This year was the inaugural New Orleans Bourbon Festival at the Marriott Convention Center. This is planned to be an annual event taking place in the city that could be argued as the birthplace of Bourbon. Kentucky may be the place that Bourbon was first produced, but it was made to sell in the New Orleans market. It is only appropriate that there would be a Bourbon Festival in this city.
The New Orleans Bourbon Festival is very different from the one held in Kentucky. For one thing the emphasis is on giving Bourbon fans a chance to learn more about their favorite beverage. There is a venue on Friday and Saturday nights with booths where the attendee can get pours of Bourbon and rye whiskeys, as well as food made with Bourbon and other Bourbon related products. There is a cigar tent outside of this venue where the attendee can enjoy a smoke with their favorite beverage. There is a band playing New Orleans jazz and blues. A great way to spend an evening.
On Saturday there are seminars. The organizers were a bit too ambitious with their seminars this year. They had 25 different programs, all scheduled on Saturday between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Next year they plan to schedule these programs on both days and have no more than three at a time. This year each session had 4-5 programs at the same time. It is good to give the attendees choices as to what they are interested in, but too many programs at the same time are not fair to the speakers. Some speakers only had a handful of people because there were too many other choices. These programs ranged in subject and there programs for the beginner as well as the Bourbon veteran. I personally gave three programs. “The History of Bottled-in-Bond’, “The Six Sources of Flavor (including tasting three Bourbons)” and “The History of New Orleans and Bourbon.” Other programs included Susan Reigler’s virtual tour of the Bourbon Trail with tastings from each distillery, Bernie Lubber’s Bourbon and Bluegrass, a panel on Women and Bourbon, and a couple of technical programs on distilling from Wilderness Trail distillery.
There was also whiskey judging taking place during the festival. If you purchased a ticket at a certain price level, you were invited to be part of the judging. There were several different categories of whiskey and the results were announced on Sunday at the brunch for ticket holders. This brunch was also accompanied by a great jazz band with Grammy winning jazz singer John Boutté.
Another great reason to attend the New Orleans Bourbon Festival is a chance to visit New Orleans. The food scene in the city is fantastic, especially if you like seafood, or more directly, oysters. Cochon, an award winning restaurant specializing in pork dishes is within walking distance of the festival headquarters. Former Louisvillian Hope Clarke is a manager there and maintains an excellent selection of Bourbons on the bar. Then there are places such as the Avenue Pub (review here) and Brennans Bourbon House Seafood that have excellent bourbon selections as well as food. If you like cigars there are several very good cigar shops in the city but you really need go no further than the cigar tent at the festival. A local cigar shop, Don Juan Cigars of Metairie, sold cigars and Maggie Kimberl did two Bourbon and Cigar Pairing programs in the tent on Saturday.
New Orleans is steeped in history. I would recommend a walking tour through a New Orleans cemetery as a way to spend an afternoon. The cable cars are fun to ride and give a great view of the city. The Avenue Pub has a car stop on their block. There is the World War II Museum within walking distance of the Marriott. There are plenty of antique stores, art galleries and specialty stores such as Goorin Bros. hats in the French Quarter. And of course no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stroll down Bourbon Street. Stop at the Earth Cam and wave hello to the world as this camera is on 24/7.
New Orleans is a city that every Bourbon enthusiast should visit at least once in their life. I would suggest that such enthusiasts plan on making the trip next March when the second annual New Orleans Bourbon Festival is held. Come a day early and stay a day after and tour the city. You will not regret the decision.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl