“Bourbon District” Will Guide Walkers on Downtown Bourbon Tour

And for Louisville’s next attempt at capitalizing on bourbon tourism, Metro Government brings you a bourbon walk.

At a press conference this week, the city announced plans for its Bourbon District, a four-phase plan to introduce “historic site signs, destination signs, banners and a pop-up event scape” to create a walking path guiding tourists to bourbon attractions. It will be located in an area along Main Street from 10th Street to Jackson, and along Fourth from Main to Broadway.

In an interview, Mayor Greg Fischer said he takes satisfaction and pride in the 24 million tourist visits to Louisville last year, a number he said was not thought to be possible five years ago.

“Bourbon tourism is something some folks snickered at when we started talking about this, when I was running my first campaign,” he said. “But it is authentic to our city.

“People go to Napa for wine, they come to Louisville and Kentucky for bourbon tourism.  I think we are really early in that game right now. It allows us to punch above our weight, especially in the restaurant category.”

Mayor Fischer with Solid Light CEO Cynthia Torp unveiling the first marker at Sixth and Main.

Mayor Fischer with Solid Light CEO Cynthia Torp unveiling the first marker at Sixth and Main.

The Bourbon District Project is being led by the Louisville Downtown Partnership, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and local government. The Kentucky Distillers Association is also involved in the project’s creation.

Fischer said the idea of creating a walking tour sets the city apart. He said there are plans for nine downtown bourbon experiences, with four already open. He unveiled the first historical marker on Main Street this week.

“It’s a walking district, if you will,” he said. “You can’t walk Napa Valley because it’s so spread apart. You can actually walk our Bourbon District. Back in the day of course, the bourbon would come down to the River, Whiskey Row, and be loaded on to the boats and off it went. So it just adds to our heritage and authenticity.”

The goal is to create a self-guided bourbon history experience on a path that will highlight the city’s other attractions, such as its restaurants. Fischer said that $9-10 billion in current capital construction is underway, and that 20 new hotel projects have been announced since the start of construction at the Omni Hotel.

The design of the District is being completed by Solid Light, a local company in the business of building visitor experiences.

 

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.

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.

dasmealballs

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:

 

Old is New Again at Sparking Bardstown Bourbon Co. Distillery

Go on a few bourbon distillery tours around Kentucky and you’ll hear stories about the pioneers whose names adorn the bourbons bottled today. Most of those tours take you through rather un-glamorous paths around industrial equipment that’s been in place and making liquor for decades.

When tourists start coming to the Bardstown Bourbon Co. early next year, they’ll see similar equipment, except that it’s all brand-spanking new and shiny, and their walk to see the whole thing will be less than a quarter-mile. Better yet, afterward they can relax with lunch at a cafe and a drink from the bar.

At least that’s the experience David Mandell, president and CEO, has planned for visitors to his $25 million Bardstown Bourbon Co., when it’s completed early next year. Last week, in part to celebrate the beginning of bourbon production at the site, Mandell invited a select group of reporters to enjoy the first tour of the brand new facility, set on 100 acres near the Bluegrass Parkway in Bardstown. The massive complex, the largest of any new bourbon distillery in the U.S., is surrounded by a field of corn, some of which was used in the first batch of product.

“This is a celebration of the craft of making whiskey,” Mandell said at the start. “We see this as a Napa Valley-style destination experience.”

Looking around a spacious and still nearly empty main production room, Mandell pointed to the future locations of a cafe, fireplace, bar, patio, classrooms — all with a clear view of the production stills and behind a glass wall with a view of rickhouses where its whiskey will age in barrels.

Eventually, Mandell said the distillery will produce a signature, not-yet named bourbon, nad operate a collaborative distillery program, in which master distiller Steve Nally will make up to a dozen different brands that will be sold and marketed by contract customers.

“The authenticity of the story of where it comes from is important, and we will produce custom product for those brands and we will be home to those brands,” Mandell said.

The third part of the business is tourism at the plant. Nally emphasized that transparency of the distilling process is key, pointing to a still with multiple manways (windows offering views inside the column still), so that visitors can see the more of the manufacturing process than at any other distillery. There are classrooms designed so that consumers can participate in programming designed to educate and entertain tourists.

Of course, the process of making bourbon involves aging, and the first product won’t even be in barrels for a few weeks. Nally, a 40-year veteran of the industry and the long-time master distiller at Maker’s Mark, said he won’t allow any of the barrels to be bottled until they’re ready.

