Should be funny: Rob Lowe will be next KFC celeb Col. Sanders

We don’t do too much chain restaurant discussion on Eat Drink Talk, but I’m a sucker for this ongoing celebrity Col. Sanders campaign run by KFC. Few restaurant commercials have been quite as entertaining, and now they’re threatening to be sexy.

Well, at least for the ladies. The Louisville-based fried chicken chain announced today that Hollywood lust object Rob Lowe will be the next celebrity Col. Sanders.

As the photo above shows, even with the Colonel’s legendary goatee, Lowe’s chiseled chin is still recognizable, and his serious expression is doubly funny given his Sandersesque astronaut suit.

If Lowe is half as funny in the commercials as he could be on the sitcom, “Parks & Recreation,” I look forward to this commercial.

Will I buy the Zinger sandwich he’ll be promoting? My wife believes he’s the most handsome man on the planet, so if I have any brains between my ears, it’s a sure bet I will.

Keep reading to see what KFC has to say about the Zinger spicy chicken sandwich he’ll be pimping.

Excerpts from today’s news release:

KFC has enlisted actor, writer and producer Rob Lowe as the newest celebrity Colonel to play the brand’s iconic founder, Colonel Harland Sanders and to launch the KFC Zinger sandwich in the U.S. (and space).

Beginning April 23, Lowe will be featured in a campaign centered on launching the delicious Zinger chicken sandwich into space this summer (details of which will be revealed later this spring).

“My grandfather was the head of the Ohio chapter of the National Restaurant Association in the 1960s and took me to meet Colonel Harland Sanders when I was a kid. It was a big deal. I thought this would be a nice homage to both Colonel Sanders and to my grandfather,” said Lowe. “Plus, we’re sending the Zinger chicken sandwich to space. You kind of can’t beat that.”

(Th)e Zinger is made The Hard Way with a 100 percent white meat breast filet, hand-breaded and fried to a golden brown by trained cooks in every KFC kitchen, and served with lettuce and Colonel’s mayonnaise on a toasted sesame seed bun.

Said Kevin Hochman, KFC U.S. president and chief concept officer … “the Zinger is the bestselling KFC chicken sandwich in 120 countries and it’s now available in America.” (Another news source reported that 22 million Zingers are sold annually in Australia. That’s one for every Aussie every year.)

(T)he Zinger travels to the U.S. on April 24, available at participating restaurants as an individual sandwich ($3.99) or as a $5 Fill Up meal.

The success of Goss Ave. Pub proves significant concept change is good

You might disagree, but I say the most impressive thing that’s happened in Louisville restaurants this year was the gutsy and rapid shutdown, strip down and remake of Germantown Craft House into Goss Avenue Pub.

Craft House opened last August, but found itself way off the rails by the late fall. But instead making short-term tweaks and denying reality, its partners saw they were cannibalizing sales at its sister concept, Crescent Hill Craft House, and admitted they’d misaligned the concept to the blue collar cum hipster vibe of the Germantown-Schnitzelburg ‘hood.

They retrofitted it to its surroundings by hiring a consultant chef to create a completely new menu, reducing its craft beer lineup by pouring in some predictable and lower-cost domestics, adding tabletop games and trivia nights—all without changing the look of what is one of the more attractive new restaurants in the city.

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

And it’s working. Many love it and they’re returning frequently.

Sadly, the will to admit a concept has run its course, close the doors, retool and reopen as something else is lacking in the hearts of many restaurateurs. Just like every human, every business has a lifespan, and those businesses that outlast their founders are, for the most part, unusual.

In the same way humans utilize living wills, some restaurant concepts could also. Were such a thing created—and I can see the lawyers trying to figure this out as they read along—one line might read, “If for a pre-determined, extended period of time, customer counts decline 40 percent below comparisons for this restaurant’s best years, it’s time to end financial life support.”

I’ve seen this lifecycle begun and completed many times. A concept is launched, it’s a hit, sales pour in, guests are wooed and become fans for a generation. And yet despite those concepts sticking to exactly the formulae that worked so well for so long, customer traffic starts a steady decline somewhere around year 20. Sure, old diehard loyalists return because it’s their favorite place, or a place where they courted future spouses and celebrated anniversaries—or they were just complacent in their dining out routines.

But new guests don’t come because they see those aged concepts as unexciting, uninspiring and not connected to their modern lifestyles. Or, worse, they see it as the place where their parents courted and celebrated their anniversaries.

For a veteran operator, letting go of a concept must be unbelievably hard. I hear restaurateurs refer to their businesses as “my babies” all the time. Given that they created, nurtured and led those concepts to maturity and self-sufficiency, one can see exactly why they consider it as their own child.

But even the best-reared child must leave the nest—whether by natural desire for freedom or force of his parents—to create his own life. Parenting ends and a new life begins for Mom, Dad and the kiddo. All of that can be heartbreaking, but it’s healthy. Just like it can be in restaurant concepts.

