Archive for the ‘Louisville’Category

Fine distractions at Louisville’s Red Herring

Louisville's Red Herring at night

Located next door to the Silver Dollar (see our biscuit post), Red Herring (1757 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, 502-907-3800, redherringlou.com) opened in April 2017 in the 112-year-old Hilltop Theater. It might be the perfect complement to its next door neighbor. Red Herring is far from retro, despite including PBR on an otherwise stellar list of regional craft beers.

Red Herring interiorIf we lived in the neighborhood, they might have to put our names on two of the barstools. For starters, Red Herring is open from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day. You can segue seamlessly from breakfast to lunch to happy hour to dinner to evening entertainment without changing seats. The room is huge, as you might expect from a former theater, with seating downstairs and on a balcony above. The entertainers also set up on the balcony.

Crispy fried chicken skins at Red Herring in LouisvilleThe food at Red Herring exemplifies modern bar fare. On one hand, you can order Texas smoked brisket or a six-ounce burger of Black Hawk Farms beef on a housemade brioche bun. The kitchen also does a knockout charcuterie plate with chicken rillettes made in-house, as well as a vegetarian harissa hummus. The dish that made us smile widest, though, was a bowl of crispy chicken skins. The skins are brined in the house pickle juice, soaked in buttermilk, and battered with a locally milled flour. Once they’re deep-fried, the cooks drizzle them with hot sauce aged in a bourbon barrel.

“Southern calamari,” our server deadpanned.

The bar serves 100 classic cocktails and a slew of the staff’s own creations. We enjoyed the house signature Red Herring, which is yet another variation on sweetened bourbon.

RED HERRING COCKTAIL


2 ounces bourbon
1/4 ounce concentrated Demerara sugar syrup
2 dashes Bittercube Orange bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers’ Black Walnut cocktail flavoring
Orange zest

Add first four ingredients to cocktail shaker. Stir. Pour into rocks glass filled with ice cubes.
Flame the orange zest and drop it into the drink as a garnish.

With a bowl of Southern calamari and a Red Herring in hand, we were ready for the evening music. New Albany, Indiana, banjo picker Steve Cooley and some pals gave us several fun sets of bluegrass. Here’s a little sample:

13

11 2017

Le Moo nails the essentials of steak and bourbon

Steer on wall of Le Moo in Louisville

Every city needs an unrestrained steakhouse. From the fiberglass steer in the parking lot to the real taxidermied longhorn on the wall inside, it’s pretty clear that Le Moo (2300 Lexington Rd, Louisville, 502-458-8888, lemoorestaurant.com) does steak without restraint.

Le Moo is a major special-occasion restaurant, and like any good over-the-top place, it has one booth of truly over-the-top seating. The upholstery comes from 17 pieces of vintage Louis Vuitton luggage. There’s a $500 minimum to reserve it, but it does seat four to five people. And Wagyu steaks with top wines will meet the minimum handily. (Actually, the domestic prime Angus is maybe even beefier and friendlier to the wallet.)

Chef Chip Lawrence at Le Moo in LouisvilleWe were visiting with Mint Julep Tours (see the Harvest post), and since it was our second meal of an already young day, we prevailed on our server to split a small steak. Executive chef Chip Lawrence (that’s him on the right) had already planned to serve a four-ounce filet for the culinary tasting, even though the smallest steak on the usual menu weighs in at twice that. But a beef filet tapers from the broad Chateaubriand through the filet mignon down to a narrow tail. By cutting closer to the tail, Lawrence could still get a super-thick steak that was a bantamweight by comparison with the rest of the menu.

Steak and grits, oh my


Steak dinner at Le Moo

Our plate might have been modest, but Lawrence certainly made it special. It was the small-plate version of a Platonic steak dinner. The filet was grilled medium rare and came with brussel sprouts, popcorn grits, and a country ham demi glacé. The grits were cooked with cheese. The distinct popcorn flavor came from popped corn ground up in a blender and added to the grits. It’s a trick we’re going to try at home for sure.

Le Moo carries more than 100 bourbons. The bartenders can make anything you can think up, but we decided to honor the beef with a Central Kentucky classic, the Bluegrass Breeze. At Le Moo, they use a marvelous Austrian liqueur for the apricot flavor. It’s made with apricot eau-de-vie and fresh apricot juice.

