Now Pouring: Varanese Unveils his Maker’s Mark 46 Private Select

Last fall, Chef John Varanese and his team took advantage of a special opportunity at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto: to create his own Maker’s Mark 46 Private Select barrel. As he describes it, his group of five sat around a table sampling Maker’s 46 bourbon aged with different barrel staves and blended to create unique flavors. It took 25-30 blends to arrive at the the exact taste he wanted.

(Our own Steve Coomes has done the process twice and called it, “One of the most exciting experiences in American whiskey today.”)

Chef John Varanese. Photo by Bill Brymer

Chef John Varanese. Photo by Bill Brymer

Varanese’s final combination — 2 Baked American Pure staves, 1 Seared French Cuvee stave, 1 Maker’s 46 stave, 5 Roasted French Mocha stave, and 1 Toasted French Spice — yielded a bourbon with “creamy mouthfeel with distinct undertones of mocha and a toasted spice finish.”

Sound delicious? Varanese’s private barrel selection is now available only in his restaurants: Varanese on Frankfort Ave.; River House; and Levee at River House on River Road. He created two special events to unveil it, one on March 21 at the River House, where, for $35, guests enjoyed three 1 oz. pours that included side-by-side tastings of other Maker’s options, and appetizers. Guests also got to meet Rob Samuels, president of Maker’s.

And while Varanese said that event may have fallen slightly short of expectations, the March 28 dinner at his Frankfort Ave. restaurant is sold out with more than 100 reservations. Bill Samuels, Jr. will be on hand for the four-course private dinner, in which each of the courses is paired with Maker’s Mark bourbons, including the Varanese’s Private Select. The culinary team even utilized four of the five wood staves used to create the Private Select flavor in the cooking process for the dinner.

While you can’t experience that one unless you already have a reservation, Varanese will be offering 2-oz. pours of his Private Select 46 for $25, as long as his supply of 240 bottles lasts. He’s not sure how long that will be.

“We’re selling pretty quick, so it will probably go quickly,” he said. “I hope it will last about a year.”

Varanese said the opportunity from Maker’s is only offered to about a hundred accounts in the U.S., and said he believes only to 10 in Louisville. (Westport Whiskey & Wine just received its PS 46.) And when he does exhaust his supply, he hopes to do it again, using the same recipe that’s exclusive to him.

“We really enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of this program and I’m really proud of our selection,” he said.

Great Flood’s New Spot with Zach Barnes and Matt Fuller; Brett Davis Talks Up the New Red Herring

It’s a delicious week for news on the city’s best restaurant and bar podcast, and we get right to it with the surprising story that Z’s Oyster Bar downtown is closing, at least temporarily, according to a sign on the door. Owners blamed the ongoing construction of the Convention Center and the Omni Hotel for a substantial sales slump. Certainly we hope to see Z’s again downtown. We’re looking forward to the late April opening of the Red Herring Cocktail Lounge & Kitchen, a new operation located next to the Silver Dollar on Frankfort. It’s backed by Doc Crow’s co-owner Brett Davis (more on him later) and a pair of managers who just left 8UP downtown.

The word on the first-ever local bourbon-themed festival here is something to get excited about. Bourbon and Beyond will take place at Champions Park on River Road in September, and we’re hearing there will be a stellar lineup of celebrities, chefs, distillers and musicians on hand—if the promoter is able to pull it off. Steve checked in on the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Cocktail Program, sure to be a great tourist attraction on Fourth Street Live.

In our Copper & Kings Favorites segment, Rick picked a chocolate pecan doughnut from Hi-Five on East Main, where the two women proprietors are making a name for themselves. Steve visited Pat’s Place in Bardstown for some good ‘ole comfort food. Steve picked the winner in a cocktail contest called the Petal Pusher, while Rick enjoyed the Brooklyn from the cocktail menu at LouVino in Middletown.

Rick talked to our first guests, Zach Barnes and Matt Fuller, at the new brewery complex they’re operating in Shelby Park, while Steve got the scoop on the Red Herring from the man who is making it happen, Brett Davis. All that and more on the city’s finest dining and drinking podcast, sponsored by Harvest Restaurant and the Eye Care Institute.


