This is a hard one for me to write because I feel like it’s going to be my first really critical piece, but then again I’m an ex-New Yorker are we really ever anything but critical?
Bacon and Bourbon—sigh…how I loved you last year and told all that I met how it was my favorite event in town, but sadly the mighty have fallen.
This year fell flat and I think a lot of it had to do with location. I know everyone is in awe of the glorious Galliard Center, I too, think it’s beautiful, but it’s better reserved for specific events. In this case, the environment didn’t lend itself to the bourbon tasting, bull riding, laser skeet shooting, bluegrass listening type event that Bacon and Bourbon is. In fact, it almost felt like Bacon and Bourbon this year was suffering from an identity crisis or maybe doing its best impersonation of the villain Two-Face from the Batman franchise.
Inside was this odd ballroom set up with weird lighting (you know the kind that makes everyone look haggard), random blasts of confetti and too much pork belly, while outside there was a fun country fire pit, bull riding, a band playing hoedown style flare—confusing! Last year the group held the event at Meminger and while the auditorium didn’t allow for the fantastic outdoor portion of this year’s event, it still seemed more suited to the overall aesthetic the group organizers were going for.
Let me back up, for those of you who haven’t attended or don’t know what it is, Bacon and Bourbon is an annual event in Charleston (well, it’s actually a national event that’s held in all major cities, NYC included). It basically is a time for those of us who enjoy pure gluttony to gather together and justify our need to overeat pork products and down large quantities of brown booze. It just tastes so good when it touches your lips!!!
Charleston’s version has historically been one of the best in town, tickets going on sale in November and largely selling out by December. In fact, I bought my general admission tickets in early December and VIP tickets were already sold out. The VIP tickets allow you to enter the event an hour and a half before the gates open to the commoners. Usually, I don’t think VIP tickets are worth it, but for this event and one other (Boone Hall’s oyster roast) I do think they are worth the extra price.
The reason is that these two events sell so many tickets it’s virtually impossible to move in the environments and the lines basically keep you from doing the very thing you’re supposed to be doing—sampling different products.
This was my biggest issue with this year’s Bacon and Bourbon event. Forget the weird lighting and two very different environments - the space was not conducive to the number of people they let in. The lines that formed at each Bourbon booth and food stand were so long and hard to determine where they began and ended that we spent a large part of the time just standing in, or assuming we were standing in a line to taste something.
Another complaint I had from last year and it seemed similar this year is everyone’s fascination with pork belly. I mean I get that piggy is delicious, but there are other ways to serve pork.
I love bacon, but I’m a textural foodie, so there are certain things I can’t eat and pork belly with its gelatinous fattiness is one that doesn’t agree with my palette. So this left me with few options.
Thankfully for me, Daniel Doyle and his team at Poogan’s Smokehouse came through again, with some delicious pork hash over rice with some hot salsa, by far my favorite dish! Chef Daniel gets me! I stand by the fact that he has one of the best fried-chicken sandwiches I’ve ever tasted and I’ve sampled a lot of fried chicken. Also, shout out to Virginia’s on King for bringing their amazing biscuits, those things are unreal!
So, there were some shining lights at the event for me, but overall even though I wanted to love the event again this year, I really found myself more frustrated and confused, so were the people with me. We waited in long lines for tastes of bourbon and bits for food and spent much of the rest of the time navigating the crowd just to find a place to balance our food items and drinks, so we could really enjoy them.
I will say, I was again impressed by the staffers at the event. They all knew their stuff and one of the elements I enjoyed most of the night was hearing about the different histories from the bourbon distilleries and sharing in the passion emanating from the staffers, I especially want to call out the young lady who was manning the Woodford Reserve booth—Brittany! She knew her stuff and took the time to ask me questions about my preferences, ultimately serving up the best bourbon for my palette and that had me coming back for more, despite the line.
Not sure I will buy a ticket for next year, but if I did it would be VIP, so I could get in early and enjoy, then get out before the crowd gets too unmanageable.