How to Do a Bourbon Tour Right, featuring Jim Beam and Makers Mark

There is a lot of good old-fashioned Kentucky hospitality anywhere you go on the famed Bourbon Trail, so I’m certain that the good time I had with Ken and Suzi Orwick of Ken Tucky Tours was not unusual. Between Ken, a bourbon salesman for 27 years, and his wife of 50+ years, it’s hard to imagine more knowledgeable guides, or any that have a better time running the show.

Our itinerary was flexible, and we missed a stop because of how long it took to get lunch at Mammy’s in Bardstown, but we got plenty of bourbon education, tastings and souvenirs in four stops — at Jim Beam in Clermont, Four Roses nearby in Cox’s Creek, Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, and Makers Mark in Loretto. We left J-town at 8:30 a.m. and got back before 6.

2016-08-27 16.33.48

Our Makers Mark tour guide, Ken

Now, I do have some bourbon touring experience, so much of the education was not new to me — we all know that bourbon’s Kentucky heritage is owed to the water in the limestone shelf the Commonwealth sits upon, that corn must make up 51 percent of the grain used, that it must be aged in new charred oak containers, and that the process includes aging in a warehouse in which the temperature fluctuates and that aging takes at least a few years.

But I certainly learned a few things. For instance, at Beam, they do NOT rotate the barrels among floors, while at Maker’s they do. If you get a single barrel product, it’s normally a random selection from a certain year, while other bourbons are a mingling of many barrels.

Tasting spread at Makers

Tasting spread at Makers

At tastings, you will be expected to sample the product, and if you’re used to drinking, say, a bourbon and Coke, your taste buds are in for a shock. A lot of people can’t handle a sip of bourbon neat, as is obvious when you look around a room during a tasting. At Maker’s, you get four products, and the first is unaged whiskey, a.k.a. “white dog,” that might be tough for any palate, but that’s where bourbon begins.

At Beam, you get a card for three tastings, and can choose from about 20 different products, ranging from long-aged Knob Creek to the flavored whiskeys like Red Stag, accented with black cherry. We saw the spot where the famed Mila Kunis commercial was filmed, and saw Mila’s barrel, but I was surprised there was no video welcome from the actress/spokesperson.

Of course, every tour ends at a gift shop. At Beam, we had the opportunity to customize our own bottle of Knob Creek. I had them etch “Rusty Satellite” into mine, which also has my thumbprint in the wax seal. At Maker’s, they’ll put red wax on almost anything you buy there. I got a mold for round ice spheres and a magnet.

For the tour (Paula generously bought it as a birthday present for me), we were joined by two couples visiting from North Carolina and Virginia. The eight of us, plus the bus driver, got along nicely on our road trip.

Yes, we could have done a trip like this on our own, but it sure was a lot more fun sharing it with like-minded tourists and knowledgeable and fun guides.

Four Roses 2016 LE Small Batch release is one dandy dram

It’s easy to forget how fortunate we Kentucky-based whiskey writers are. Not only do we get new release samples well ahead of the general press and the public, they’re often poured on site at lavish release parties (as was the case at last week’s Old Forester event) or hand delivered to our offices, as happened yesterday with the Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Small Batch. Life’s good when someone brings you a few ounces of a precious potable, and it’s even better when a bourbon wonk buddy drops by unplanned to taste it with you.

As the name states, this is a Small Batch, meaning the bottled result is a blend of multiple barrels. Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliott chose an undisclosed number of 12-year-old barrels containing the distillery’s OESO recipe, its 12-year-old OBSV recipe and its 16-year-old OESK recipe. The blend was bottled at barrel strength, 111.2 proof.2016-FR-LE-Small-Batch-web

According to a news release, Elliott selected the OESO recipe as the blend’s anchor recipe because his tasting panel was “able to highlight its exceptional fruitiness and balance it out with more age and spice from the two other recipes.”

Four Roses’ tasting notes mention “sweet cherry and crisp green apples, mingled with rich apricot and structured rye aromas. Tart citrus flavors greet the palate, then give way to hints of sweet molasses, peppery spices and decadent crème brulée. The finish is long and gentle, with delicate honey and light mint.”

