The newly-remodeled, yet-to-open bar at Coppercraft Distillery was covered in empty glasses – the clear, whiskey glass type – just aching to be filled with locally-distilled goodness.
We had already tried the Tulip Julep, a delightful mix of Coppercraft Applejack, vanilla simple syrup, blackberry shrub and mint leaves.
But now it was time for the extra-manly stuff, the beverages that were likely to make our throat burn a little: the bourbon tastings.
I was decked out in a sweet plaid suit coat from Tommy Hilfiger, thanks to the lovely people at Younkers of Holland, who sponsored me. And bright blue pants, of course. My man, Brad Preston, was rockin’ a white linen suit and a top hat, an awesome one, a hat that had traveled to the hallowed Kentucky Derby grounds – and had lived to tell about it.
It was go time.
Paul Marantette, general manager of Coppercraft, began to pour the beautiful amber-colored beverages and you knew, immediately, this was an exclusive and different and educational and fun and kind-of-hipster experience.
Soon a whirlwind of flavors hit my taste buds as I tipped back the glasses. First, the Straight Bourbon Whiskey, barrel aged for over two years, it offers hints of vanilla and caramel that finishes with a spicy citrus snap. Then the award-winning Rye Malt Whiskey, highlighting dried cocoa, rye, and peppercorn spice. It has noticeable sweetness, making it easily my favorite, and the favorite of many others.
“Rye is immensely popular,” Marantette said as he played the role of part-bartender, part-company historian and part-spirits evangelist. “We wish we could go back three years and make more of it.”
And finally, the High Wheat Whiskey, a mix of caramel, vanilla bean, fresh baked grains and baking spice, with a surprising finish, at least for us.
“This is almost citrusy,” Preston said, holding his glass in the air, almost questioning whether that’s what he actually tasted. He did taste it. And Marantette confirmed it. “That’s cool.”
After one cocktail and three bourbon samples, the tasting was over.
But our appetite for Coppercraft was only warming up.
Your turn to taste
Thankfully, for us and for men across West Michigan, another opportunity to taste incredible bourbon, one open to the public, not just bloggers with sponsored outfits, is just around the corner.
Bourbon tasting is a featured activity at the first-ever Tulips & Juleps, a tulip-themed Derby party from 4 – 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at Boatwerks, 216 Van Raalte Ave. in Holland.
Created by Tulip Time and Holland Young Professionals (HYP), Tulips & Juleps is a fundraiser for both organizations – proceeds will go to future Tulip Time programming and to The HYP Fund, an endowment fund that supports leadership development throughout Holland. Tickets are $40 a person.
This is the second year Tulip Time has opened up its charity partner program to any local nonprofit, said Hannah Rogers, Tulip Time business development and group manager. Four local nonprofit organizations submitted exciting event proposals and fundraising ideas, but only one could be chosen based on Tulip Time’s staff capacity.
Organizers said the creativity surrounding Tulip & Juleps and its appeal to the under-40 crowd, were strong considerations. The Kentucky Derby dates naturally align with the opening weekend of the Tulip Time Festival, so it was a great opportunity to partner with another local nonprofit.
“We are thrilled to be offering a new event that appeals to not only the demographic attending Tulip Time, but also to the 40 and under local audience,” Rogers said. “Much of our other programming is focused on the group travel market and families, so offering something for this age group is exciting.”
For Coppercraft, teaming up with Tulip Time for Tuleps & Juleps was a no-brainer.
“Just being able to reach a new audience is incredibly helpful to us,” Marantette said.
Beyond the manly tastings from Coppercraft, which will be paired with appetizers, there will be the Derby on the big screen, a silent auction with substantial prizes, yard games, a photo booth, and, of course, plenty of dressing up.
Building a confident Derby look
Now fellas, I know being “fashionable” may be out of your comfort zone, but it doesn’t have to be. You can attend this event AND look good.
Cue the experts.
Stacy Mulder, owner of Slate, a men’s clothing store in downtown Grand Rapids and online, helps guys improve their look every day. She encourages men to update their wardrobe with little tweaks, not massive overhauls, that are reflective of upcoming trends.
“For example, if you’re typically comfortable wearing a checkered button down, we recommend a new, fun print in a short sleeve style for a breath of fresh air to your spring and summer looks, or in this case, your Derby look,” Mulder said. “Trying these simple wardrobe refreshers will elevate your look without forcing you to step too far outside of your comfort zone or break the bank with a whole new look.”
The Kentucky Derby says its race offers the perfect excuse for “men to get just as dressed up and decked out as the ladies.”
“The modern Derby man possesses an unparalleled color palette,” it writes in the Throwing a Derby Party page. “Sun-drenched, tropical colors in bold stripes or busy plaid and bright pastels steal the limelight. Although, if you want a more polished look, a classic navy or pinstripe blazer is always in style.”
In other words, I nailed it. Thank you mannequins at Younkers of Holland for triggering the look in the first place.
But don’t feel pressured to wear a plaid suit coat because I did. Find something that fits well and then rock it. Don’t waver. Don’t second guess yourself.
“Remember, gentlemen: The secret to looking great is confidence,” the Kentucky Derby writes. “Whatever you wear, wear it proud!”