While we were there, though, Mandell gave 18 of the original distillery workers something to celebrate. He handed out certificates giving them ownership of the first barrels to come out of the distillery. That valuable perk, however, won’t be released until Nally says it’s so.

NOTE: Listen to my interview with Steve Nally on this week’s EatDrinkTalk podcast, which will be online Sept. 22.

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.

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.

Farm to Frazier celebrates Secrets of Louisville Chefs book, local farms, Peerless Distillery

The Frazier Museum, in partnership with Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., presents a new Farm to Frazier: Roots of the Bluegrass evening on Thursday, July 21 from 6-8 p.m. showcasing five of Louisville’s top chefs and five local Kentucky farms at the Frazier History Museum.

In celebration of Nancy Miller’s newest book “Secrets of Louisville Chefs Cookbook Volume IV,” this evening will feature a complimentary cookbook with book signing by Nancy Miller, small plate dishes made by featured chefs using local ingredients rooted in the Bluegrass, produce and goods from each farm available for purchase, dessert by Gelato Gilberto, a tour of the Peerless Distillery (located about a block from the Frazier Museum) at 7:30pm, and live TV coverage by WAVE 3 News’s Kevin Harned.

Featured Chefs are Patrick Roney, Harvest Restaurant; Kathy Cary, Lilly’s Bistro; Dallas McGarity, Marketplace Restaurant: Theater Square; Bruce Ucan, Mayan Café; and Josh Moore, Volare Italian Ristorante.

Featured Farms are Ashbourne Farms, Foxhollow Farms, Garey Farms, Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), and Rootbound Farms. Tickets are $25 and are available at fraziermuseum.org

The Frazier is reinvigorating what a history museum can be by sharing the stories of Kentucky—its people, its industries and its food, agriculture those cultures.

The Frazier has been designated the “Official Start of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail” by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

About the Frazier History Museum

The Frazier History Museum is located at 829 West Main Street on Louisville’s downtown “Museum Row. The Frazier brings history to life for visitors through exhibits, artifacts and live performances every day. The Frazier tells the stories that matter most to Kentucky and the world, allowing visitors a chance to step into history along the way. The Frazier is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5:00 p.m. For more information, call 502-753-5663 or visit fraziermuseum.org

Step outside Louisville this summer and visit great Ky. restaurants

In a two-week period this month, a client had me drive nearly 1,500 miles around our beautiful Commonwealth to find interesting food and drink stories. To say I was amazed with what I found, ate, drank and learned about the people behind these places is an understatement. And to say that the state’s greatest restaurants are only in Louisville … well that myth was busted.

Since those stories aren’t yet written, you’ll have to wait for the delicious details about those many meals. But what I can do is provide a woefully incomplete list of several I think would make worthy summer road trips.

One caveat: Before you leave to visit any of these, check their operating hours on the web. Lots of them are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Here’s just a short list laid out in no particular order, but grouped by town.

Paducah: Freight House. The chef-owner here is Sara Bradley, a local and also a veteran of two, 1-star Michelin restaurants in Chicago and New York. Her farm to table food is brilliant. No elaboration needed. She’s destined to become one of the state’s top chefs.

Sara Bradley, chef-owner, Freight House. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Sara Bradley, chef-owner, Freight House. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Paducah: Dry Ground Brewing. Fantastic brewery and watering hole created inside an old Coca-Cola plant. Just a beautiful space in which all its brewing equipment is part of the décor.

Paducah: Paducah Beer Werks. Created out of an abandoned Greyhound Bus station, this place is a looker. Not only is the beer great, the food menu is as well. Solid pizza here.

Bardstown: Harrison-Smith House. There’s no excuse not to drive the 35 minutes from Louisville to this outstanding restaurant. Chef and co-owner Newman Miller is from the area, but has spent much of his career in big cities at top flight restaurants. He’s also destined to become one of the state’s best-noted chefs. Don’t believe me? Ask Louisville chefs about him and chef de cuisine Josh Smouse. They’ll tell you their peers are that good.

Corbin: The Wrigley Taproom. Every city and town needs a public house like this, especially one with such a diverse menu. Cattle rancher cum chef and co-owner Kristin Smith pulls on Appalachian food tradition while tapping modern cuisine trends to create her eclectic menu.

Harrodsburg: Olde Bus Station Restaurant. This is a true small-town diner, one with bar stools overlooking hustling cooks working a greasy grill—and oh, the burgers that come off that searing metal! My fave griddled burger this year.

