Never, ever turn down a chance for cocktails with Tim Laird.
The best things in Louisville always seem to happen two days after you hear about them. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sad to say this is no exception. On Monday night, I was privileged to attend an amazing cocktail making class at Westport Whiskey and Wine hosted by the legendary Tim Laird, Chief Entertaining Officer of Brown-Forman and an ever energetic presence on Secrets of Louisville Chefs
.I'm not just here to gloat - although I will. Five cocktails in one night is one heck of a way to spend a Monday. I'm also on an ongoing quest to get out the word about things like this before they happen instead of after. Westport Whiskey and Wine offers an "educational" class of some sort every Monday as well as a "hedonistic" class every Thursday, plus a few fun things thrown in between. Tonight, for example, they're hosting a whiskey tasting with Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Brown-Forman
. Next week you can meet Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey. That's three of the biggest names in Bourbon in three weeks. In the 20 months since opening the store has built up an incredibly loyal clientele. I was admiring the vast selection of Tempranillo's (Liquor Barn has three. Westport Whiskey and Wine has an isle) when I struck up a conversation with one of their regulars. It turned out he wasn't in for the cocktail class. He'd just stopped in to pick up this week's custom order. "If you can't find it, Chris or Richard will get it for you," said Mike Liewen. He pulled out his iPhone to show me photos he'd texted them from a recent trip to New York. "When I'm out to eat, I take pictures of labels and email them. Whatever I send, they track it down for me."The last time I'd been in the space it was the Knight of Swords Fencing Studio. They had it entirely redesigned by local architect Dan Preston, including a seminar room for their classes, since education was part of their business plan from the beginning. Tim Laird and his staff laid out an impressive personal spread for every attendee. It looked like a chemistry class gone oh so right. Cocktail shaker, check. Highball and martini glasses, check. Sixteen pre-measured glasses of ingredients laid out in precision order, check. Did I mention we got to keep the shakers, glasses, and even a bar towel? I won't guarantee you'll always leave with such nice barware, but management hinted it wasn't too uncommon. If you haven't seen Tim Laird in person, check out Secrets of Louisville Chefs
. It's no wonder Brown-Forman created a position just for him. His enthusiasm is so infectious we were all cracking up before the liquor started flowing - and flow it did. When I heard there were five cocktails on the menu, I assumed they'd be half or quarter sized. Nope. If you're attending any tasting at Westport Whiskey and Wine make sure you eat a hearty dinner beforehand to help soak up the generous pours. Laird started the night by teaching us how to mix a strong, sweet Oaks Lilly (now rivaling the Mint Julep for sales at Churchill Downs). I made myself stop at less than half. It was a good thing, too, since I couldn't stop drinking the night's custom creation, the Fleur de Lis. I liked it so darn much I've included the recipe at the end. It was sweeter than the Oaks Lilly with a taste that reminded me of real berry jam spread on an English Muffin. I couldn't put it down. Next came the first genuinely drinkable Mint Julep of my life. (The trick is making mint simple syrup at home - which is a lot easier than you probably think.) If I didn't have two more drinks to go, I might've finally boasted I was able to finish a Mint Julep. However, next we got to fill up our shakers to make a Liquid Bourbon Ball Martini with one of the real things available for contrast. Nomtastic. He wrapped things up with an Asian inspired lychee fruit Manhattan. After it was over I snacked on leftover Lychee garnishes while picking out a half dozen bottles of wine. Since they're super generous with the pours, I highly recommend making a night out of one of Westport Whiskey and Wine's classes followed by dinner at one of the half dozen restaurants in Westport Village. Hiko-A-Mon, Boombozz, Napa River Grill, and Comfy Cow are all locally owned, so it's a great way to make a night out while also spending locally. Everyone's tried a Mint Julep. If you're wondering what to serve at your Derby or Oaks party this year I highly recommend my personal favorite cocktail of the night. Fleur de Lis
1.5 oz Finlandia Wild Berries Vodka1.5 oz Chambord1 oz cranberry juice2 oz lemonaidesqueeze of fresh lemonFill your rocks glass halfway up with ice. Add the ingredients in the order listed. Stir gently and enjoy. If you happen to like Mimosas, one of our classmates suggested turning it into a brunch drink by adding Champagne then calling it a "Dawn at the Downs."