Here’s a fact that never fails to amaze me: When chain restaurants do expensive makeovers to their exteriors and interiors, sales jump an average of 10 to 15 percent—even though there’s nothing new on offer to eat or drink. Just the mere appearance of change is stimulus enough to get customers through the door!

Some might claim that only proves P.T. Barnum’s saying, that “a sucker is born every minute.” But it proves beyond doubt that changes boost sales.

Want to see that reality in action? Just visit Goss Avenue Pub. Not just on weekends, when most places are busy already, but on any evening of the week. You’ll be impressed.

Fork & Barrel brings elevated Southern food, sophisticated cocktails to Clifton

I thoroughly enjoyed Basa Modern Vietnamese, and

Not your Basa anymore. New eye-catching colors coat the wood-sided exterior of Fork & Barrel.

Not your Basa anymore. New eye-catching colors coat the wood-sided exterior of Fork & Barrel.

though I never visited it frequently enough, when I learned it was ending its 10-year run at 2244 Frankfort Ave., I and many others were saddened.

But all good things must come to an end sometime, right? And nothing makes that so abundantly clear as a dramatic makeover like the one given that space for the opening of Fork & Barrel last week. No former fan of Basa will look at the quaint, wood-sided Clifton building and recall its former tenant. The battleship gray exterior now bears a scheme of muted orange, tan and black, colors carried over to the mix of rustic and modern tones and textures inside. You’ll find yourself asking, “This was Basa? Really?” and then struggling to find elements connected to that concept.

“We wanted it to have its own look in every way possible,” said Geoffrey Heyde, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Emily. “That took more work than we expected, I’ll have to say, but I think it’s worth it.”

Emily's Garden, a delish gin cocktail to start.

Emily’s Garden, a delish gin cocktail to start.

In conversations I’ve had with Heyde over the past two months since the opening was announced, he’s described his cuisine as elevated Southern and classic American. The dinner-only menu reflects a blend of both notions with multiple beef, lamb, chicken, pork and regional fish dishes, though it veers toward the East Coast with mussels, crab cakes—before taking far eastward to the Mediterranean, with charred octopus. With the backing of Nick Sullivan, longtime chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia and, most recently, chef de cuisine at The Oakroom, such off-theme excursions are both welcome and expected.

That carries over to the bar menu as well, where just two of seven house cocktails listed use bourbon as their base spirits. Head mixologist Karla Jean clearly likes clear spirits, leaning on gin, tequila and vodka to create several clever offerings including my choice, Emily’s Garden (gin, ginger syrup, lemon juice and rose water). (Worry not, brown spirits fans, there’s lots of that to draw from.)

Charcuterie board with foie gras bonus.

Charcuterie board with foie gras bonus.

Food prices range from $8 (parsnip soup) to $39 for Border Springs lamb chops, but the majority of the plates are priced at the middle of that spread. A couple could easily get out for $50 or ratchet up the spend to triple that with a bottle of wine, so the experience is easily tailored to your mood and appetite.

Invited by Heyde for a soft opening (meaning food guests’ food is free, but tax, drinks and gratuity are on them), a friend and I shared a pair of appetizers including the super lump crab cakes ($12 with sauce gribiche, avocado mousse, red vein sorrel and chili oil), and charred octopus ($16, white beans, country ham, rutabaga, flash-fried greens and haricot verts). Both were great, but I was taken with—as I always am—the eight-legged creature. Such a treat to find tender versions like this one. The assorted charcuterie ($14) was delicious as well, especially the bonus foie gras.

The cornbread and buttermilk salad ($9) could double as a savory dessert should Heyde want to scoot it around the menu. The buttermilk was actually a strip of delicate buttermilk panna cotta served atop sweet corn puree and blistered corn kernels along with tufts of mache, strawberry slices and crumbled cornbread.

Our entrees were straightforward Southern: mine a pair of cornmeal-encrusted Lake Barkley carp ($24) fried and served atop a Rappahannock clam chowder and roasted vegetables; my friend’s, roasted veal loin ($26) with celery root, mashed potatoes and veal jus. Hearty and substantial, but well prepared. Great cooking technique is always appreciated, but occasionally lacking sometimes in kitchens.

Barkley Lake carp over Rappahannock chowder.

Barkley Lake carp over Rappahannock chowder.

Not only were we too stuffed to even look at the dessert menu, we both had separate engagements afterward, so we bid our solid server adieu and headed out.

Long story short: There’s nothing in Clifton like Fork & Barrel. It’s its own breed in a neighborhood collection of upscale Italian, relaxed American, rustic Irish, dive bar chow and full-on trendy spots. Maybe the closest comparison I could make is it’s a bit similar to Harvest, where ingredient selection and classic technique are hallmarks. It’ll be fun to see what personality Fork & Barrel develops over the coming year. Heaven knows adequate talent is under roof to make it a solid spot on the local scene.

