to select four of Four Roses’ 10 unique Bourbon recipes to create the final product. Join Brent Elliott as he discusses the flavor profiles, ages, and the selection and mingling process while tasting the individual recipes used to create this special release Small Batch Bourbon.

I will regret telling you this, because I am only creating competition for myself to buy every bottle I can. But this Limited Edition Four Roses ranks as one of the best products released in the 21st Century.
~Fred Minnick, Wall Street Journal-bestselling author of Bourbon, The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey and Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit.

Make an Old Fashioned – Louisville’s Official Cocktail

The Pendennis Club in downtown Louisville has long claimed the invention of the Old Fashioned cocktail in the 1880s. It was popularized by club member and Bourbon distiller Col. James E. Pepper, who would go on to introduce the cocktail to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, which led to its widespread popularity. In 2015, Louisville’s Mayor declared the Old Fashioned the city’s Official Cocktail, making Louisville only the second city known to have proclaimed an official libation since the Louisiana House of Representatives named the Sazerac New Orleans’ drink of choice in 2008. Perfect your cocktail skills, and enjoy some local lore as you learn the secret to the perfect Old Fashioned.

Rum and Whiskey: Of Love and War

Same as above.

Vintage Spirits: History in a Bottle

Dive into the world of vintage spirits with the owner of the largest whiskey collection in the Western Hemisphere. Join Bill Thomas, Owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon, and Jared Hyman with Bourbon Source for a robust discussion of the history, evaluation, and collection of vintage whiskeys. Taste some of Bill and Jared’s rare findings, and settle in for some personal time with two of the country’s greatest collectors.

Session 5 | 3:30-4:30pm

American Liquors: Get Your Dusty Bottles & Whiskey Treasures Appraised

Ever wonder what that dusty old Bourbon bottle in your grandmother’s attic is worth? How about the history of a long-forgotten brand on a timeworn advertising sign in your basement?  “American Liquors” will offer advice and appraisals on rare Bourbon items as the finale event of the Higher Proof Expo.  With so many questions from people with Bourbon memorabilia who don’t know what they have or what it’s worth, this event will be a perfect opportunity to learn the history and value from the experts themselves.  Bill Thomas, owner of the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., will lead the appraisal session.

Tickets are Still Available

The Higher Proof Expo will be held on Saturday, June 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Marriott Louisville East, the official host hotel for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Affair showcase. The one-day pass is $99 with access to four sessions. You can learn more and get tickets to the Higher Proof Expo and other Kentucky Bourbon Affair events here.

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