BLUEGRASS BREEZE


2 ounces Basil Hayden Bourbon
1 1/2 ounces Rothman and Winter Orchard Apricot
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Demerara sugar syrup
lemon peel

Add ingredients through sugar to cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into white wine glass. Twist lemon peel over drink and wipe lightly on rim of glass. Discard peel.

Cheers!

12

11 2017

Harvest spreads local flavor across the menu

Pouring hambone broth over country ham tortellini at Harvest in Louisville

There’s no question where your food comes from at Harvest (624 East Market St., Louisville, 502-384-9090, harvestlouisville.com). This farm-to-table pioneer in the NuLu neighborhood (that’s New Louisville to us outsiders) covers the walls with joyous portraits of the restaurant’s purveyors. There’s also a map showing a 100-mile radius around the restaurant. Says partner Patrick Kuhl, “it’s our goal to get 80 percent of our food from inside that circle.”

The state’s “Kentucky Proud” program helps, Kuhl says. It’s been a boost to former tobacco farmers “because it provides incentive for farmers to grow food and for restaurants to buy it.” Animal proteins are pretty easy, he notes. But to have local produce year-round requires planning and preserving. The kitchen relies heavily on a vacuum sealer and a big freezer. And in keeping with the farm-country ethos, the restaurant also does a lot of pickling.

We visited Harvest on a Mint Julep Tours (502-583-1433, mintjuleptours.com) culinary tour to sample the imaginative food and drink. We were blown away by a purely Kentucky adaptation of an Italian classic: tortellini en brodo (at the top of the post). The tortellini were filled with shaved country ham, while the egg-white-clarified broth was made with the ham bone. Country ham was the perfect Kentucky analog to Italian prosciutto.

Pickled chicken thigh at Harvest in Louisvile

Pucker up for cooking with heart


Pickling is central to the cuisine at Harvest. Barrel-fermented chow chow, pickled slaw, and a house pickle plate are always on the menu.

Jeff Dailey brings board to table at Harvest in LouisvilleAnd sometimes all that spice and sour finds its way into dishes like the next one we tried. The protein star was a chicken thigh pickled and brined and fried up crisp, served on perfectly braised greens with bacon and a hint of bourbon in the pot likker. Next to it was a hot and sweet sauce of beets and blueberries! As a contrast, the dish also included a nice fluffy biscuit smeared with that Southern classic, pimento cheese. That’s sous chef Jeff Dailey bringing it to our table, with chef de cuisine Ryan Smith behind him.

Pickle even creeps onto the drink menu. Pickled peaches are a Southern classic. They’re usually served with ham or fried chicken. But the bar found another use for the leftover pickle juice. It goes into a drink called Peter Piper’s Peaches. Here’s the recipe:

PETER PIPER’S PEACHES


1.5 ounces Michter’s Rye
3/4 ounce simple syrup infused with serrano pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and clove to taste
1 ounce peach pickle brine
two dashes bitters

Combine ingredients and pour over ice in a lowball glass with a sugared rim. Drink. Repeat.

11

11 2017

Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

Bartender mixes Remember the Maine at Mr. Lee's Lounge in Louisville

When we walked up to the plain, brick-fronted building on a residential stretch of Goss Avenue in Louisville’s Germantown, we were dubious that we’d come to the right spot. But sure enough, a tiny brass plaque announced the structure as “Mr. Lee’s.”

exterior of Mr. Lee's in LouisvilleWe opened the door and stepped through the portal of a time machine. As our vision slowly returned in the all-enveloping darkness, we found ourselves in a film-noir world. We half expected to see Nick and Nora of The Thin Man trading snappy bon mots between sips in the corner booth. The brightest spot in the place was the center of the horseshoe-shaped bar. The brass and glass and steel gleamed. The bartender’s white shirt seemed to glow. Welcome to Mr. Lee’s Lounge (935 Goss Ave., Louisville, 502-450-5368, mrleeslounge.com). The Coen brothers couldn’t have staged it better.