Fork & Barrel, 2244 Frankfort Ave. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m. Call 502-907-3675 for more information.

Expect Southeast Asian bird, not the southern-fried kind at Chik’n & Mi

Were there a vote for the city’s freakiest dish, I’d nominate the bonito fries at Chik’n & Mi (2319 Brownsboro Rd.) Not because of the lashing of black garlic aioli and togarashi spice. Those are clever and truly delicious twists. It’s the sprinkling of bonito flakes atop the crisply fried spuds that wriggle as if alive when moved by waves of steam rising from the dish.

“People call them crazy fries and psychedelic fries when they see them do that,” said Jason McCollum, chef and co-owner at Chik’n & Mi. He and wife Aenith McCollum opened the restaurant quietly almost two weeks ago. “We think it’s fun. It’s kind of a show.”

Bonito fries, a.k.a. "psychedelic fries."

Bonito fries, a.k.a. “psychedelic fries.” They are delicious!

Culinary school-trained chefs, the McCollums share a geographically diverse résumé showing work in restaurants in Manhattan, Southern California, Louisville and elsewhere. Nearly three years ago, Jason was sous chef at La Coop, where he worked for Bobby Benjamin, now at Butchertown Grocery. The couple later moved to Nashville, where Jason cooked at Union Common (owned by Falls City Hospitality Group) before moving to Seattle. They returned to Louisville last year.

“We saw the city as a really good place to start something of our own,” he said. “Seattle is a real estate nightmare for what we’re trying to do.”

The couple wanted to create a restaurant that served dishes they craved at hole-in-the-wall Asian joints, “dishes we search for and will go out of our way to find,” McCollum said. Struggling to condense their idea into a theme, he called it Asian comfort food. “Asian fried chicken and noodles, which pretty much covers it.”

The fried chicken is delicious, though not at all Southern ($7 for three pieces, $12 for five pieces, or an equal number of chicken strips for the same prices). Dusted in tapioca flour, the fried crust is but a crispy scrim. Choose from three sauces—sweet soy, hot and pepper corn ranch—for tossing, or go naked. I got the hot, which is a traditional Laotian sweet and spicy pepper paste called jaew bong. Worry ye not, it’s mild, even for a non-heat seeker such as me. But it’s delicious, especially when contrasted with bits of pickled radish sprinkled on. (So good, in fact, that I neglected to photograph it before I tore into it.)

Jason and Aenith McCullough, owners of Chik'n & Mi.

Jason and Aenith McCollum, owners of Chik’n & Mi.

McCollum shared a terrific cherry ginger salad ($8) of mixed greens, squash ribbons, carrot, radish and a cherry-ginger vinaigrette, that’s ideally portioned to serve as a shared side for two and perhaps three. I eat salad, but it doesn’t often thrill me enough to recommend one. This is an exception to that rule.

Of the three ramen dishes on offer, McCollum brought me the garlic miso ramen ($14) with pork belly, pig-foot terrine and ham jam. Bathed in a rich pork and chicken dashi stock, it is a complex and solid dish.

Garlic miso ramen with three kinds of pork.

Garlic miso ramen with three kinds of pork.

In case you’re wondering about the name, ‘mi” means noodles in Lao, which is Aenith McCollum’s native tongue. When her family emigrated to the U.S., they landed in Bowling Green. He’s from San Angelo, Texas, and they met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Jason McCollum said they originally considered fast-casual service at the 80-seat restaurant, but the shape of the space necessitated full-service. They also wanted a full bar, which only reinforced the need for servers.

When renovations began last December, they removed all the old drop ceilings and replaced them with corrugated tin sheets and Edison lights. A bar was built and an opening into the kitchen was made to let guests get a peek at the action.

So far, McCollum said, people love the food, and that at least one guest has visited three nights in a row.

“We’ve had a lot of chefs in here, as well as people who just love food,” he said.

The side dining room at Chik'n & Mi.

The side dining room at Chik’n & Mi.

“We actually got on a small wait this past Saturday, which was a good test,” Aenith McCollum added.

For now, Chik’n & Mi is open Tuesday-Thursday, 4-9 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 4-10 p.m. Jason McCollum said lunch isn’t coming soon, but that they may extend dinner hours, “because that’s when people are coming in.”

‘A.M. drinking’ is perfectly acceptable at Copper & Kings gin tasting

Ever drink gin in the morning?

Can’t say I have either. But when you visit a distillery for a tasting, you sip it when it’s convenient to the distiller’s schedule to pour it, regardless of social norms.

“It’s no shame around here,” says Brandon O’Daniel, the ebullient head distiller at Copper & Kings. Pouring a still strength (140 proof) taste of the brand’s new American Dry Gin, he adds, “We like A.M. drinking around here.”

As well he should, since it’s his job to taste distillate all day.