Pikeville: The Blue Raven Restaurant & Pub. Pikeville? Yes, Pikeville, whose downtown is Disney World tidy and beautiful. Oh, and the restaurant? Modern and fun, great food and cocktails, a real surprise in far eastern Kentucky. The website does it no justice.

Pikeville: Bob’s Southern Smokehouse. This is no smokehouse, it’s a restaurant set up in the offices of former law firm. Even the “litigation room” remains as it was when the lawyers left: with a gorgeous super-long conference table, button-tucked chairs and thousands of law books. And the smoked goodies are great, too.

Elizabethtown: 701 Fish House & Oyster Bar. How Louisville let a talent like chef David Scales (formerly of Lilly’s Bistro) slip from its clutches, I don’t know, but his seafood-cooking and sourcing skills are on full display at this spot. Located just two blocks off I-65, too, so it’s super easy to get there. About 45 minutes from Louisville.

Florence: The Colonel’s Creamery. Located in a large pole barn complex behind a Kroger shopping complex, this ice cream stop is easily one of the state’s best. Easily. The scoops I had met their “super-premium” billing.

Covington: Frida. This Latin restaurant has the largest mezcal selection in the greater Cincy area, and the food is equally fab. The beef empanada I had was one of my favorite bites during this crazy rush through the state. It’s like a mini-art gallery inside, plus the restaurant is located on the fantastic Mainstrasse strip in the city. Just park there and start walking. So many good places.

* Trust me, there’s so much more to list here, especially in Lexington, Bowling Green, Red River Gorge and more!

No Louisville food and drink fest until at least 2017

Louisville skyline

No Bourbon & Beyond here until at least 2017–if then!

Louisville’s dreams for a food and drink festival aren’t any nearer to reality than they were two-and-a-half years ago when a committee was convened to make it happen. Seems a lot of problems abound, not the least of which is too many voices in the room, no single visionary driving it and no clear vision of how it best would become uniquely Louisville.

An email from the office of Mayor Greg Fisher–who tentatively wants to name the event, “Bourbon & Beyond”– says the event will not take place until 2017. Check out this portion of it:

“We had hoped to launch the festival this summer, but after much discussion with those involved — including local chefs and distillers and our production partner, Wimmer Presents – we realized that 2016 was too aggressive. …

“When we advised Wimmer Presents that we were not comfortable proceeding with the event this year, they indicated that they would continue to develop a bourbon/food festival, host the event, and assume all financial risk and all planning and production for a 2017 festival. This is a great solution for all involved as our city will have another bourbon/food festival without city government assuming any of the risk.”

Yet committee members I’ve spoken with call that number laughable since no significant plans have been made.

I’d agree, especially given the lack of talk I’m getting from committee members, people who usually throw me bits of information when they’re excited about different developments. Their reticence implies little to no progress.

Louisville’s restaurant scene is regularly getting national attention as an up-and-comer. And it’s widely believed that it’s ready to host a significant coming out party and bring people here to eat. And drink. Be it cocktails or our waves of bourbon, drinking is important also.

Yet it’s not so important that the current name under discussion, Bourbon & Beyond, bears no mention of food.

Bardstown has The Bourbon Festival, Lexington hosts The Bourbon Shindig and Louisville hosts The Bourbon Classic and The Bourbon Affair. Though there’s plenty to eat at all of those, none mentions food because bourbon is the star of those shows.

But any idea of a Louisville festival must be rooted in restaurants, and its name needs to include food.

Real nuts and bolts marketing sense, right? Yet apparently such a concept beyond some committee members’ grasp.

The very word “Beyond” begs the question, “Beyond freakin’ what!?!” The word drips with vagueness.

Event producer Danny Wimmer Presents has been hired to manage the event, yet according to its website, its core business is large-scale rock concerts, such as Louder Than Life, hosted here the past couple of years. The addition of a restaurant food and a bourbon pavilion into the fest was well received. Yet did that small success give Wimmer the gumption to believe it can scale up such an effort into a large festival? Apparently the Mayor’s Office is convinced it can.

But here’s where the whole thing can stall interminably: If you don’t get the cooperation of local restaurateurs, you have no festival. Right now there are several disgruntled chefs and owners who’ve lost their enthusiasm for this event. Some have said, “I already spend so much time outside my restaurant working for charity,” and “Am I really going to take time away from my business and family to get involved in something that doesn’t even mention food in the name?”

Their tension levels are rising, and as far as I can tell, there’s little to show for anyone’s effort so far.

That leads me to believe that Beyond in the name of this festival means well beyond a 2017 start date—if then.