Spirited away at the Bourbon & Brew Festival

The cocktails rocked at the event held on the Tampa Heights’ waterfront.

click to enlarge GOOD STUFF: Available for sampling was Old Rip Van Winkle, one of the highest-rated bourbons in the world. - Wikipedia
GOOD STUFF: Available for sampling was Old Rip Van Winkle, one of the highest-rated bourbons in the world.

Thousands descended on Tampa Heights’ waterfront Saturday to celebrate the one beautiful corn concoction even more American than apple pie — bourbon whiskey.

Brought to the eager drinkers of Tampa Bay by uDream Events and Big City Events, the Bourbon and Brew Festival provided multiple drinking locations featuring special, crafted cocktails; a few tents of grub; live music, including country music chart toppers, LoCash Cowboys; a mechanical bull, and a fireworks display.

A 2007 Senate resolution declared bourbon to be “America’s natural spirit.” Though the practice of distilling fermented grain mash to make whiskey can be traced back to Scotland in the 15th century, true bourbon whiskey — barrel aged and consisting of at least 51 percent corn — was first made in the American South during the 18th century. Over the last 400 years, bourbon has become an American staple. No other spirit has roots or history as directly tied to America’s evolution.

The festival was rich with celebration as good ol’ boys and city folk alike sampled the many cocktails created for the event. Standouts included an unexpectedly tasty Makers Mark and Mango slushy. Jim Beam’s Kentucky Storm was an interesting take on the classic Dark and Stormy cocktail, mixing honey whiskey instead of rum with ginger beer.

As opposed to the Summer of Rum Festival earlier this year, which was an all-access event, Bourbon and Brews featured a VIP area in the historic Tampa Armature Works building. VIP ticket-holders had access to unlimited samples of more than 40 different types of bourbon, including Old Rip Van Winkle, a spirit rated 94 by the Beverage Tasting Institute, making it one of the highest rated bourbons in the world.

The building was used as the VIP area to give a more exclusive feel to those who opted for the pricey $85 ticket. Another new addition was the VIP suite option, where you could purchase a private seating area with stage, water and fireworks views as well as private cocktail service.

Following upon lessons learned from past festivals, uDream Events’ director of operations, Cristina Martin, looks forward to bringing more themed parties to the Bay area. She is working on setting up a higher-end vodka fest for the winter, which she hopes will feature new cocktails and entire bars made of ice.

“We want to do something fun, something different,” says Martin. “So long as everybody has a good time and you don’t have to wait 20 minutes for a drink.”

With a rocks glass of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky in hand (yes, Tennessee whisky is also technically a bourbon), an enthusiastic group of line dancers swinging boots in the air, a chilly breeze coming off the Hillsborough River, and a body warmed by the fires of tradition and oak barrel aging, a little wait didn’t seem so bad.

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