My friend and I did not read the release before our sipping and nosing, yet we got the following similarities: aromas of stone fruit, cherry, spearmint and toasted wood, and rich flavors of toffee, oak and custard. The texture was lush and creamy on the palate, which gave way to a slightly dry finish. As he finished his pour, my friend muttered, “Balanced, really balanced.”

The Lawrenceburg distillery said 9,258 hand-numbered bottles will be released in the U.S. only, and that fans could look forward to it on retailer’s shelves by mid-September. No price was mentioned in the news release, but given that last year’s Small Batch retailed for $129, it’s likely to cost similarly.

For what it’s worth, I like this release far better than the 2015 Small Batch release, which was hot on my palate, though its proof was lower at 108. My WhiskeyWash.com colleague, however, loved it.

This release, as my friend said, is wonderfully balanced, not to mention rich and fruity. Just excellent all around. While likely expensive, it would be one I’d love to receive for my upcoming 52nd birthday. Just sayin’ in case there’s a generous bourbon benefactor reading this.

Finn’s Southern Kitchen hooks Scales, lands him as new executive chef

The July departure of Finn’s Southern Kitchen executive chef Brian Curry to Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse left a significant vacancy at the young Schnitzelburg restaurant, which opened in May. Yet when owner Steve Clements went casting for a replacement, he landed a real talent in David Scales.

For the past year-and-a-half, Scales has been the executive chef at 701 Fish House in Elizabethtown, leading that kitchen to sturdy first-year sales of $3 million. Prior to that he was the chef de cuisine at Lilly’s for four years. The Maryland native’s resume goes far deeper than that, but we’ll stick with the better parts of current news, chiefly that he’s thrilled to be cooking again in Louisville.

“Oh yeah I am,” Scales said, who somehow could leave his home in the Douglass Loop and make it to Exit 92 off I-65 every day in 35 minutes. He took over Finn’s kitchen Aug. 22. “I spent so much time there that I’d almost forgotten how much I missed cooking in Louisville. And Germantown is such a cool place to be right now, especially since the neighborhood supports the restaurant.”

Scales was candid about the challenges he’s facing in his new post, saying Finn’s kitchen staff needs significant training to meet his and Clements’ standards. He’s in the process of rewriting and standardizing some of the restaurant’s recipes and re-staffing to meet the demands of consistently good crowds.

Seared barracuda with bourbon cheese grits with smoked cream. | Photo by David Scales

Seared barracuda with bourbon cheese grits with smoked cream. | Photo by David Scales

His first meeting over coffee with Clements a few weeks ago lasted two hours as both “rambled on about cooking and restaurants and how to run them. I thought, ‘I think he’s a pretty good guy,” and Clements asked what Scales needed to get him aboard. The next day, Clements accepted the terms and offered him the job.

That sent Scales on a research mission to eat at the restaurant and gauge its performance. He said the service was great, but that the food wasn’t up to par.

“This is a good restaurant with a ton of potential, but we need to do some fixing in the kitchen,” he said. Addressing concerns such as long ticket times, he said, “We really took some massive strides this past week, which was great. We did 300-plus covers on Saturday night and did really pretty well.”

Scales said he likes the current menu, but that nearly every item could be better. The restaurant’s noted fried chicken was first on his list to get consistent, “and it’s bangin’ now! I’m not even a fried chicken fan and I ate four pieces the other night. It’s that good now.”

Scales is bringing his prodigious talent for seafood cooking to the table with nightly fish specials, the first of which was seared barracuda with bourbon cheese grits with smoked tomato cream. He said to expect more of the same, “but nothing like people saw when I was at Lilly’s. No 17 elements on the plate or anything. Just great, well executed seafood.”

* Scales said that just weeks after he left 701 Fish House, the owners closed it abruptly. If you never made it there, I’m sorry you missed it. It was an incredible restaurant that Scales said, “travelers really supported and understood. The people in E-town, not so much. They didn’t really get it.”

