Rare Bourbon Tasting Kicks Off 2016 Savor

Taste Pappy Van Winkle, the unicorn of all bourbons, at this upcoming event.

Good luck finding Pappy Van Winkle just about anywhere these days. The cult-classic, rare bourbon has reached unicorn status in the past several years due to a demand so outrageous that some eBay sellers are listing bottles of it — empty — for north of $200.

Pappy was even the target of a massive heist from a Kentucky warehouse in 2013, during which several dozen cases of the coveted spirit disappeared.

But Hartford whiskey lovers will get a chance to sample that renowned liquor on April 7 at "Savor the Legends," a special tasting event that serves as a kickoff to the second year of Savor, a celebration of food, wine and spirits presented by Foxwoods at the Connecticut Convention Center.

The opportunity comes courtesy of b Restaurants (known locally as Plan B), which donated its collection of the whiskey to the charitable fundraiser. A portion of proceeds from the Savor events will go to the Robert Irvine Foundation, which supports active and retired military personnel and veterans.

"We participated in Savor last year and had a really good time with it; we connected well with [Irvine] and his foundation," says Lena DiGenti, chief strategy officer for Locals 8, b Restaurants' parent company.

The small Connecticut-based chain of nine beer, burger and bourbon bars gets a limited allotment of Pappy Van Winkle on a yearly basis. (The brand's shift away from Plan B happened once the group began to grow outside of New England — with locations in Ashburn, Va. and Washington D.C. — where the name wasn't as recognizable, she says, and the new name focuses on the three "Bs" it does well.)

When Savor asked them to return for 2016, they decided to contribute their supply of the elusive bourbon to the cause.

"We thought it would really attract some good attention," DiGenti says. "It's such a rare and exciting thing that isn't usually accessible."

Partygoers at the Thursday-night event will be treated to tastings of five limited Pappy batches, aged for 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 years. The $125 ticket also includes bourbon cocktails and a Kentucky-inspired food menu with bites like hot brown sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, barbecued pork and pecan pies.

Irvine, the charismatic English chef and TV personality known for his Food Network programs "Dinner: Impossible" and "Restaurant: Impossible," will mingle with guests.

"Pappy and Robert Irvine are both pretty legendary," DiGenti says. "We just thought, 'What a great way to raise money for a great cause.'"

Friday night brings the first of the weekend's two Grand Tastings at 7 p.m., a display of high-end cuisine, wine, craft beer and cocktails with the spotlight on local and regional restaurants, caterers and vendors. Irvine will present a cooking demonstration, as well as Foxwoods' executive pastry chef Franck Iglesias, the face of the resort casino's new Cake By Franck boutique bakery and sweets shop.

Connecticut representatives include Barcelona, Bear's Smokehouse, Bella Bella Gourmet Foods, Carbone's Kitchen, City Steam Brewery, Community Table, David Alan Hospitality Group, David Burke Prime, Dish Bar and Grill, Elm, First and Last Tavern, Grass Roots Ice Cream, Hardcore Sweet, Infinity Music Hall and Bistro, M&M Bistro, Millwrights, Nixs, ON20, Rooster Company, Seasonal Sweets and Catering, South End and South End Uncorked, Thali and Vivo Trattoria. Massachusetts-based chefs from 30Boltwood in Amherst and PB Boulangerie Bistro in South Wellfleet are also scheduled to exhibit.

Saturday's Grand Tasting begins at noon with more culinary demonstrations from Irvine and other top names like Mary Ann Esposito of PBS' 'Ciao Italia' and Elizabeth Falkner, an award-winning chef, restaurateur and cookbook author who has competed on "Iron Chef," "Food Network Challenge" and "Top Chef Masters." There will also be cookbook signings and photo opportunities.

The weekend closes with the return of the Savor in Style Charity Gala, a unique walk-around tasting featuring a wine or beverage pairing with each lavish dish. A Korbel sparkling-wine reception opens the gala at 7:30 p.m., followed by dining and dessert until 11 p.m.

The gala features a full slate of locally renowned chefs like Tyler Anderson of Millwright's, Jeffrey Lizotte of ON20, Prasad Chirnomula of Thali and Oaxaca Kitchen, Marcell Davidsen of Community Table and Luke Venner of Elm. Other nationally recognized attendees include Beau MacMillan of Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America" and Zac Young, executive pastry chef for the David Burke Group, who competed on "Top Chef: Just Desserts" and has appeared on the Cooking Channel's "Unique Sweets."

Tickets, including all food and beverages, are $125 for the "Savor the Legends" event on April 7, which starts at 7 p.m. Grand Tasting sessions on April 8 and 9 are $110 in advance; $125 at the door. Tickets for the "Savor in Style" gala are $160; $175 at the door. Multi-event packages are $200 to $240. Information: savorct.com.

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