bourbon

Lost among the ‘dusties’ in Lexington’s House of Bourbon

Lost among the ‘dusties’ in Lexington’s House of Bourbon

Brian Booth tapped the back wall of Justins’ House of Bourbon at just the right point, and the wall swung open to reveal a windowless den behind the shop. It was a veritable speakeasy of some of the rarest vintage whiskeys ever brought together in one vault—old bottles known in the trade as “dusties.” That's a big part of what Justins’ House of Bourbon (601 West Main St., Lexington, Ky.; (859) 317-8609; thehouseofbourbon.com) is all about. Note the placement of the possessive apostrophe. This Mecca for bourbon nerds is the brainchild of Justin Sloan and Justin Thompson, both of whom began collecting vintage bottles of bourbon more than a decade ago. When Kentucky law changed in 2017 to allow the sale—by the glass and by...Read More
Pepper whiskey: haunting spirits rise from the dead

Pepper whiskey: haunting spirits rise from the dead

We do love a good ghost story, especially when the spirit in question is an iconic brand of Kentucky whiskey. Long before Brooklyn hipsters began muttering about “peppery” notes in a sip of rye, “Pepper” was a huge name in the whiskey world. We got a couple of centuries of colorful tales on a tour of the James E. Pepper Distillery (1228 Manchester St. #100, Lexington, KY; 859-309-3230; jamesepepper.com). The ever-so-great grandpappy of the Pepper whiskey line was Elijah Pepper, who began making whiskey around 1780 in Virginia and built a distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky, in 1812. By 1865, the business had passed to his 15-year-old grandson, James E. Pepper. Now part of Brown & Forman, that limestone block National Historic Landmark is the...Read More
Chocolate and bourbon make best of friends

Chocolate and bourbon make best of friends

We were glad to see Andy Embry behind the counter at the cookware store and demonstration kitchen Mesa (216 Pearl Street, 812-725-7691, mesachefs.com) in New Albany. Mesa offers an ambitious schedule of cooking demonstrations led by local chefs. We had signed up for the bourbon and chocolate tasting program that is usually offered once a month, according to Mesa owner Bobby Bass. Embry had been remarkably engaging and knowledgeable when he guided us through the Evan Williams center in Louisville (see this post). And he had offered some good pointers on tasting bourbon. So we were curious to see how he approached pairing bourbon with chocolate. His partner in the demonstration was Erika Chavez-Graziano, founder of Cellar Door Chocolates (cellardoorchocolates.com), which has three shops in...Read More
Fine distractions at Louisville’s Red Herring

Fine distractions at Louisville’s Red Herring

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. If 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...Read More
Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

Swank cocktails on two sides of the Ohio

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.” We 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...Read More
Breaking bread over bourbon with Michael Veach

Breaking bread over bourbon with Michael 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. Veach 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...Read More
Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

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

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

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,...Read More
Tastes from two banks of the mighty Ohio

Tastes from two banks of the mighty Ohio

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 Geography 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,...Read More
Bourbon cocktails: mysterious … and easy

Bourbon cocktails: mysterious … and easy

Among the bourbon craft cocktails we tasted in Lexington, one of the most intriguing was the Blue Heron 46, a house specialty at the Blue Heron Steakhouse (185 Jefferson St, Lexington, Kentucky; 859-254-2491; blueheronsteakhouse.com). The menu describes the drink as Maker's 46 (a smoother, woodier version of Maker's Mark with more pronounced caramel notes) with handmade apricot ginger syrup served on the rocks. How do you make that syrup? Bartender Seth Kinder—the “Hell on Wheels” character mixing a drink here—was downright coy. He did suggest that the syrup was made by cooking down a pound of apricots with sugar and water, and an equal amount of fresh ginger also boiled in syrup. We'd make it like this. Combine 1 pound of dried apricots and two...Read More