Distilling in French Lick with Alan Bishop; Stacie Bale and Kate Lewison on Bank Street’s Menu

It may be the dog days of summer for many restaurateurs, but the news keeps coming for followers of EatDrinkTalk.net. The bad news is there seems to be a crime wave going on, with three local establishments suffering recent burglaries. Steve and Rick speculate on what may be driving that unwanted trend. Plus, the story behind the closing and anticipated relocation of our pal Danny Mac’s pizza joint in Germantown. And we noticed progress on restaurant projects in the Highlands.

We moved our most popular segment, Rick and Steve’s faves of the week, to the middle of the show and marveled at eats and drinks from Old Forester, the New Albanian brewery, Heine Brothers and Chuy’s.

Steve’s interview with Alan Bishop comes to you from French Lick. Bishop knows the science of distilling as well as anyone, and the result will be some great spirits in the near future. Rick has a lively conversation with an energetic twosome, Kate Lewison and Stacie Bale, who are getting plenty of local attention in New Albany after reviving the menu at the Bank Street Brewhouse.

EDT16AlanBishopSpiritsFrenc

Alan Bishop in French Lick

EDT16StacieKate

Stacie Bale and Kate Lewison at the Bank Street Brewhouse

 

Jimmy Russell Charms Jtown’s Gaslight Audience with Tales of McConaughey

I’m not going to say that Jimmy Russell wouldn’t have gotten a standing ovation from the crowd of 500 at the Gaslight Festival Kickoff Luncheon if he hadn’t opened his talk with the Matthew McConaughey video below, but let’s agree that it helped.

Russell1

Russell spoke with admirers after his talk.

Russell, the legendary master distiller at Wild Turkey, charmed the Jtown faithful with folksy stories and humor, mixed with some hard facts about bourbon in Kentucky.

As for McConaughey, the new “creative director” for the brand, Russell responded to a question from a female fan by saying the actor is “just plain simple down to earth as he can be.” And as if he were anticipating the question “When can I meet him at the Distillery?” deadpanned that even Joretta Russell, his wife of 63 years, had yet to meet him.

To reinforce the idea that McConaughey is far from pretentious, he said that on one of his rare visits to the distillery in Lawrenceburg that the actor came alone, flying into Lexington and renting a car to get there. Russell said that McConaughey’s affection for Kentucky is genuine, that his father played football at UK.

Far from a political rant, Russell lamented the fact that most counties in Kentucky remain dry, while their local governments are more than happy to accept the taxes paid by bourbon producers. He said that 60 percent of the consumer cost of bourbon is tax, and that Wild Turkey pays $1.5 million in taxes every 15 days.

Jeffersontown Chamber president John Cosby toasted Russell, proclaiming he was the Michael Jordan, or the Babe Ruth, of bourbon.

The Gaslight Festival lasts from Sept. 11-17, and includes a number of unique events, including a pipe-smoking contest, a parade and a car show. The big event is a street festival the weekend of Sept. 15-17.

New Menu Brings Diners Back to the Brewhouse in New Albany

Two years ago, problems with the kitchen and foodservice operation at New Albany’s Bank Street Brewhouse became so severe that the owners decided to stop serving food. For 10 months, guests enjoyed the New Albanian brews from the tap and, if they wanted to eat, purchased from food trucks parked regularly at the front door.

Then, owners Kate Lewison and Amy Baylor struck a deal with someone they knew well — a classmate from Our Lady of Perpetual Health grade school. Stacie Bale remembers riding the bus there in first grade with Kate and Amy. The business includes New Albanian Brewing Company, the Pizzeria and Public House a few miles away, and the Brewhouse. Lewison said that co-founder Roger Baylor remains a partner but is not involved in day-to-day operations.

Stacie Bale and Kate Lewison

Stacie Bale and Kate Lewison

Bale was on her own foodservice journey, having operated Earth Friends Cafe at multiple locations and with varying degrees of success. When the opportunity came to work with her friends from grade school and create a menu that made sense for Bank Street, Bale jumped at the chance. They opened the kitchen in May 2015.

Now that Bale has had just over a year to experiment with the menu, locals are discovering that the Brewhouse menu deserves a spot on the list of great spots among the growing dining scene in downtown New Albany.

