Published on April 2nd, 2018 | by Brittain Thompson0
Chef John Currence and Move On Up Mississippi Present Oxford Bourbon Festival & Auction
Chef John Currence has built a fleet of restaurants in Oxford that garner attention on a national scale for showcasing regional cuisine. Now he is bringing the world of bourbon to Oxford with the Oxford Bourbon Festival & Auction May 18–20. The festival and auction will act as a fundraiser for Move On Up Mississippi, Currence’s charity foundation that works to improve the quality of life for Mississippians with a focus on helping children.
“I wanted to create an event that was another opportunity to put Oxford on the map and draw people here when there wasn’t a lot going on,” said Currence.
A fan of bourbon culture, Currence had the idea to put his connections to use.
“It struck me—As somebody who drinks bourbon, is connected to a lot of people who make bourbon, and recognizes the insane current fascination with bourbon—that nobody had done a rare bourbon bottle auction here.”The planning for the festival began in earnest in October.
“I wanted to make sure everything, every detail, was just right. Because of that it took us about six weeks longer to get everything done,” said Currence. “It didn’t help matters that I’ve been in the process of opening two more Big Bad Breakfasts out of town . . . but our team that’s led by Meg [Scott Anderson] has really done an incredible job of making decisions about what needs to be done.”
Much of the bottles up for auction were donated from Currence’s friends and connections he’s gathered through years in the restaurant industry.
“Their collections are as much about helping people through philanthropic efforts as it is about sitting down to have a drink,” said Currence. “My business partner in Birmingham, Nick Pihakis, has a collection of about 400 bottles in his office. He’ll pick a bottle off the wall and tell you history on it then pour all night long, he’s not a hoarder.”
Sean Brock, executive chef and owner of Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, has contributed to the auction as well.
“He and Bill Murray did a barrel of Willett bourbon,” said Currence. “Through Sean, Bill has become a huge bourbon lover so they did this bottle together.”
Also available at the auction will be a trip for either an individual or group to be Maker’s Mark’s master distiller for the day and take home your own bottle. The Van Winkles, who Currence cites as some of his oldest friends in the beverage industry, contributed the last bottle of the Stitzel-Weller Van Winkle Rye recipe bottled in 2007.
“That [bottle of bourbon] just doesn’t exist,” said Currence.
In addition to the bourbon and food, Currence wanted to incorporate live music into the weekend. The War & Treaty—whose sound blends roots, bluegrass, gospel, and soul—will perform at The Lyric Theater Friday, May 18.
“We had a such a successful time with St. Paul and the Broken Bones a couple years ago,” said Currence. “We started searching for a talent again to do a music component and found a band that is arguably even less known that St. Paul was at the time.”
Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is involved as a partner and will kick the festival off with their Thursday show.
“We’ll do a Thacker radio show at Graduate Thursday before the festival, War & Treaty will come on and perform at the show, and one of our chefs who has a cookbook out is going to come in early and do a book signing,” said Currence. “With [Thacker Mountain Radio’s] history as a program that has championed unknown talent and given them a stage to play, we hope the festival becomes a place to find undiscovered gems.”
The weekend also features seven meals, each prepared by a chef nominated for a James Beard award. The dinners will seat 30–40 people and will be paired with select bourbons.