Every bar and every lounge is peddling a fantasy narrative—whether it’s the good-ol’-boy, shot-and-a-beer watering hole or a snazzy lounge with velvet drapes and leather banquettes. But Mr. Lee’s is the only place we know in Louisville that aims for and hits the mark of “sophisticated with just a whiff of danger.” It has a speakeasy vibe that feels like just the place where a guy might loosen his tie, unbutton his collar, roll up his sleeves and contemplate the state of the universe. That would be over a house-smoked Old Fashioned made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, smoked black tea, and bitters. It’s not all retro, though—many drinks use spirits from Copper & Kings. (See previous post.)

Be sure to visit after dark. Otherwise, it hurts your eyes to come out into the sunlight.

The Butcher at The Butcher and Brooklyn in New Albany, Indiana

A cocktail to chew on


Across the Ohio, Brooklyn and the Butcher (148 East Market St., New Albany, IN, 812-590-2646, brooklynandthebutcher.com) emphasizes small plates, big steaks, and a cocktail program that stays in touch with the urban trends. A relative newcomer (it opened in early 2016), the restaurant has become New Albany’s go-to spot for steak and tony spirits. The dining room is bright and breezy, and so is the upstairs lounge by the big windows on Market Street.

The photo here shows that upstairs lounge, where we stopped for drinks because the steakhouse restaurant side had not yet opened for dinner. The basement also contains a hideaway known as the Lantern Bar. It shares some of the speakeasy vibe of Mr. Lee’s, but plays on its cellar location with exposed brick walls, candles on the tables, and jazz on the weekends. Brooklyn and the Butcher maintains a good wine and beer list to complement its spirits, but cocktails are the focus of the beverage program.

Given the name of the place, we had to order a drink called The Butcher. (That’s it above the subhead.) Fat-washed cocktails are all the rage—or have been since the first bartender figured out how to infuse bacon into bourbon. The Butcher is a pretty sophisticated take on the science-experiment approach to cocktails. It combines fat-washed Old Forester bourbon, Malmsey Madeira, Demerara sugar, and Angostura bitters. The bar staff prepares the bourbon by infusing it with beef marrow fat for several days before chilling to separate booze and ooze. It’s a round, smooth drink with a full but not greasy mouth-feel and a sweetness quotient somewhere just north of a Manhattan. Or maybe that should be southeast, where Brooklyn is just over the bridge.

10

11 2017

Copper & Kings bucks bourbon trend

distiller Joe Heron of Copper & Kings

Joe Heron may be the most colorful distiller in all of Kentucky—which is saying a lot in a region that prides itself on colorful characters. In 2014, Heron and his wife Lesley launched Copper & Kings (1121 East Washington St., Louisville, 502-561-0267, copperandkings.com) in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, one of the oldest parts of town. It’s now one of the hottest, and Copper & Kings is part of the happening vibe.

Although bourbon is basking in a renaissance, Heron hasn’t jumped on the artisanal bourbon bandwagon. “We would never do bourbon. There are too many good bourbon producers,” he told us as he led us through the distillery, which is surrounded by a huge butterfly garden. Instead, Heron said, “we want to make definitive American brandy.” He quickly clarified that he didn’t mean cognac in the French style. “We’re about fruit intensity to reflect the American taste and palate.”

Copper & Kings distills grapes from central California and apples from Michigan. Heron himself is a South African who relocated from Minnesota. “We wanted to be anchored in the heart of American distilling in Kentucky,” he said, as if there was no other choice. “We wanted to carve out an identity in the land of bourbon.”

Brandies at Copper & Kings

Named stills and sonic aging


A walk through the facility is a peek into Heron’s approach—and the workings of his mind. “Brandy is the one spirit where the philosophy revolves around concentration and retention,” he mused. “The pot still is a tool of intensity.” Heron has named his three stills Isis, Magdalena, and Sara after women in Bob Dylan songs. “You can’t be a real distiller until you’ve named your stills,” he told us with a practiced shrug. He double distills to clarify the spirit, keeping some fermentation flavors and culling out others.

As fond as Heron is of his stills, he contends that “maturation is as important is distillation.” As he pointed out, “Brandy is promiscuous. It takes on flavor very quickly.” To instill a distinctly American character to the finished product, he ages most of the brandy in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Heron also uses American white oak barrels for the grape brandy and Spanish sherry casks for the apple brandy. Cr&ftwerk series brandy is aged in craft beer barrels.

“You muscle bourbon into shape,” he said. “But you stroke brandy into shape.”