Matt Fuller and Zach Barnes at Great Flood Brewing

Red Herring Cocktail & Lounge & Kitchen owner Brett Davis with chef Jacob Coronado. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Red Herring Cocktail & Lounge & Kitchen owner Brett Davis with chef Jacob Coronado. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The ‘Ville Gets Its Bourbon Festival, Thanks to L.A. Producer

About three years ago, Mayor Greg Fischer started a Bourbon and Work Food Group for the purpose of boosting bourbon-related tourism in Louisville. That group, composed of about 50 individuals representing distilleries, restaurants and tourism agencies, produced a report highlighting initiatives important to achieve if Louisville was to become “the world’s best culinary and spirits city.”

At the top of the list was to create an annual “world-class bourbon and food festival.” And while there have been meetings and discussion over how the city could produce such an ambitious event, that discussion ended recently when a private firm in the business of festival production stepped up and said — “We’ll do it.”

Thus was the creation of Bourbon and Beyond, made public this week by Danny Wimmer Productions, an L.A.-based festival promoter with events currently in 11 cities, including the Louder Than Life Festival that’s now planning its fourth rendition for Sept. 30-Oct. 1.

“it was going to be a partial city event, then Danny Wimmer Productions decided to take all the risk and produce it themselves,” said Chris Poynter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer. “It shows how far we’ve come in the growth of our bourbon and food industry that a private company sees it and does it at its own risk.”

Bourbon and Beyond is set for Sept. 23-24, the weekend before Louder Than Life, in the same location. Champions Park is on River Road west of Zorn. The property will be rented to Wimmer Productions by Metro Parks for the entire period.

The decision by the L.A. firm to double its presence in Louisville is a coup for the city.

“The committee had a few meetings, but it was so much for us as a city to take on,” Poynter said. “Wimmer was always at the table. It’s good news for the city, because when it comes to bourbon, our philosophy is the more the merrier.”

In Wimmer Productions’ March 20 release announcing Bourbon & Beyond, it promised the festival will “blend the best elements of a bourbon festival, a food festival, and a music festival into an all-encompassing, unforgettable weekend.” It suggested that distilleries, restaurants, world-class musicians and craftsmen would participate.

Bourbon-and-Beyond-logowEatDrinkTalk obtained the company’s pitch to prospective sponsors, which included an impressive list of celebrity chefs (most from out of town), distilleries and performers. The latter included comedians Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari, along with musical acts The Black Keys, John Mayer and Hall & Oates. Highlighted are area distilleries and restaurants. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee those acts will come to Louisville. An announcement regarding the lineup of performers is expected in the next few weeks.

It’s quite an ambitious production, given there’s only a few months to prepare. However, Wimmer’s team had already planned to be here for Louder Than Life, and Poynter said the company has been involved in the Bourbon and Work Food Group for two years.

The Bourbon and Beyond web site, for now, consists of a single page, a letter from Wimmer to his “fellow bourbon-lovers.” In it, Wimmer pens a love letter to the city. It reads, in part:

I wanted to tell you that I have fallen in love with your city. I produce events all over the country, and what impressed and inspired me about Louisville is its chefs, restaurants, horses, outdoor life and, of course, bourbon.

It has become my personal mission to help others around the world discover what I discovered when I first came here: an authentic mix of Southern charm and cosmopolitan sophistication, wrapped in an unparalleled civic pride. It is Louisville’s uniqueness that leads me to today’s announcement.

Later, he compares the association of Louisville and bourbon to that of Napa and wine.

Poynter said the new event adds to the city’s efforts to be a year-round mecca for bourbon lovers, pointing to the Bourbon Classic in February, the Bourbon Affair in June and the opening of distilleries along Whiskey Row, including Angel’s Envy.

“We’re really building out a 365-day tourism experience with major festivals on top of that,” he said.

J.K. McKnight Mixes Music with Bourbon; Goodwood Goodness with Joel Halblieb

Rick and Steve return from the road for this episode of the city’s finest restaurant and bar podcast. And while we could go on about our trips to Denver and Indianapolis, our first item of business is getting caught up on the news right here in River City. First, there’s an exciting announcement about efforts to create a new Louisville festival called Bourbon & Beyond. Steve credits Louder Than Life organizer Danny Wimmer for bypassing a passive city committee to get the new festival on the calendar.