Bale said that because of her reputation at Earth Friends, some patrons assumed the new menu would be all vegan. While there are Vegan options, Bale’s menu choices include burgers and chicken dishes. But all menu items can be made with plant-based ingredients, and the menu suggests that with all dishes, you can “make it Vegan.”

“if you want to eat meat, that’s fine,” Bale said. “Originally we had to battle the Vegan stigma. But there is a huge clientele for Vegan.”

 I sampled the BSB Burger, complete with an egg and slices of avocado, a delicious combination, though admittedly I wasn’t ready for the egg yolk to run across the bun and my hands. But the highlight may have been the Organic Black Bean and Corn Rice Bowl, which was topped with avocado and a tasty homemade Smoky Jalapeño sauce.

Regulars at the Brewhouse love the new menu, Bale said. For some, she said, it’s a surprise to see Bank Street serving food again, even after 15 months.

To hear more from Kate Lewison and Stacie Bale, download the EatDrinkTalk podcast right here at the EatDrinkTalk.net website on Friday.

Castle & Key distillery pushes opening into 2017

Castle & Key Distillery announced in a YouTube video today that it’s pushing the opening of the tourism component at the overhauled Old Taylor Distillery into early 2017.

The delay isn’t much of a surprise to anyone who’s seen the derelict building, which when constructed by Col. E.H. Taylor in 1887, was arguably the grandest Kentucky distillery ever. Since the castle-like structure and elegant grounds located outside Frankfort were abandoned some four decades ago, the startling whole has fallen into disrepair, including much of its massive distilling equipment.

“We want to make the first impression something you guys won’t forget, so we’re working diligently to make that happen,” Caroline Blackwood, C&K’s director of guest experience and retail, said in the video. “(W)e want to push back our timeline to until early 2017, which will really be worth the wait.”

In the video, Blackwood shows some difficult-to-see drawings of the visitors center, while describing some high-end appointments done by Maynard Studios in Lawrenceburg. Included in the new design will be two of the original boiler relics.

Lexington businessmen Will Arvin and Wesley Murry made headlines in 2015 when they announced their purchase of the building and its 113-acre grounds. Marianne Barnes, then master taster at Brown-Forman, was chosen as its master distiller. The move was an especially bold one for Barnes, who was the unnamed but certain heir apparent to the master distiller’s post held by Chris Morris.

In another video released today, Barnes gave an update of gin the distillery will produce from its white corn bourbon mashbill. She said the gin will be a traditional London Dry style, which is very juniper forward and infused with ginger root, coriander and angelica root. All will be 100 proof and be bottled in seasonal releases. She said to expect barrel-aged gins down the road.

“We’re making the bourbon drinker’s gin,” Barnes said of the barrel aged options. “It could potentially have some of that grainy character, though subtle, and balanced with herbs and botanicals that give you some familiar flavors.”

2016 Old Forester releases are so fine they get their own story

There’s been a lot of local bourbon activity in the past 10 days, and I planned on touching on the high points of those stories in a roundup fashion. But Old Forester’s pair of 2016 releases, set to appear on retailers’ shelves next month, earned a spotlight of their own. They’re just that good.

Last Thursday, atop the roof of the Frazier History Museum, a group of whiskey writers was treated to the first public sips of Old Fo’s 2016 Birthday release and 1920 Prohibition Style. Both were flat-out fantastic.

“Prohibition,” as it was referred to, is a 115-proof expression created to reflect what you might have gotten during those 13 grim years when whiskey couldn’t be sold legally for the sole reason of enjoying it. “Medicinal whiskey,” was prescribed and bottled at 100 proof, but as the legend goes, if you had a friend at Old Forester (or any distillery operating as a medicinal booze dispensary) who could sneak you a bottle thieved directly from the barrel, it would have been about 115 proof.Old-Forester-1920-Prohibiti

This bourbon not only drinks remarkably with remarkable softness at that proof (I’ve had plenty in the 90s that were harsh, so don’t let the number concern you), at only 4.5 years old, it rolls in with good body and complexity. Expect ample dark stone fruit and oak on the nose, and layers of caramel, spice and toasted marshmallow on the palate. At $59 per bottle, this is on the “special occasion purchase” end of my budget, but it will make it into the budget.