Don’t expect hushed aging cellars at Copper & Kings. Heron has embraced “sonic aging.” Music is pumped into the cellars so that giant sub-woofer speakers can “pound a bass pulse into the spirit by increasing the contact between the spirit and the barrel through sound waves,” he said. He changes the Spotify playlist daily. “The principle has existed for a while. We are the distillery that has embraced it.”

Liquors and liqueurs


It probably goes without saying that Heron and his team like to experiment. The distillery has already launched more than 30 products, including several varieties of absinthe and gin, Orange Curaçao, and Mistelle—a muscat brandy liqueur infused with honey. For the Brewskey line, Copper & Kings distills craft beer and ages the result. “It tastes like whiskey with the flavor of beer,” Heron explained.

bartender Eron Plevon at Copper & KingsAfter passing through the art gallery, we reached the top level tasting room with a roofdeck and city skyline views. When we finally got to taste, we were glad that the products seem to justify Heron’s enthusiasm. We sampled the lavender absinthe, which had a marvelous swirl of anise and lavender botanicals, in a glass of Death in the Afternoon. (Just add champagne.) And we sampled the flagship spirit of Copper & Kings, the American Brandy. Tasted neat, it had sparkling fruit on the tongue and a long, smooth finish. It was brighter and sweeter than cognac—more like a Spanish brandy made from Pedro Ximenez grapes.

Wisconsin Brandy Old FashionedIt was showcased well in the trendy Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned. Bartender Eron Plevan mixed a jigger of brandy, a few dashes of bitters, a sugar cube, orange slices, maraschino cherries, and a splash of soda. (Copper & Kings made the bitters-infused soda, too.)

“It has all the authenticity of Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Heron said with a grin.

07

11 2017

Biscuits unite Louisville and Southern Indiana

biscuits define Southern taste

Humble plates spring from big ideas. Between meals in Louisville, we toured the Old Louisville historic district, visited the grave of Muhammed Ali, and checked out the Speed Art Museum (2035 South 3rd St., Louisville, 502-634-2700 speedmuseum.org). It’s probably the top art collection in the state and had mounted a great temporary exhibit called Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. It made us think about identity and cultural cohesion. Part of the opening wall text struck a particular chord.

“The South is not so much a geographical place as an emotional idea,” it proposed. The South is “more a shared sensibility than a consistent culture.” Powerful stuff. What makes a place Southern? It has to be more than a love of gardens, firearms, and hunting dogs. Then it hit us. Biscuits—or at least biscuits of a certain style—define what it is to be Southern. And by that standard, both Louisville and the cross-river towns of SoIN are part of the South.

We started our morning on both sides of the Ohio with hot biscuits, butter, and dollops of jam. But a few places exalted the humble biscuit into gastronomic extravagance. Here are three:

Finn's Ultimate Breakfast

Finn’s Southern Kitchen


Located in a nice old Deco building, Finn’s Southern Kitchen (1318 McHenry St., Louisville, 502-708-2984, finnssouthernkitchen.com) has been a hit since it opened in the spring of 2016. The style is fast-casual but the layout of tables both indoors and out encourages communal eating. The old-fashioned Southern family meal was the inspiration for owner Steve Clements. The lightened (sometimes) Southern fare capitalizes on local products, which is to say that bacon or sausage is often involved.

The folks at Finn’s are also very proud of their biscuits. The dish above is called Finn’s Ultimate Biscuit Sandwich. It combines three of Finn’s specialties on one plate. In addition to the airy biscuit, the dish includes a fried egg, a crispy piece of boneless fried chicken, three strips of bacon, a slice of impossibly orange American cheese, and a puddle of peppery sausage cream gravy. (Pass the Lipitor, please.) Damn, it’s good.

The Gralehaus


We wondered if we might be going to Aunt Martha’s for breakfast as we climbed the cement steps up to a charming Victorian house in Louisville’s residential Highlands neighborhood. The Gralehaus (1001 Baxter Ave., Louisville, 502-454-7075, gralehaus.com) is a coffee house and cafe on the ground level, and its has three cute B&B rooms upstairs. Open from 8 a.m-4 p.m., its morning coffee and breakfast segues into craft beer and lunch. (OK, this isn’t Boston. You can get beer with breakfast if you want.) When the weather cooperates, the back patio seems like a marvelous, leafy hideaway.