Almost two years since it launched Stray Cat and Alley Cat, a pair New World gins heaped with bold botanicals, the American brandy distillery has moved toward a pair of historic styles: American (nee London) Dry and an Old Tom that’s headed for a three- to six-month rest in a brandy barrel.

When I assume gin making might be harder than brandy making, O’Daniel disagrees a bit, saying that balancing highly fragrant gin botanicals is not only challenging, “I find it a little more interesting.”

In the Copper & Kings way, both new gins use brandy as their base spirit, while gin nearly always comes from grain-neutral spirits born of corn or wheat, distilled to at least 190 proof and, by design, stripping out most all the flavor. By contrast, O’Daniel says fruit brandies are distilled at much lower proofs, leaving in body and flavor that complement added botanicals rather than isolate them.

Copper & Kings' Old Tom gin will rest 3-6 months in brandy barrels before release later this year.

Copper & Kings’ Old Tom gin will rest 3-6 months in brandy barrels before release later this year.

“Apple (brandy) is really clean and crisp and lets those botanicals lay on top of it and open up that entire palate,” he says. “That we use a fruit base instead of a GNS really just makes a huge difference in the way our gins taste.”

The apple brandy-based American Dry he pours us both is at still strength, 140 proof, and served at room temperature. The rush of botanical aromas to the nose is concentrated and lush. Where 140 bourbon sipped neat at room temperature can flog the palate mercilessly, this is decidedly softer and highly agreeable.

“It reminds me of orange and rose,” O’Daniel says, so wide eyed that I wish I’d recorded the interview with video. “We did both bitter and sweet orange peels—but the majority sweet, and that’s what gives off that bready-doughy kind of deal.” Other traditional notes come through next: cardamom, angelica root and juniper. It’s a classic recipe done O-Daniel’s way.

“It’s going to hold together in a cocktail so well,” O’Daniel adds. And when we taste it later in tonic with lime, he’s exactly right. It’s delicious, bold, sturdy and refreshing. The non-chill-filtered spirit louches out cloudy and almost periwinkle in the glass. “When my gin starts to change color, I get excited.”

The Old Tom, born of grape brandy, also is poured at still strength, this time 136 proof.

“Grape brandy is going to be really fatty and oily because we’re doing it straight pot still,” O’Daniel says, implying there are no column stills at the distillery. Though viscosity in spirits isn’t the same as viscosity in foods and the oils they express, the weight of this spirit is immediately present and pleasing on the palate.  “Really, really fat, bold and forward, but with botanicals all about it, and still smooth. Really caressing.”

It’s delicious and a bit sweeter than the American Dry, but not in a treacly sense. Historically, the English sweetened Old Tom with sugar to scrub the roughness off poorly made gins so common to the 1700s and 1800s. However, the sweetness here is achieved by finessing the botanicals recipe and with barrel aging not common to Old Tom styles.

I’m only half sarcastic when I ask if these spirits need to be proofed down (the finished expressions will register 92 proof on the American Dry and 100 proof on the Old Tom) because they’re so good at still strength. O’Daniel’s laughs and says he’d prefer to leave them there—plus drink them neat and at room temperature because doing so reveals the spirit’s ingredients and how it’s distilled.

“Neat. No ice at all,” he says. “I’m a bit of a weird bird.

“But the bouquet (in both gins) starts to explode when they’re proofed down. They’re only going to get better.”

Not that he doesn’t like gin cocktails. He expects both to make excellent dry martinis or ampersands (brandy, gin and sweet vermouth) and anything the mixologists use it in when Copper & Kings’ Sky Bar opens in September.

“Whatever they make with it will be amazing,” he says. “Those guys haven’t disappointed me so far.”

Look for American Dry on retailers’ shelves in late April. Old Tom won’t come out of the barrel until late summer or late fall.

Bistro 1860 hosting 10-course Titanic feast Thursday

Just one look at the 10-course menu for Bistro 1860s Thursday night Titanic dinner evokes a twist on that famous line from the movie “Jaws”: You’re gonna need a bigger gut. It is a full-on heapin’ helpin’ of food and history all in a single spot.

“That’s what they ate that night,” said Michael Crouch, the restaurant’s executive chef and partner. And at least that last meal for some was a dandy. “They went down full and watered.”

Curious about what arguably is one of the most famous final meals ever consumed, Crouch began researching its particulars. When he read of its breadth and depth, he knew no one would try recreating at home and concluded, “So why not make it here?”

The Thursday night dinner, which starts with a 6 p.m. cocktail hour followed by dinner at 7, is one in a long string of themed meals done at the restaurant. At 10 courses, the Titanic event could rival the three-hour table time logged at last year’s Death Row Dinner, a 12-course belt busting, diet-wrecking repast, but Crouch is predicting it can be done in less. No matter how you cut it, guests will need to block out a lot of time.