Prohibition is third expression in Old Forester’s Whiskey Row bourbon collection. The first, 1870, was a 90-proof whiskey that, for $49 a bottle, left me thinking, “I’d rather have Old Forester Signature 100-proof for half that.” The second, a 100-proof Bottled-In-Bond was markedly better, really good in fact, but at $55 (give or take a few bucks), it was still a little pricey. But this one is my favorite of the trio by a good margin.

Birthday 2016 release: There’s good news and bad news on this 16th edition of Old Forester Birthday. Bad first: The suggested retail price for this whiskey is $79, which is absolutely fair price for its exceptional quality. But since secondary market prices for the 2015 and 2014 expressions average $170 (according to BottleBlueBook.com), you can expect retailers to nudge this at least into the $90 range and fetch that price all day long.

But there are three pieces of good news: The 2016 release came from 93 barrels, making this the largest-ever release of Birthday at 2,400 six-bottle cases (14,400 bottles), so your chances of getting a bottle next month are vastly improved over past years.

Good news part two is this is a remarkable bourbon born of barrels rested on the fifth floor of Warehouse K at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville. Many were positioned near windows, which is believed to give those “sun-kissed” casks a bit more complexity.Old-Fo-Birthday-2016-web

The best news is the flavor is outstanding, leading some in our group to dub it their favorite Birthday yet. The nose brings butterscotch by the bucket before accents of citrus, oak and dried cherries wriggle in. At only 97 proof, it brings spice without heat and intensity without punishing the palate. It’s the kind of bourbon you roll around in your mouth for a long spell before swallowing.

Old Forester master bourbon specialist Jackie Zykan said she and master distiller chose the proof after “the flavor just fell off” when watered down to 94 proof. When tasted above 97, spice was too pronounced.

Zykan described the finish as “like eating black jelly beans in the middle of an orange grove.” I didn’t get that licorice-anise note, but I got plenty of orange, which is so Fo’.

(Zykan, it’s worth noting, is excellent in her newish role. If anyone is still wondering if she got the hire for her camera-ready looks, they’ve not seen the longtime bartender at work for B-F. She’s articulate, poised, confident and knowledgeable in the job. It’s only great to see young talent perform so well in a serious and occasionally stodgy, male-dominated industry.)

Keep watch for these whiskeys on the market in early to mid-September. And if you have connections at a liquor store who will tuck some birthday away for you, reach out to them now.

David Dafoe’s Flavorful Life, Making (Seven) Sense with Chris Nelson and Shawn Steele

Our 15th podcast features some great tales from the culinary trail, plus the kind of news you only hear talked about here at EatDrinkTalk. Steve and Rick start the show by talking about a decision made by one of last week’s guests, Kevin Grangier, to hire the local paper’s restaurant critic, and then progress to a serious lawsuit filed by Panera against Papa John’s. Next is a discussion of the failed West Louisville Food Port project. On a brighter note, the State Fair is open, and the guys contemplate which fried treat to order at the Fairgrounds.

The weekly favorites segment includes visits to La Rosita and the Bank Street Brewhouse, plus we reminisce about the fantastic drinks at last week’s Bourbon Mixer. Up ahead, Steve has his sights set on the Chuy’s Chile Fest, while Rick is looking forward to the Seven Sense Festival next weekend on Preston.

Steve welcomes in David Dafoe, the man behind some great local brands at Flavorman and Moonshine U. Rick visits with two of the Seven Sense Festival organizers, Chris Nelson and Shawn Steele, at the New Vintage. For more interesting stories from the local food and drink scene, be sure to check out EatDrinkTalk.net every day.

EDT15Dave-Dafoe-web

David Dafoe

EDT15ChrisShawn1

Chris Nelson and Shawn Steele

New Albany update: Eric Morris says Concrete Jungle menu, opening date firming up

If you’re a Louisville restaurant fan and haven’t made the journey to New Albany to taste that town’s ongoing restaurant boom, you’re cheating only yourself. The time to get there is yesterday, though many tomorrows will be available if the pace of business at these restaurants and breweries stays as is.