Chef Jen Rock knows Boston (she used to cook at City Girl in Cambridge), but she seems right at home in Louisville. She was cooking the morning we visited, though Andy Myers is the executive chef and general manager. Guy Fieri discovered Myers’s clever takes on Southern cuisine last December, and the requests keep coming for the homemade bologna sandwiches. We went instead with the truly epic breakfast shown above: The Duck Sausage Biscuit. Mind you, Gralehaus makes its own duck sausage as well. The fluffy black pepper biscuit (recipe nelow) is covered with duck sausage gravy, lightly drizzled with duck jus and maple syrup, and topped by a sunnyside-up egg to die for.

The Silver Dollar


This establishment in a former firehouse from the late 19th century definitely has a unique twist on Southern identity.

bar at Silver Dollar in LouisvilleThe proprietors describe it as a homage to a 1950s Bakersfield, California, honkytonk—the kind of place that served chicken and waffles and played country music for homesick transplanted Southerners. Of course, the Silver Dollar (1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, 502-259-9540, whiskeybythedrink.com) has been transplanted back to Louisville. But the Bakersfield exile might explain why the menu offers molletes next to beer can chicken.

It’s all in fun. The bar is ridiculously long and the barroom is cavernous. For those of us ready to make tans while the sun shines, there’s a comparatively small outdoor patio. That is where we had a second brunch masquerading as “dessert.” The strawberry shortcake consisted of a humongous buttermilk biscuit made on the premises. It was layered with sugared strawberries and slathered with whipped cream. Over the top? Maybe, but it sure was good with the Silver Dollar mint julep served with a straw over a tumbler of crushed ice. That’s our kind of snow cone.

GRALEHAUS BLACK PEPPER BUTTERMILK BISCUITS


Gralehaus chef Andy Myers shared this recipe for monster black-pepper biscuits. We’ve trimmed it down to make eight huge biscuits (instead of 30). These biscuits are best for savory dishes like biscuits and gravy because the black pepper flavor doesn’t play well with most jams. If you’re salt sensitive, cut the suggested salt in half. The neat trick of grating and freezing the butter lets you make biscuits that stay very cold until baked and come out huge and flaky.

Ingredients


4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) grated butter

Directions


Set oven to 425°F.

Chill the butter and grate with a cheese grater onto wax paper. Place in freezer.

Combine flour, salt, black pepper, baking soda, and baking powder. Sift.

Once butter is frozen, gently mix it into the sifted flour mixture with your hands. Do not mix for too long; otherwise your hands will begin to melt the butter. The objective is to keep the mixture as cold as possible until it goes into the oven.

Make a well in the center of the bowl as if you were making pasta dough. Pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon and start pulling the flour mixture into the buttermilk. Continue working in the flour until the mixture becomes too thick to stir. At this point you can begin using your hands to mix. Try not to overwork the dough. Mix it by hand just long enough to bring the biscuit mix together.

Once mixed, turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is aproximately 2 inches thick. Fold the dough over in half and roll it out one more time to approximately 1 1/2 inches thick.

Cut the biscuits with a 3-inch round cookie cutter or ring mold.

Arrange cut biscuits on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Once you have cut all the biscuits from the first roll-out, you can re-roll the dough one more time. These biscuits will rise a little more than the first roll but they are still great.

Once you have cut all our biscuits, immediately put them into 425°F oven for 22 minutes turning the tray once halfway through the cooking process (11 minutes).

05

11 2017

Breaking bread over bourbon with Michael Veach

Bourbon historian Michael R. Veach

While we were in Louisville, we met historian Michael R. Veach for dinner one night at Decca (812 E. Market St., 502-749-8128, deccarestaurant.com). It was a felicitous convergence of Kentucky food and spirits. Veach, pictured above, is the author of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage (University Press of Kentucky, $24.95). And under chef Annie Pettry, the farm-to-table restaurant is one of the city’s best.

Bourbon history book jacketVeach absorbed bourbon history as archivist for United Distillers and later for the Filson Historical Society. He has also worked closely with the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, Kentucky. While at United Distillers, he sharpened his palate by joining the quality control sampling of barrels in the warehouse.

“We did ten a day,” he recalled, describing what for many would be a dream job. “I got to learn from the quality control tasters.”