By modern standards, the menu (click here to see the full lineup) is far from daring, but preparing those classics well is no mean feat. Crouch, a chef not prone to following defined technique, will go old school in cooking the food appropriately to the period.

“It’s a tip of the hat to traditional dishes,” he said. “So, no, I’m not giving it my own twist.”

He said he also wants diners to enjoy traveling back in time to get a feel for what upscale dining was like 105 years ago. And one can certainly do that digging into dishes like consommé Olga; cream of barley; chicken Lyonnaise; vegetable marrow farcie; roast duckling with apple sauce; and peaches in chartreuse jelly.

“There’s some boiled rice on there, so I’m pretty sure I’ll put my twist on that,” Crouch allowed. “But for the most part, I’ll keep them pretty traditional.”

Though the Titanic’s first-class passengers enjoyed wines paired with each course, he chose not to do that to “avoid any sticker shock.” And given that the cost of the dinner is $145, sans tax and gratuity, one can see what he means. Still, if someone simply must have 10 pairings, they can choose from a suggested list to be shared that night.

For the event, Crouch said the dining room’s tables will be decorated with tablecloths, napery and flowers exactly like those seen in photos from the Titanic. He’ll have a live string quartet playing throughout dinner—“Maybe I’ll make them wear life jackets,” he joked—and all guests are encouraged to wear period-correct clothing.

“I want make it as exact as possible without the death,” Crouch said.

Asked if he’d wear the captain’s uniform he wore in the photo for the event’s advertising, Crouch laughed and said no.

“I can’t cook in that damn thing,” he said. “That would be horrible.”

To make reservations, call 502-618-1745. The restaurant is located 1765 Mellwood Ave.

Sample and savor local goods Sunday at Copper & Kings Cured & Crafted fest

We know the Masters Tournament is on Sunday, but let the DVR save it for later so you can head to Copper & Kings’ third-annual Cured & Crafted Artisan Market on Sunday. The week’s storms will be replaced by ideal sunny and 75-degree weather, making for an ideal family outing of eating, drinking and admiring some of the area’s finest artisan crafts.

Copper & Kings’ co-founder Joe Heron broadly defines the event as “a celebration of spring, but it’s as much about celebrating Kentucky’s community of artisans,” he said. “We really have such talent in this area, and we want to share that with people … by making our facility a community asset.”

That means there’s no charge for admission to Cured & Crafted, and exhibitors pay nothing to show their wares. Many samples provided by exhibitors are free, though larger food portions and drinks are for sale. Based on the last Cured & Crafted I visited, you needn’t bring a lot of money to beat back a big appetite.

Spread across the Butchertown distillery’s grounds will be 26 exhibitors (see complete list at the end of this story) including breweries, wineries, coffee roasters, cheese makers, meat curers, chocolatiers, donut makers … you get the point, a lot of food and drink. Between bites you can visit knife makers, plant growers, crafts makers and clothing retailers.

“This is the largest exhibitor group we’ve ever had,” Heron said. “And it’s also the most diverse in terms of the offerings.”

Unlike the distillery’s nighttime cocktail events for adults, this starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m., providing a wide window to come when you like and bring the whole family.

“Every community event should be a family event where you can come with grandparents and kids,” Heron said. “Cured & Crafted has an informal, relaxed atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.”

Specific to the distillery Copper & Kings will offer tours and introduce two, brand-new gins, American Dry and Old Tom, and bring back its Butchertown Soda brand tonic for the perfect G&T on a warm day. (I tasted both gins this week and they’re superb. No chain fooling. If you’re a gin fan, you’ll love these.) The distillery will also be serving its excellent meat and vegetable hand pies.

Located at 1121 E. Washington St., the distillery has limited parking, but a paved lot between it at Story Ave. is open to the public. Otherwise, park on a side street.

Whether it’s enticing or a deterrent, I’ll be there representing a pair of Kentucky cured ham makers. Come by for samples of our state’s world-class products.

Check out the list and see who else is coming:

Against The Grain Brewery
Amanda Wilder Artisan Crafts
Art Eatables Artisan chocolates, truffles and candy.
The Bacon
Bill’s Famous Spreads
Blue Dog Bakery & Café
Broadbent B & B Foods (country hams)
Butchertown Pie Co.
Cellar Door Chocolates
Cobra Verde
Col. Bill Newsom’s Kentucky Country Hams
Commonwealth Cure
Elixir Kombucha
Foxhollow Farm
Heine Brothers’ Coffee
hey tiger
Hi-Five Doughnuts
Jessica Woolard Ceramics
Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese
The Beer Syrup Company
Louisville Cream
Monnik Beer Co.
Old 502 Winery
The Plant Kingdom
Red Hog
Red Hot Roasters
Sheltowee Farm
Shrubs By Eron
Smoking Goose Meatery
Thomas Family Winery
Triple J Knife Works
Quills Coffee

Shake it up at new ​Jeptha Creed cocktail class

Like cocktails? (check)

