London Bourbon Experience returns for 2023
US whiskey producer Luxco is on a mission to make everyone in London fall in love with Bourbon – while also teaching them a thing or two.
The London Bourbon Experience is a concept that began two years ago when Michele Reina, the company’s brand educator, decided to launch a three‐month celebration of all things Bourbon, featuring prizes, masterclasses, and discounts. Many of the city’s top bars and bartenders were involved, and, of course, there were plenty of drinks.
While the UK hasn’t yet reached Kentucky levels of Bourbon fandom, and consumers are still familiarising themselves with the spirit, its popularity is certainly on the up – and Reina and Luxco are at the forefront of the movement. “I feel like we were crawling two years ago, and now we’re flying,” Reina said. “Bourbon has become stronger and bigger, especially in the past three years.”
For the latest edition of the London Bourbon Experience, starting in September in tandem with Cocktails in the City, Reina is keen to keep his thinking big, and his ideas fresh.
Participating bars around town – including DeGusto, Spey Bar, Hide, Black Rock and more – have been tasked with slinging three signature cocktails that use Bourbon as the base. Guests can try at their leisure until the experience closes on 5 December. The bars have free entry, and guests can collect stamps on their visits to map out their Bourbon journeys on ‘passports’, while also picking up prizes.
Running throughout the London Bourbon Experience are three headline events. Besides Bourbon, these will incorporate music, food and art – ‘’things everyone, in every culture, can relate to’’, Reina elaborates. He is aware that Bourbon hasn’t made its mark on everyone yet, and explains that the events are being held at cocktail bars because they “can turn spirits into every flavour”.
All three events begin with a masterclass, though the format will change for each one. This gives guests the chance to chat to bartenders, industry experts, and Reina himself, as they all share their knowledge and spread appreciation for the whiskey. The events will also be free with the only condition being that one is required to book, as some of the venues have a limited capacity of around 30 people.
Naked & Famous, a subterranean bar in Notting Hill, below a Greek restaurant named Zephyr, has been selected as the site for the first London Bourbon Experience event on 3 October. After a masterclass about whiskey production, attendees will move onto a cocktail‐tasting session consisting of four Bourbon expressions: two available in the UK; one not yet available, and a rare limited edition release.
The next event will then take place on 23 October at Callooh Callay in Shoreditch, where the evening will again start with a masterclass, but this time, followed by a whiskey‐paired dinner, put together by DeGusto. Four Rebel Bourbon expressions will accompany three Italian‐style courses, inspired by artwork from Roman designer Riccardo Boson.
Three ‘hyper‐realistic’ portraits from the painter have been shipped from Rome, and will be on display at the three venues in London. These depict tattooed people enjoying Rebel Bourbon in various ways, including a red‐haired woman sipping a crafted cocktail. Boson was a tattooist before he turned 18, when he then shifted his attention to oil paintings, now dedicating much of what he does to portraiture. Tattooing has been influential on his technique and style.
The London Bourbon Experience will wrap up with a final disco party on 5 December, which is no random date – it is National Repeal Day, also known as when US president Franklin D Roosevelt ended the 13‐year Prohibition of alcohol. London whisky bar Black Rock will play host to the party. The bar has been granted a 4am licence, so the bartenders can join in with the festivities too.
US’s native spirit
Brown in colour, with a majority mash bill made of corn, leading to a sweeter flavour profile compared with average whiskey, Bourbon is recognised as the US’s native spirit. At least, that’s what a Congress resolution in 1964 declared when it instructed that no one outside of the US was allowed to label or tag their product as ‘Bourbon’. It takes its name from Bourbon County in Kentucky, which is the area where the majority of it is produced.
Its origins are said to hark back to the late 1700s, when settlers would distil whiskey from corn and store it in charred oak barrels. Those keen to delve deeper into the rich history of Bourbon will be able to do so at each of the London Bourbon Experience events.
On the whole, Reina wants to “create connections with people, and help them to connect with the Bourbon category”.
He concludes: “Overall, I’m happy with everything. It’s amazing to see how the London Bourbon Experience and the category overall is growing.”