Eat, drink, smile


Decca fried green tomatoesWith his hipster fedora and Colonel Sanders beard, Veach enjoys playing the part of a Kentucky character. As we chatted about bourbon, we all shared a board of fried green tomatoes sprinkled with harissa, cut cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese. Half salad, half crunchies, the plate did what an appetizer should do. It made us want more.

Veach ordered a glass of Michter’s Bourbon neat to accompany his entree of wood-grilled pork chop with pickled peaches, fennel, and a mustard jus. The bourbon’s faint butterscotch and cinnamon nose played nicely with the tart peaches. Veach sipped the drink slowly throughout the meal. “People are starting to drink bourbon with food,” he told us. The spirit has enough unique characteristics to make pairing with food relatively easy. “Bourbon can be spice-forward, wood-forward, or fruity. It’s just a matter of thinking about what you are going to eat.”

Texas redfish at DeccaWith his advice, we paired Old Forester Classic with one of Pettry’s signature dishes (at right). She serves her crispy Texas redfish in a shallow bowl with a light leek broth, some couscous, slices of cucmber, and some crunchy roasted peanuts. The vanilla, orange peel, and slight bit of mint in the bourbon matched the fresh and bright tones of the dish perfectly.

Veach has simple advice for developing a palate. “It is practice, practice, practice,” he says. “You have to pay attention to what you are drinking. Don’t just knock it back. Nose it, then sip it.”

To truly appreciate the nuances of bourbon requires patience. “Let it sit,” Veach advises. “It will aerate. The more it sits, the more it will change.”

03

11 2017

Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

Evan Williams bourbon barrels

When Heaven Hill Distillery opened the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (528 West Main St., Louisville, 502-272-2611, evanwilliams.com/visit.php) in 2013, it marked the first new bourbon distillery in downtown Louisville since the late 19th century. The brand is named for the man said to be Kentucky’s first licensed commercial distiller, Evan Williams. Some folks dispute that, pointing to Elijah Craig. What is known is that Williams erected a still on a spot across Main Street in 1783 and began making corn whiskey that he shipped downriver in oak barrels. Other distillers soon followed suit and by 1800 the street was known as Whiskey Row. Everyone on the street was making, selling, or shipping bourbon.

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a delightful blend of low-tech history dioramas with a walk-through small-batch distillery and a welcoming barroom for tasting. (There’s also a store, but you kind of expected that, didn’t you?) What animates the tour is the dynamic presentation by the guides. In our case, Andy Embry led us from origins to final tasting.

Evan Williams bourbon history dioramaThe dioramas (complete with “historical” voice-overs) explain the basic Creation story of bourbon. Kentucky farmers discovered that the best way to preserve corn was to ferment corn mash and distill it into whiskey. (That many of those Kentucky farmers hailed from Scotland and Ireland, where malted and distilled barley was a way of life, probably aided the “discovery.”) Louisville enters the picture when it is settled in the late 18th century as a transshipping point for traffic on the Ohio River. (This photo shows the diorama of Evan Williams on the riverbank, where his copper alembic is being unloaded from a riverboat.)

Since distilled spirit was in great demand on the western frontier, making whiskey and shipping it downriver was a natural business for the new community. Lo and behold, by the time the neutral spirit packed into oak barrels reached New Orleans four months later, it had mellowed and picked up color and flavors from the wood. Since much of the whiskey came from Kentucky’s Bourbon County, it became known as Kentucky bourbon.

Distillery at Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Get you a copper kettle…


That’s probably all the history any bourbon drinker needs to know, as the taste of the spirit is what really matters. There’s a real alchemy to distilling, but the magic is more philosophical than physical. This small artisanal distillery (above) produces just two barrels of spirit per day. (Each barrel requires 14 bushels of corn, so you do the math.)

The distillery area has that pleasant smell of warm malt, as the facility brews a fresh batch of distiller’s beer each day from a mash of at least 51 percent corn, barley malt starter, and some rye and wheat. (Mash bills, as the proportions are called, vary with the brand.) The low-alcohol beer is distilled in a 70-foot-high column still, then redistilled in a “doubler” to produce a clear “new make.” To be called bourbon, the new make has to come in at 160 proof or lower. Evan Williams puts its spirit into charred oak barrels at 125 proof. By the time the spirit and caramelized wood have married so the bourbon is ready for bottling, evaporation will have reduced the alcohol level further.