Like distillery tours? (check)

Be smart and do both together at Jeptha Creed Distillery in Shelbyville. Last week, the state’s only grain to glass distillery launched a new cocktail making seminar and tour, dubbed Creed’s Class. Held on the third Thursday of each month, participants spend $30 to get a lot:

  • A palate-teasing, four-taste flight of Jeptha Creed spirits
  • An up-close look at the distillery with distiller Dave Carpenter
  • Barrel-thieved samples of their high rye Bloody Butcher Bourbon (at just a few months old, it’s really tasty)
  • A cocktail making class, where you and a friend learn to shake and stir all proper
  • And even a light dinner after the event
    Alicia White and Dave Carpenter thieve samples of Bloody Butcher Bourbon from different-size barrels to let guests compare. | Photo by Steve Coomes

    Alicia White and Dave Carpenter thieve samples of Bloody Butcher Bourbon from different-size barrels to let guests compare. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Thirty bucks, people! Can’t beat it. It’s a lot fun at a place you’ve likely never been—especially jaded whiskey wonks who need to check it out. Some really good spirits are being made here.

Owned by Bruce and Joyce Nethery, Jeptha Creed Distillery was built with liquor tourism in mind. Its 15,500 square-feet include a long cocktail bar and lounge, classroom areas, a huge outdoor patio fit for corporate gatherings and small weddings, a large gift shop with an abundance of branded, well, everything you can imagine, and the distillery, of course. Small as it is—barrel output capacity is seven per day—it’s a top-tech craft operation.

But back to the class: It begins with some product acquaintance-making, as in tasting Jeptha Creed’s vodkas, a growing line that includes apple, blueberry and honey vodkas. Notice, I didn’t write “flavored” vodkas because real fruit (some fresh, some concentrated) and real honey (from bee hives on the Nethery’s farm) are used to sweeten them. (And for those who like real vodka, theirs bears nice grain notes—known to some as actual flavor.)

The glass on the left came from the smaller barrel, and the depth of amber color is noticable. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The glass on the left came from the smaller barrel, and the depth of amber color is noticable. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Before he became a distiller five years ago, Dave Carpenter spent a decade in professional kitchens as a chef, so his culinary sensibilities come through in the spirits. In the distillery, he and general manager Alicia White thieved a pair of barrels holding Jeptha Creed’s Bloody Butcher Bourbon. To give guests a look and taste of how different-size barrels affect the liquid within, each was given a clear glass to examine the differences in color, body and taste. Though both had been aging for three-and-a-half months, whiskey from the 5-gallon barrel was noticeably darker than that from the 53-gallon industry standard barrel. The nose on both was butterscotch, grain and campfire, but the whiskey from the larger barrel was softer on the palate than the smaller due to less contact with the wood.

“Because it’s high rye, you’ll get quite a bit of spice from both,” Carpenter said.

For geeks who want to know, the mashbill is 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley. Made at Kelvin Cooperage, both barrels were toasted, then charred to No. 3.

The moonshine-laced riff on the mojito. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The moonshine-laced riff on the mojito. | Photo by Steve Coomes

“Ours comes off the still at 135 proof and then we proof it down with water from our own spring to 119.5,” Carpenter said. After just a few months’ aging in “barrel barns” behind the distillery, proof in the barrels had risen to 121. “Since alcohol is a solvent, we like to go into the barrel at a lower proof. You get fewer tannins.”

From there, the guests moved to the bar, where full cocktail kits, spirits and amendments sat ready for work. Walking guests through the basics of dilution through stirring some drinks and shaking others, pairs worked together to complete to tasty cocktails for sipping on the way to dinner.

“We wanted to make it really interactive and fun,” said Autumn Nethery, who handles marketing for Jeptha Creed, and who is working her way into distilling. “Watching somebody make cocktails isn’t as fun as making them yourself.”

PS: The ride to Jeptha Creed from most of Louisville is about 25 minutes, straight down I-64 to exit 32. No, you can’t visit the new Bulleit Distilling Co. nearby, so if you want to make a day of distillery tours, head to Lawrenceburg (Four Roses and Wild Turkey) or Frankfort (Buffalo Trace) or Versailles (Woodford Reserve) afterward.

EDT EXCLUSIVE: Bourbon & Beyond sales pitch details highly ambitious, whiskey-centered festival

If Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) can pull off even half of what it’s proposing to do for the inaugural Bourbon & Beyond event in September, the celebration of Kentucky food, drink and music will be a major hit. But that’s a big if.

DWP’s plans are exceptionally ambitious, especially for a large-scale event set to run the weekend of Sept. 23-24, less than six months from now.

Our deeper look into the makings of Bourbon & Beyond came from a PDF sales deck originally sent to Kentucky bourbon distillers and later supplied to Eat Drink Talk. Its stated mission is, “To blend the best of a bourbon festival, a food festival, and a music festival into a new and exciting format for casual drinkers, foodies, and music lovers.” But the pitch reveals much more. The two-day festival will center on bourbon education, cocktail making, Louisville neighborhood restaurant food exhibits, larger-scale private dinners, music concerts, comedy and storytelling performances.