We also report on some chef changes. Longtime Corbett’s chef Jeffrey Dailey has moved over to Harvest, now the home of what some say is the most talent in any city kitchen. Then there’s news that Allan Rosenberg is making a move back to pizza with the opening of Butchertown Pizza Hall in the old Hall’s Cafeteria space. Also in Butchertown, the operator of the Holy Mole’ food truck is adopting an 1860s-era building for a new pizza and pasta place to be called Lupo. Finally, we marvel at the marketing expertise of steakhouse proprietor Jeff Ruby, who got his restaurant mentioned in a national CBS basketball broadcast by promising free steak if Northern Kentucky University pulled off the impossible and upset over the University of Kentucky. It didn’t.

Our first guest is Forecastle Festival organizer J.K. McKnight, whose promotion of the Bourbon Lodge at July’s big event captured Steve’s interest. Rick welcomes Goodwood Brewery’s Joel Halblieb, who talks about the success of the two-year-old brand and the often-overlooked Taproom at Main and Clay.

EatDrinkTalk is brought to you each week by our friends at the Eye Care Institute, Harvest Restaurant and Copper & Kings. Thanks for joining us.


J.K. McKnight


Joel Halblieb


Doug Gossman’s 40-Year Run at Bristol; Ed Hartless Goes Local for Fourth Street Live!

The tastiest podcast in these parts is back with another deep dive into the local dining and drinking scene. We start this week with a few laughs from our afternoon at the Tailspin Ale Fest, where we were pouring plenty of little glasses of great beer. Across the river, we learned the long-awaited Parlour pizzeria will open at the foot of the Big Four Bridge on March 15. Rick talked with Mike Safei last week about the coffee company’s new digs in Shelby Park and some exciting plans being made, including a brewery and bakery. We’re looking forward to a few big events this week — The Ideal Bartender event at Copper & Kings Wednesday, Das Meal in Shelbyville on Thursday, and the 5th Annual Gravy Cup on Saturday.

Steve’s guest is Doug Gossman, who started a business in the Highlands known as the Bristol Bar & Grille four decades ago. The success story was an unlikely one, as Gossman explains that he never expected multiple locations and this kind of longevity. Rick talked with Fourth Street Live! exec Ed Hartless, who is focused on bringing in local restaurants (like the upcoming Whiskey Dry from Edward Lee) and becoming more involved in local events.

In our Favorites segment, Rick chose a Traveler Beer Co. Pineapple Shandy at Tailspin, while Steve picked an as-yet-unnamed concoction involving Green Chartreuse concocted by barkeep Daniel Mahony at The Portage House in Jeffersonville. His favorite bite there was a perfectly prepared whole roasted trout. Rick was amazed at the speed of the service, and the quality of the meal, when he ordered a Buffalo Chicken Salad at Double Dogs in Middletown.

And finally, we want you to make a reservation with our sponsor, Harvest Restaurant, for a special Chef’s Table on Feb. 23. The fantastic meal, led by farmer Judith Schad, features courses accented with Goat Cheese. It’s $85, plus $35 for wine pairings, and you’ll save 10 percent by mentioning EatDrinkTalk when you call 384-9090.


Doug Gossman


at Fourth Street Live!, Ed Hartless

The “Taste” Season Starts with 5th Annual Taste of 502

Local foodies have become accustomed to the annual onslaught of “Taste” events, parties where you can make a meal of samples provided by our city’s finest restaurateurs.

Let the season begin.

Tonight is the 5th Annual Taste of 502 at the Seelbach Hilton downtown, where you can try samples from many of the restaurants participating in 502 Restaurant Week. Tickets at the door are $50. There’s also a Wine and Spirits Pull, in which you are guaranteed to take home a bottle for $15. A charity, YMCA Safe Place, gets a portion of the proceeds.

There will be plenty of beer, wine and spirits samples as well. And there’s a dessert bar.

Tonight’s event, plus the two-week 502 Restaurant Week, are operated by Belinda Gates and Lee Rhea, who own 502 Events LLC. It also manages 502 Lunch Week in September.

During the two-week promotion that starts Wednesday, restaurants offer a three, or four-course meal for $50.20 per couple, or in some cases, per person. The prices are discounted, meant to encourage guests to try higher-end hotspots. Here’s the list, but be sure to make note of the actual pricing and menu.

