Old Rip Van Winkle Whiskey Dinner at Blue Hound
On April 12th, Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails at Kimpton Palomar Phoenix hosted a special one-night-only whiskey dinner. Featuring Pappy Van Winkle, an elusive bourbon recognized as one of the world's best, it quickly sold out to waiting list status. Our educational experience was led by John Christie, a spirit specialist with Young's Market Company, and I've been a longtime fan of his knowledge and passion. I first met John when I attended his Whiskey School as part of the inaugural 2012 Arizona Cocktail Week, and also interviewed him in 2014 for Arizona Foothills magazine here.
As John greeted our group, he recognized how rare it is to try these whiskeys at one sitting, telling us, “this puts you into a very exclusive club in the country." John also welcomed the sold-out crowd with a tip on how to enjoy what he had in store: "The first rule is let’s have a good time, relax and have some fun. I highly recommend interacting with your neighbors because a communal tasting is the best way to enjoy this."
John shared his wealth of knowledge throughout the evening as we were invited to explore "the history of bourbon, where it's been and where it's going." He educated guests and answered questions about distilling techniques, barrel aging, mash bills, and the importance of water and climate, and shared trivia such as the fact that "there are more barrels of whiskey laid down in Kentucky than there are people." We delved into the history of Van Winkle bourbon dating back to 1832 and of Buffalo Trace Distillery, where both Old Rip Van Winkle and Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve labels are now produced. Its devoted following and scarcity make Pappy Van Winkle one of the most sought-after spirits, with thousands of people wait-listed at liquor stores for the few bottles that are released every season (there are even tracker apps!). Bottles that can be located are hoarded or sold for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Needless to say, we knew we were in for a special night at Blue Hound, which offers one of the largest selections of Pappy Van Winkle Reserve on their spirits list.
To pair with this premier bourbon, Executive Chef Sean Currid created a special four-course menu. Chef Currid is known for his elevated comfort dishes and creative seasonal fare, and he told us how much fun he had in designing this menu to complement these special whiskeys, "I just wish I could sit down and join you!"
Our whiskey journey started with a delicious first course of a large raviolo. Decorated with spring peas and sweet yellow pea shoots, it was stuffed with ricotta and an oozy egg yolk that combined with the rich veal jus to form a decadent sauce. A perfect complement was Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon with notes of corn and rye and hints of toffee and vanilla.
Pork belly was the star of our next dish, perched on a disk of chickpea panisse (a crispy Provencal chickpea cake), embellished with smoked date puree and fresh chervil, and paired with Pappy Van Winkle 12 year old Special Reserve. The luscious pork belly and dates married beautifully with the butterscotch and caramel nuances in this special bourbon.
Course three brought fork-tender short rib with a burnt citrus and espresso glaze served on a bed of creamy black pepper grits and grilled carrots and green onions. This was my favorite pairing of the night - I especially loved the complementary citrus nose and deep oak flavor of the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year.
How to end such a unique evening? With the fantastic Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20-year-old. A wonderfully smooth and balanced bourbon, aging for 20 years brings out flavors of coffee, smoke and a hint of chocolate - the perfect partner to Chef Currid's melt-in-your-mouth caramel chocolate bar.
Join Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails on April 26th as they host the next in their cocktail dinner series - Anatomy of an Old Fashioned. Details can be found at this link.
I was hosted by Blue Hound and my experience was complimentary.