Bourbon & Beyond will be held at Champions Park on River Road, where DWP believes it can attract 50,000 visitors. Such crowds are the same size drawn to the park for DWP’s Louder than Life heavy metal concert, held each fall. So it’s not out of the question that organizers can handle the numbers.

A snip from a page in the sales pitch to Kentucky distillers.

A snip from a page in the sales pitch to Kentucky distillers.

But several questions remain about whether it can execute such a broad vision—especially when there’s no indication that Kentucky distillers are on board. According to Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) in Frankfort, his constituents are planning a meeting to discuss not only whether they want to be involved, but whether they can be.

“We are working to learn more, and our members have asked us to coordinate a meeting with the organizers,” Gregory said in a statement.

As scheduled, Bourbon & Beyond follows one week after the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. In its 26th year, it remains the state’s largest bourbon event, attracting more than 50,000 people to Bardstown over six days. Kentucky distillers are heavily involved in the festival, and commit considerable staff and liquor resources. Guests can spend next to nothing or as much as $175 to attend specific events.

KDA members also are deeply involved in the annual Kentucky Bourbon Affair, held this year from June 6-11. This multi-day, multi-session event is a high-end “fantasy camp” that draws bourbon lovers from around the country, some of whom regard it as a bucket list item. Affair prices range from $125 to $250. As with the Bourbon Festival, distilleries commit significant resources to the Affair—which is capped off with the second-annual Whisky Live Louisville on June 10. Cost for that event is $149 for regular admission, $199 for VIP admission.

As one industry source told me confidentially, “How many dollars can anyone expect bourbon fans to spend on this many events in such a short period of time?”

EatDrinkTalk requested an interview with DWP but was told via email that the organizer would like to wait until “the line up is set and ready to be announced mid-April.”

So here are all the proposed details we have so far, wrapped up into summary including some paraphrasing, quotes from the sales pitch, and with some remarks of ours added in:

Bourbon & Beyond is a bourbon festival for the casual drinker: From the pitch: “We are creating an immersive destination to weave bourbons into fun interactive experiences and hands-on workshops; no tastings or exhibits. (EDT is not clear on what “no tastings or exhibits” means.) Our target audience is the casual drinker, diverse 24- to 40-year-olds, even split of 50% male and 50% female … and (our) secondary target is bourbon aficionados, high-income 40- to 55-year-olds.”

This will all come with a “deliciously approachable food festival,” including chefs “to deliver creatively-elevated and affordable concessions; no all-you-can-eat formats or expensive tasting pavilions.”

Expect “additional nighttime events, group tours, as well as pre- and post-festival experiences extend throughout the greater Kentucky area.”

A page snip containing a few of the famous faces who might appear at Bourbon & Beyond.

A page snip containing a few of the famous faces who might appear at Bourbon & Beyond.

“Bourbon Experiences.” These include re-creations of cooperages and distilleries, as well as “Secret Speakeasies” hidden throughout the festival grounds and requiring a different method of entry to each. The pitch mentions a miniature version of The Bourbon Trail (which I’m confident the KDA will put its foot down about the use of that trademarked name) and a Rare Bar … that’s “limited to only the most discerning of bourbon drinkers, but those who gain admittance are rewarded with access to a comfortable and relaxing lounge with some of the toughest-to-find bourbons in the world.”

Bourbon Workshops seem pretty straightforward and include discussions of distillation, bartending and cooking with bourbon.

The food component is a three-tier affair blending Restaurant Rows, Culinary Experiences and The Feasts.

Restaurant Rows are exhibits bearing the names of some of the city’s most notable restaurant neighborhoods. (One assumes they will be operated by staffs from restaurants located in those Rows.) They include A Taste of The Highlands; Downtown; Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop; Germantown Biergarten; and NuLu Fest.

Culinary Experiences are described thusly: “Louisville chefs collaborate with chefs from across the country on developing themed culinary experiences. Each experience is inspired by a musical genre and offers delicious dishes, craft cocktails, and plenty of entertainment guaranteed to impress even the most cynical foodie. (EDT note: If anyone knows what a “cynical foodie” is, please tell us.) Culinary Experiences include Tiki Disco (no details); Funk & Soul & BBQ (“pitmasters challenged to cook different styles of barbecue … bartenders shaking “delicious throwback cocktails and spontaneously organize soul train dance parties”); and Riot Grill (no details).

Feasts: Described as, “Smaller groups of festivalgoers are invited to the feasts; where chefs curate an entire dining experience at the festival. These ticketed events offer guests the chance to sit down, relax, and enjoy more interactive or immersive experience, with plenty of bourbon pairings.” There are three: The Big Easy Crawfish Boil; Fried Chicken & Champagne; and Bourbon Beefsteak Bacchanal. (EDT note: We’re thinking “smaller groups” does not mean small groups, but rather groups of 100 or more.)

