Varanse restaurant in Clifton. | Photo courtesy of Varanese

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.

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