The specials in the $50.20 per person list include Mitchell’s Fish Market, Morton’s, Brooklyn & the Butcher, Eddie Merlot’s, Porcini, The English Grill and Vincenzo’s. At the other 19 spots, the price is per couple.

Tonight’s event starts at 6, and be advised that to get your money’s worth, arrive early.







Sold-out Tailspin Expecting Big Crowds at Bowman Field

There will be no walk-up ticket sales for Saturday’s Tailspin Ale Fest.

That’s because the fourth annual event is sold out, according to organizers Trevor Cravens and Tisha Gainey.

With temperatures expected to be in the 60s, it appears the stars are all falling in place for the Bowman Field event, which features 70 breweries and seven food trucks. Tickets sales were cut off Wednesday after surpassing the 2,000 plateau.

If you really want a ticket, you may have to try your luck online. Some were for sale on Craigslist Thursday.

“We are thrilled to see this event we created sell out for the fourth year in a row,” said Cravens, the president DRAFT, a beer-centric national magazine. “The support from the community for Tailspin Ale Fest and Dare to Care Food Bank is incredible, makes us proud to live and work here.”

Last year, Tailspin presented a check for $12,340 to Dare to Care.

TailspinAleFest_2017_ColorLogoYou can hear Tisha Gainey talk about the event on this EatDrinkTalk podcast.

The organizers created a “Get on the Bus, Gus” program for patrons to travel by bus from seven spots around town, including Liquor Barns in Middletown and Hurstbourne, Mellow Mushrooms in the Highlands and St. Matthews, the Bank Street Brewhouse in New Albany and Drake’s in the Paddock Shops. Riders get a beer and a bite, plus the ride, for $10. Riders had to sign up at the sites.

You can check out the beer list here. Kentucky breweries have a special “Kentucky Heritage” tent. There’s also a Cider and Sour Bar.

Tailspin takes place in an aviation hangar at Bowman Field. Those holding VIP tickets get in at 2, and general admission is open at 3. The Fest ends at 7.  If you drive, you can park at the site, and leave your car there until Sunday.

More than 250 volunteers will be on hand, primarily, to pour beer, including EatDrinkTalk’s founders.



Das Meal Brings German Feast to Shelbyville

Chef Ellen Gill McCarty says her customers come to Shelbyville’s Science Hill Inn for fried chicken, shrimp and grits or a hot brown. But once a year she likes to get out of the comfort food zone and put on a German feast, complete with goetta balls and pork schnitzel, all paired with beers from Gordon Biersch.

“German food is stick-to-your-ribs type of food and that’s what we enjoy cooking,” said McCarty, who is celebrating Science Hill’s 40th anniversary this year. The Das Meal II on Feb. 23 will feature a five-course meal, co-hosted by her, beer wonk Michael Beckmann and event planner Caroline Knop.


Goetta Balls are part of the first course

“We challenged her a few years ago with the German thing,” said Beckmann, a veteran Louisville restaurant manager. Last year, “(w)hen Ellen did that pork schnitzel, and soaked it in the beer for 24 hours, it came out nice, soft and tasty. You have to go to the Motherland to get stuff like that.”

Das Meal sold out last year, and McCarty has room for 80 for the event. Tickets are $70, a portion of which goes to Apron, Inc., a charity that has a special place in her heart. Apron raises money to help pay restaurant workers’ bills when an unexpected tragedy keeps them from earning a living. (Eat Drink Talk is a proud supporter of Apron!)

Two years ago, McCarty was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and couldn’t work for many months. She’s since become cancer-free.

“The bills piled up and Apron came in and paid some of my bills for me,” she said. “Fighting the fight against cancer and winning was not easy, but having the help of Apron was unbelievable and I want to give back to my fellow friends in the industry assisting them with their battle.”

Each of the five courses will be paired with a Gordon Biersch beer, and dessert includes a special dish incorporating Jagermeister.

Michael Beckmann and Ellen Gill McCarty

Michael Beckmann and Ellen Gill McCarty

Beckmann credits McCarty for the creation of the special menu. “If you challenge her, she comes up with great stuff. The flavors are as good as it gets.”

For those not familiar with Science Hill, it’s located in the historic Wakefield-Scearce building, home to an amazing antique gallery. McCarty says visiting is “truly like walking back in time.”