Music, Comedy & Talks are described this way: “Our potential lineup is a diverse, eclectic, and exciting collection of musicians, comedians, and personalities who embody the passion and soul of Bourbon & Beyond and are guaranteed to attract our target audience of 24- to 55-year-old bourbon drinkers from a 300-mile radius.” Were it not for some pictures of folks like Aziz Ansari, Amy Schumer, Anthony Bourdain, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, we’d not know who DWP might be suggesting. Whether these headliners are have signed on or their images are being used as placeholders, we don’t know.

Celebrities to take the stage for Convos & Demos include “some of the most influential and leading personalities in bourbon, food, drink, and industry to participate in conversations and demonstrations. Ideas include cooking demonstrations, father-son distiller conversations, speed bartending competitions.” A few celebs pictured are local chefs Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, MilkWood) and Annie Pettry (Decca), along with Maker’s Mark’s Bill and Rob Samuels (father and son, but not distillers), and actor Matthew McConaughey, who became a Wild Turkey spokesman last year.

Though many more details are in the sales pitch, we’ll stop here and promise to share more as we talk to DWP and distillers around the state.

End note: We at Eat Drink Talk are not against Bourbon & Beyond—at all. We only hope the Los Angeles-based Danny Wimmer Presents can succeed in bringing a large-scale event that celebrates Kentucky’s whiskey, food, distillers and chefs in an exceptional manner. We’re eager to hear the final details and learn who in the Bluegrass will assist in making this happen.

Brett Davis to open Red Herring cocktail lounge in April

If all goes according to plan, restaurateur Brett Davis will open the Red Herring Cocktail Lounge & Kitchen the third week of April in the old Hilltop Theater at 1757 Frankfort Ave. And strangely enough—especially for restaurants—construction of what he predicts will be the “most beautiful cocktail lounge in Louisville” is on schedule, and in one key respect, ahead of it.

“I haven’t had to advertise at all for employees because we’re already fully staffed,” said Davis, one of the city’s two Master Sommeliers. “That’s never happened before in my career. … But that’s happened because of what we’re doing here and how we’ll use our staff.”

With the backing of building owner and business partner Mo Deljoo, Davis is creating a space designed first for the enjoyment of cocktails and supplemented with an approachable food menu. Guests will choose from a 100-cocktail list created by Clay Livingston, former bar manager at 8UP, and eat from a still-in-design menu of burgers, hot dogs, halibut cheeks and more created by Jacob Coronado, 8UP’s former executive chef. Menu prices will range from $6 to $10 for cocktails and $15 or less for food. Operating hours are 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily, with food served until 1 a.m.

The Red Herring will be located in the old Hilltop Theater, right next door to the Silver Dollar. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The Red Herring will be located in the old Hilltop Theater, right next door to the Silver Dollar. | Photo by Steve Coomes

On the building’s main floor will be a large bar surrounded by high-top tables and seating for 45. The upper level, which overlooks the bar below, will seat the same number but on banquets and lounge chairs. There will be more seating outdoors on a sun-splashed patio with herb gardens for Coronado’s kitchen.

Davis said he was inspired by Houston’s Anvil Bar & Refuge and The Violet Hour in Chicago because of their approachability and ambitious cocktail menus.

“We’ll have a book of what I think are the 100 most-classic cocktails, but we’ll also have a blender behind the bar for frozen drinks,” he said. “You can get adult milk shakes and we’re going to have domestic lager poured at 29 degrees in to a frozen chalice. We’re not trying to be snooty.”

Some specialized drinks will break the $10 mark, Davis added, when they call on pricy ingredients, but he expects most customers will prefer choosing from the house list.

He said there will be a whiskey program, but not one as ambitious as that at his other restaurant, Doc Crow’s, that has “over 100 bourbons and 200 whiskeys. … It’s all about the cocktail.”

Davis said the front-of-the-house staff will consist of bartenders who can make drinks and serve them. Similarly, cooks will be dispatched to bring food from the kitchen to guests. This, Coronado allowed, will take training, but he said he’s excited to let the back of the house interact with guests.

“We cook for everybody, we’re a team, and they’re excited to see the other side,” Coronado said. “What we’re trying to build here is revolutionary.”

Davis said opening near Derby Week is ideal, since visitors to the city won’t know about Red Herring. That brief period of anonymity will give his staff a gentler ramp up toward busier periods. If that opening goal is missed, then the new date will be the second week in May.

Why the name Red Herring, you ask? Davis said part of the experience is to imagine you’re walking in to the elegant old movie theater, and then finding yourself in a modern cocktail lounge.

“That’s the red herring; it’s just a diversion,” he said. “We think it’s going to be fun.”