Proof is in the tasting


Andy Embry leads bourbon tastingIn the tasting room, Embry explained the basics. “Always nose it,” he said. “A tulip-shaped glass is good. Put your nose right in the glass, part your lips, and inhale.” We’d never thought about the parted lips, but the extra oxygen supercharges the palate to pick up a broader array of smells. “Then take a small taste to cover your tongue,” Embry added. “Roll it across your tongue to hit every tastebud. Don’t toss it all back. If you’re paying over $75 a bottle, you owe it to yourself to taste it first.”

The spirit goes down with a glowing warmth. “That’s what we call a Kentucky hug,” he said with a smile.

Embry had us taste several styles of Heaven Hill whiskies. First came Evan Williams Single Barrel. The 8-year-old 86.6 proof bourbon starts with strong notes of oak and sweet tobacco on the nose giving way to caramel and butterscotch in the mouth. Our second sip was Larceny, a small batch 92 proof wheated bourbon. Soft and sweet, it delivers all its flavor in the front of the mouth. Properly aerated, it has pleasing notes of sweet spices and black pepper. Our third whiskey was Rittenhouse Rye, a 100 proof straight rye with 15 percent corn in the mash bill. After the Larceny, it tasted especially dry, with cocoa and citrus dominating over nutmeg and maple tones. By contrast, the Henry McKenna bourbon—a 10-year-old 100 proof single barrel bourbon—was sweet and smoky, redolent of toffee and oak.

Once a week, the facility offers a tasting pairing bourbon with the artisanal candies of Cellar Door Chocolates. We previewed the experience at Mesa in New Albany and will be writing more about it soon.

01

11 2017

Bon appétit, y’all! (At the English Grill)

Brown Hotel lobby bar

Louisville certainly has some nice new hotels, but for old-city ambience and sheer Southern comfort it’s hard to beat the Brown Hotel (335 West Broadway, Louisville, 502-583-1234, brownhotel.com). A bastion of hospitality since 1923, it’s a pillar of the New Old South. Its English Renaissance-inspired architecture has a polite reserve that reflects Louisville’s role as the epicenter of bourbon and thoroughbred racing.

If we were true barflies, it would be hard to pry us out of the Brown’s elegant sepia-toned lobby bar. The room opens at 3 p.m. and by late afternoon it begins to fill with Louisville’s business elite. As befits one of the city’s finest and most storied bars, it even has a bourbon steward. On our last stay, it was Troy Ritchie, and he definitely knew his way around the deep bourbon list.

We usually drink spirits neat or on the rocks, but cocktail history runs deep at the Brown and we couldn’t resist. The bartenders make the Brown Manhattan with two parts bourbon to one part Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry, which is more aromatic and less sugary than most vermouths. They use both orange and Angostura bitters (and a house-cured cherry) to produce a drink with precison and finesse. FYI, the bar also makes a mean Old Fashioned, Louisville’s official drink said to be invented in 1881 at the esteemed Pendennis Club.

English Grill captures art of dining


Dustin Willett with duck dish at English Grill in Brown HotelWe may not have the connections to rub elbows at the Pendennis Club, but the refined elegance of the Brown Hotel’s English Grill suited us just fine for dinner. The dark oak paneling, the equestrian paintings, and the leaded glass windows are all original to the hotel’s opening in 1923. But the kitchen is as contemporary as the room is traditional.

Chef de cuisine Dustin Willett is a graduate of Culinard in Birmingham, Alabama, with stints in New Orleans and in the Washington, D.C. branch of the Four Seasons on his resume. He describes his cooking as modern Southern cuisine with international flavors. “I like to look at things in a modern way,” he says. That’s Willett above on the left, presenting a delicious plate of sliced roasted duck breast accompanied by duck confit in an endive leaf garnished with watermelon radish.

Hot Brown in Brown Hotel's English GrillOf course, you can find a superb all-American steak on the menu. The prime ribeye Delmonico is served with asparagus, roasted garlic aioli, and killer fries sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The most homegrown dish of all—it never leaves the menu—is the Hot Brown, invented here in 1926. To quote the menu, it consists of “roasted turkey breast and toast points with Mornay sauce pecorino Romano cheese, baked golden brown, finished with bacon and tomatoes.” It’s shown here. To read the background story and get the recipe, see this post.