She said customers come from throughout the region and consider Science Hill a destination. With the growth in the area, including the nearby Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass and other attractions, the restaurant continues to see new customers as well.

“We get people who have been coming for years and they bring their grandchildren, and the grandchildren grow up and bring their children and grandchildren. That’s cool about our place,” McCarty said.

For more information and to make reservations for Das Meal, call 502.633.2825.

To hear Ellen and Michael on the EatDrinkTalk podcast, press the Play Arrow below:


PODCAST: Das Meal with Ellen Gill McCarty/Michael Beckmann; Ian Hall’s New Albany Operations

The tastiest restaurant and drinking podcast in the ‘Ville is back with another helping of insights into our thriving local scene. We start the show with news that heralded Oakroom chef Nick Sullivan has joined Geoffrey Heyde for the launch of the new Fork & Barrel, which opens this spring in the former Basa spot on Frankfort Avenue. We’re also celebrating the addition of food at one of our favorite cocktail bars, Meta.

Can you believe that the Bristol Bar & Grille has been around four decades? Back then you could get a beer for $1.50, and we’re thrilled that the Highlands landmark is rolling back prices to that level for its 40th anniversary. Speaking of places open late, revelers on Baxter may have gotten used to the walk-up window Up All Night, operated by the owner of Loui Loui’s in J-town. But the hotspot closed at the first of the year because it couldn’t find enough good workers. The good news — a new owner is taking over the spot soon.

Ellen Gill McCarty and her family have operated Shelbyville’s Science Hill Inn for more than four decades. That includes staying open during McCarty’s recent battle with cancer. Our friends at Apron Inc. helped her through her illness, and she’s giving back by donating some of the proceeds from Das Meal. That’s a special event on Feb. 23 featuring German food and beer, and is co-hosted by our guest Michael Beckmann.

Ian Hall’s experience operating New Albany’s The Exchange and Brooklyn and the Butcher — two highly successful but different restaurants — makes for an interesting conversation with Steve.

Many of these stories, and more, can be found on our delicious web site — Check it out every day.


Michael Beckmann with Ellen Gill McCarty at the studio


Ian Hall

Good Gravy! Biscuits & Gravy Competition Set for 5th Year

No one who attends The Gravy Cup is in it for the nutritional value of the Southern staple.

But if offered an opportunity to do some day drinking, and to sample some tasty variations of the traditional dish on a Saturday afternoon for a good cause — we’re in.

Zach Fry believes The Gravy Cup is likely to attract 800 people to the Mellwood Arts Center to sample more than three dozen versions of the breakfast treat on Feb. 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Zach Fry

Zach Fry

Fry came up with the idea of a biscuits and gravy contest in 2012, shortly after a visit to New Orleans, where he was inspired by sampling Creole recipes that included hot pepper sauces. The local real estate professional posted the idea of a contest among local chefs on Facebook, and was encouraged enough by the response to hold the first one at The Monkey Wrench three weeks later. 400 people showed up.

Since then, the idea has grown enough that it has moved first to the Vernon Lanes, then to Diamonds on Barrett for two years, and this year for the first time to the Mellwood Arts Center. You can get in for $15, with proceeds benefitting Boys and Girls Haven.

“We raised $15,000 last year, and hope to double that this time,” said Fry, who has organized the event by forming a small board and recruiting several dozen local chefs, who contribute their time and food to the cause. Sponsorships are being sold ranging from $500 to $10,000.

Among them are the defending champions from Con Huevos on Frankfort Avenue, who offer a version called Chipotle Poached Huevos on their breakfast menu. It includes chorizo, poached eggs, chipotle gravy, avoidaco and is served with fruit. Their version is entered in the Non-Traditional category. There’s also a Vegetarian version and Traditional.

Winners in each category get a trophy, Fry said. The judging criteria are taste, presentation and originality.

He’s still recruiting restaurants, but the list so far is impressive. Among the judges are Michael Crouch of Bistro 1860 and The Fat Lamb’s Dallas McGarity.

The list of local restaurants participating includes Finn’s Southern Kitchen, Cafe Lou Lou, Noosh Nosh, Checks Cafe, Highland Morning, Gospel Bird, Butchertown Grocery and the Red Barn Kitchen.

For more info, check out their Facebook page.

Here’s a 2014 video from the event.