While most people associate barbeque (or, barbecue, or BBQ – however you wish to spell it) with the summer months, the fact of the matter is that any time of year, in just about any weather conditions – aside from blizzards or torrential rains – is a good time to enjoy the very American tradition of grilling meats over an open fire and slathering them with whatever sauce(s) you prefer; or, if you’re a purist, you can go without any sauce entirely. In New York in January, you don’t need to worry about the weather when the annual gustatory ritual of the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ event takes place, as it is safely indoors at the former nightclub space called The Tunnel, located at 608 West 28 Street.
The New York version, which took place on January 27thof this year, is the first event in a 13-city tour which makes stops in burgs all over the eastern seaboard; new venues hosting the event later this year include Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and Wilmington, North Carolina. As usual, there were three sessions: the ‘Bacon & Biscuit Tasting Session’ from Noon to 4:00 PM; the ‘Whole Hog Pig Pickin’ Session’ from 5:30 to 9:30 PM; and the ‘Grand Poobah BBQ in ‘Merica Session’ – which encompasses the time frames of the two aforementioned sessions. The latter enables those who purchase tickets to it to ensure they may sample as many of the more than 60 beers and more than 40 bourbons being poured at the event, in addition to enjoying all of the different permutations of pig (and other meats besides) that are proffered throughout the day. Even a very determined gourmand will normally not be able to try everything there is to taste in the morning session alone, and thus the ‘Grand Poobah’ option is a good value if your appetite is considerable enough.
In the promotional materials for the New York event, the Trigger Agency, which operates the franchise, encourages attendees to “support your inner Redneck” in something of a nod to the different demographic that can be observed in Manhattan, as opposed to the other regional areas that Beer Bourbon & BBQ descends upon. However, I have found that the crowd that makes its way to the Tunnel has a noticeably different general look from the sorts of folks I normally see on ‘the Sidewalks of New York’; it’s a grouping that is altogether earthier, less svelte, and more middle American than is customary in Manhattan (particularly in the West Chelsea neighborhood where the Tunnel is located – a district host to numerous art galleries, and offices for interior design, fashion design, marketing and related types of businesses). Indeed, many of the people I spoke to came from outside the borough – New Jersey and Connecticut perhaps more-well represented than the City itself – which lends the event a collegial and boisterous atmosphere often missing at NYC events (even the sorts of culinary ones that can be expected to draw food hedonists).
Special treats this year included a number of classes in the tasting theater, which always fill up. Festival founder Greg Nivens conducted a High End Bourbon Tasting seminar at both 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM focusing on specialty craft spirits that have proven to be favorites of event attendees over the years. At 2:00 PM the Heaven Hill Distillery presented ‘Four Profiles in America’s Liquid Pastime’, which featured Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, Larceny Bourbon and Pikesville Rye. At 3:00 PM and then later at 8:00 PM the team from Sam Adams breweries put on a seminar offering their well-loved quaff; and at 7:00 PM the Coney Island Brewing company (founded in 2007), put on a seminar detailing not only highlights from their 8 on tap house-brewed beers that rotate seasonally, but also limited-release specialty items, such as Super Freak, Imperial Pumpkin, Espresso Ale and Cotton Candy Kolsch.
In addition to the traditional swine delicacies – whole hogs from Handsome Devil and Kloby’s Smokehouse, and special BBQ dishes from vendors including Hill Country, Rib In A Cup, Tri Tip Grill, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que – there were bacon eating contests (for intrepid souls only) taking place at both the early and late sessions. Standout spirit vendors included Buffalo Trace Distillery, Firefly Distillery, Four Roses Distillery, Bogarts Whiskey and Deadwood Bourbon, and among numerous great beer purveyors my favorites included Anchor Brewing Co., Estrella Galicia, Harpoon, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Montauk, Kronenbourg, Heavy Seas Beer and Singha. Other brands on hand included packaged foods, such as Krave Jerky, sauce purveyors, such as Wildcoyte Gourmet Hot Sauce, tobacconists such as Cortez Cigars and Village Cigar Headquarters, and other vendors such as Wyndham Vacation Resorts.
For those who may have missed the Manhattan event – take heart: there will be 12 more Beer, Bourbon & BBQ events taking place elsewhere throughout the year, and it’s an occasion well worth making a trip for. At this point the schedule is set to be: Ft. Lauderdale on February 10; Tampa on February 17; Atlanta on March 3; Wilmington, NC on March 24; Timonium, MD on April 6 & 7; Knoxville, TN on May 5; Charlotte, NC on May 12; Richmond, VA on June 9; National Harbor, MD on June 15 & 16; Cary, NC on July 27 & 28; Virginia Beach on August 11; and Leesburg, VA on September 29.Check the Trigger Agency ‘Beer Bourbon & BBQ’ website for further details.