But you really have no excuses, folks. The Sherman-Minton Bridge doesn’t require a toll to cross, the mighty Ohio is not the River Styx and Hoosiers are just as ordinary as Kentuckians—well, save for their love of Cream and Crimson apparel.

But if you’re a normal lazy Louisville driver (I’m one of them, too, and a 15-minute trek anywhere seems arduous), you’ll probably stay put until something new and shiny thing opens. And if that’s the case, you’ll have that opportunity later this fall in Concrete Jungle, a new concept at 324 E. Main St. created by Eric Morris, owner of Gospel Bird.

Eric Morris, owner of Gospel Bird and Concrete Jungle. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Eric Morris, owner of Gospel Bird and Concrete Jungle. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Maybe that’ll get you there to see other Main St. places like Feast BBQ (yeah, it started there, not here), The Exchange, Floyd County Brewing Co., or even—gasp!—walk one block over to Market and Bank Streets where you’ll find Toast On Market, Brooklyn & the Butcher, Bank Street Brewhouse and Dragon King’s Daughter (which did start in Louisville).

“People are funny about that still,” said Morris, a Germantown resident and veteran of multiple Louisville restaurants. “I make the drive almost every day, and it takes no time.”

Partly because he’s going against traffic and partly because it really doesn’t take much time. So remember that when the wraps come off his new concept and you find yourself hankerin’ for a crazy mixture of global street food served casually. Morris says he’s rewritten the menu multiple times to create a balance between Mexican, Asian, African and other cuisines’ flavors to create something the area’s never tasted.

“We’ve written, literally, 14 menus … to hone in on what we see as interpretation of those foods,” Morris said. Chefs Scott Hoppel and Mike Richardson will join him in the kitchen, while chef Jessie Rippy will continue overseeing the kitchen at Gospel Bird. “I don’t want to call it fusion because it’s not that, really.”

Excitedly, he explained dishes like mussels, served with Peking duck and shishito peppers in the broth, as “a Chinese interpretation of mussels, with duck,” but not a fusion of those flavors. He talked of “crispy general Tso chicken tacos, crispy sesame seeds and rice,” with similar enthusiasm. Nachos won’t be the corn chip and ground beef creation we all know, he added, they’ll be layers of crisp, fried wontons with smoked Korean-style short ribs and Gochujang sauce and kimchee aioli. And if you like poutine, you’ll probably like his pad Thai fries “that will have everything in pad Thai minus the noodles.”

Steve Resch, the real estate mogul who’s revitalized many New Albany buildings that became the town’s best restaurants (including Gospel Bird), is the owner of the structure that’ll become Concrete Jungle. The large and spacious all-concrete space (hence the name) last served as an art gallery. How it will morph into a restaurant is still being decided, but Morris is excited to “get to work with a blank slate. … Steve’s excellent to work with, so I know it’s going to be great.”

Next up is obtaining permitting and adult beverage licensing, formalities Morris expects to be checked off soon. Once that paperwork is completed, construction begins.

“Sometimes these things take forever, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen on this one,” he said.

Interestingly, Morris said he’s considering using a “flex-casual” service model, meaning customers would order food at a counter and have it brought to their tables—which is technically fast casual. What he’ll add to the mix is additional staffers who will roam the dining room with wireless tablets to take additional orders for drinks or more food.

“I don’t want people to have to get back in line to order something,” he said. “I go to places where I think, ‘I’d like another beer, but I don’t want to get back in line to get it.’ That’s a missed sales opportunity.”

Flex casual could also help Concrete Jungle sidestep the current restaurant server shortage. Morris said the ongoing spate of openings has not only drained the market of experienced, dedicated and loyal servers, many in that role only stay a few months before jumping to the next restaurant opening.

“When they can make a bunch of cash that quickly, there’s not a lot of loyalty,” he said. “So maybe flex-casual will be one way to deal with that.”