Sweet conclusion


Making Bananas Foster at Brown Hotel's English GrillAs befits a special-occasion dining venue, the English Grill even does dessert with panache. The staff prepares the venerable Bananas Foster tableside. But this isn’t the original Bananas Foster created at Brennan’s in New Orleans in 1951. No-siree-bob. It would be heresy in Louisville to use any brown spirit other than bourbon. The steps are pretty much the same for so-called Bananas Foster Kentucky Style. Caramelize some brown sugar and cinnamon in a generous pool of butter, add banana liqueur, some Four Roses bourbon, and squeezes of lemon and orange. Cook until the alcohol burns off. Add freshly peeled bananas and cook until warm. Then pour on more Four Roses and tilt the pan until the alcohol catches fire with a snazzy blue flame. Once the flame dies, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Tastes from two banks of the mighty Ohio

Riverboat approaches Abraham Lincoln bridge over the Ohio River.

Long-time readers of HungryTravelers already know that we have a soft spot for the state of Kentucky. (David was born there and Pat’s a Kentucky Colonel.) On our recent visit to Louisville, though, we ventured across the Ohio River to explore the newfound hipster cachet of the southern Indiana communities that go by the catchy rubric of SoIN—as in SoIN to food, SoIN to you, SoIN to music, and so on. It was a tasty journey.

Sorry, folks: some history


Louisville entertainment districtGeography is destiny. The Falls of the Ohio made Louisville possible—and necessary. The 26-foot drop in the Ohio River meant river traffic from the east had to unload at Louisville. Goods were then transported overland and reloaded downriver to make the journey to Cairo, Illinois, and south on the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark, Louisville quickly became a great warehouse city and a manufacturing center for goods to sell downriver. (That’s bourbon, but more about that in other posts in this series.) The photo above right shows Louisville’s neon-lit entertainment district.

Downtown New Albany, IndianaAcross the Ohio from Louisville, the small Indiana towns of Jeffersonville and New Albany were both carved out of a land grant to Louisville founder and Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark. Shipyards and railroads made them prosper. As the first free soil north of the Ohio, they were also powerful magnets on the Underground Railroad while Louisville still held one of the largest slave markets north of New Orleans. (The photo at right is New Albany, Indiana’s more laidback downtown.) For nearly a century, the two banks of the Ohio that had so much in common were divided by the political issues that led to the Civil War. Now they look, sound, and taste more like each other all the time. Together they represent the intersection of the South and the Midwest. They are the land of bourbon and biscuits, of blues and bluegrass, of people south and north steeped in their history but not held hostage by it.

Hands across the water


Big Four Bridge pedestrian crossing of Ohio RiverA bridge is a powerful metaphor, and no fewer than eight of them link Louisville and SoIN. The one at top is the Abraham Lincoln Bridge, carrying I-65 north, but our favorite is the pedestrian Big Four Bridge (at right). It once carried the tracks of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway line, hence the name. From the Louisville side, the ramp to the bridge is part of Louisville Waterfront Park. The landscaping is less dramatic on the Jeffersonville, Indiana, side, but access is easy—even for wheelchair users. The span is a little under a half mile (2,525 feet), and a casual stroll takes about 20 minutes. (Most of that time is spent climbing up and climbing down at the two ends.) It’s been open at both ends since May 2014, and is patrolled 24 hours a day to ensure safe passage for walkers, runners, rollers, and cyclists.

Art on the rise


Dawn Spyker of Jeffersonville with art quilt projectAcross the bridge from the bright lights of Louisville, look for a colorfully painted water tower. Just as the church towers of southern Indiana were beacons to seekers of freedom, the tower is a beacon to artists. It serves as a marker for a new arts and cultural district where galleries, shops, and artists’ studios are springing up. At right, public arts administrator Dawn Spyker shows a quilt made as a high school group art project to celebrate the Ohio, the great stream that unites as well as divides.

In our explorations of SoIN and Louisville, we found another kind of artistry at work. Not only are the chefs plating up beautiful servings of Southern-inspired cuisine, the bartenders are working the local spirits hard to nice effect. And one of the things we enjoy about the bars in these parts—the folks creating drinks usually go by the handle of “bartender.” It’s a reminder that “mixologists” mostly live east of the Allegheny.

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