Derby is a time of joyous celebration in Louisville and beyond. Sure, we start the party about a month out, but who’s counting?
So it startles me every time I see hate rear its ugly head and project its vitriol toward the legendary mint julep. What did a mint julep ever do to you?
It’s put smiles on millions of faces for decades, and Churchill Downs alone serves up more than 120,000 of them during Derbytime. In fact, it’s been the drink of choice at Churchill Downs since 1938, so take that and shove it down your mint-hating pie hole.
I’m not saying the mint juleps served at the racetrack are the epitome of what the cocktail can be. They’re far from it, especially since it’s usually pre-batched and made quickly for the masses.
But if you slow things down — you know, the Southern way — and make one at home using your favorite bourbon, I bet you’ll see this drink in a new light.
If you don’t feel like playing bartender, then go hit up one of our many fabulous cocktail bars for their take on the mint julep. Some that come to mind are Proof on Main, La Chasse (which just won the Four Roses Rose Julep contest), Bourbons Bistro, Taj, Meta, Martini’s Italian Bistro, Jockey Silks, and the list goes on and on.
I love introducing newbies to the mint julep, and I also like trying to convert haters, too. Let’s face it: The mint julep is the “Grey’s Anatomy” of drinks — it will never be canceled, nor should it.
One of my favorite recipes — which I’ll be making feverishly on Saturday at some friends’ Derby parties — is the chocolate mint julep. It’s as tasty and decadent as a Thin Mint, with a little bite in the back for good measure. There’s still time to gather up all the ingredients, so get to it! Your guests will thank you.
Bar Belle’s Chocolate Mint Julep
1 1/2 oz. Kentucky Bourbon (Use one that’s at least 100 proof or higher; I recommend Old Forester 100 Proof, Four Roses Single Barrel, or Henry McKenna Bottled-in-Bond)
1 oz. Simple Syrup (Just mix 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boom!)
Fill up a glass with crushed ice. In a separate mixing glass, throw in your bourbon, Ballotin and simple syrup with some mint and lightly muddle the mint. Swirl for 20 seconds, then pour over ice. Add a mint sprig as a garnish.
I was busy last month chatting with four talented women in the whiskey business for a series of profiles for The Bourbon Review. It was a dream assignment for me, as I got to ask the questions I’ve always wondered to women I’ve always admired — and one I met for the first time.
Some of the questions I kept the same, but mostly the focus was on each person’s journey to where she is today. I chose the Q&A style of interview so that their own voices would shine through, and I think it worked pretty well.
You tell me if it worked. Here they are in order of publication date.
In 2015, Kentucky native Alex Castle got the email of a lifetime. She was working as a production supervisor for Wild Turkey at the time, where she had landed soon after getting her chemical engineering degree from the University of Kentucky. The email posed a simple question: Would you be interested in working for a startup distillery in Memphis?
Castle had been at Wild Turkey for more than four years and had gotten a taste of the day-to-day operations of a large bourbon distillery. She loved her job there, but this new opportunity was one she couldn’t pass up. Fast-forward five years, and Castle is now the master distiller and senior vice president of Old Dominick Distillery, located in the heart of downtown Memphis.
Seven years ago this summer, Andrea Wilson made the decision to join the team of the up-and-coming Michter’s Distillery after 10+ years working for spirits giant Diageo. Michter’s was just getting ready to open its first Kentucky-based facility in Shively, and Wilson saw this as a great opportunity to further expand her distilling experience and join a crew who shared her passion and dedication to the craft.
Wilson left her job with Diageo on June 30 and started with Michter’s the very next day, on July 1 of 2014. Now, as executive vice president and master of maturation, she works endless hours in all facets of production and has helped shaped Michter’s into the premium brand it is today.
In 2007, Jane Bowie was crashing on her mother’s couch while back in Kentucky for a friend’s wedding. She had just finished a teaching job in Japan and was ready for her next adventure, which she thought might take her to New Zealand. As fate would have it, though, life rerouted her to the small town of Loretto, Ky., population 737.
Bowie’s mom had cut out a help-wanted ad from the newspaper and suggested she apply. The Maker’s Mark Distillery was looking for an event coordinator. To appease her parent, Bowie applied for the job in her own special way. The first line of her cover letter read: “I don’t want this job, but …” Bowie proceeded to outline her dream job for the company, which would send her all over the world sharing the good news about Maker’s Mark bourbon.
Of course this unique approach caught the eye of Maker’s Bill Samuels Jr. and his son Rob Samuels, and they quickly hired Bowie as a global brand ambassador. Since then, Bowie has worked her way up the ladder in — not surprisingly — some of the most unconventional ways, and now she serves as the master of maturation and director of innovation for the company.
In 2013, the Nethery family of Shelby County, Ky., was at a crossroads. Should they continue a fulfilling yet slightly stagnant life as they knew it — with husband Bruce farming the family land and wife Joyce teaching high school chemistry? Or should they bet the farm and do something much more unconventional and risky — like building a bourbon distillery from the ground up?
Kentucky is lucky the Netherys chose the latter, and while Bruce still farms the land, Joyce runs the operations at Jeptha Creed Distillery, serving as CEO and master distiller, while daughter Autumn takes the helm of co-owner and marketing manager. Even son Hunter pitches in, although he’s not 21 yet, helping out in production and farming while he learns the trade. And we hear he even has a knack for harvesting honey — just another perk of owning a farm craft distillery.
For the first time in its 150-year history, an Old Forester label will bear the signature of a woman! The first release in the new 117 Series will launch on Wednesday, March 24, and the mastermind behind the bottle is Old Fo Master Taster Jackie Zykan.
The inaugural release is named High Angels’ Share because it was chosen from a selection of barrels that lost exceptional volume to evaporation in the aging process. It’ll be released in 375ml bottles at 110 proof. The suggested retail price is $49.99.
The 117 Series will explore product innovation and experimentation, giving fans an opportunity to try a wide range of Old Forester’s flavor profiles. According to the news release, other 117 releases could explore selections from specific warehouses, barrel manipulations, deconstructed blends and more. Essentially, the possibilities are limitless.
“Creating the 117 Series has been a labor of love, and seeing my signature on the label is one of the highlights of my career,” said Zykan in the news release. “My mind is exploding with the endless possibilities of this smaller scale of experimentation and innovation.
“This series presents an opportunity to pull the curtain back and share the isolates of the blending process to help deepen the understanding of how variants in maturation affect flavor profile. We’re playing in uncharted territory here, and those who love Old Forester like we do will have the chance to explore with us.”
The name comes from the address of the distillery on Whiskey Row, where Old Forester was located from 1882-1919 and returned in 2018.
The bottles will be released at the distillery starting Wednesday, March 24. A limited number of tickets will be given out daily to those lining up.
The tasting notes provided included notes of dried fruit and herbaceous qualities, and from the media sample I received, I would add that it’s got that deliciously spicy zing of a snickerdoodle cookie, followed by grandma hugs of warm vanilla and a dash of hot fudge.
It’s no surprise those thirsty angels were sipping from these barrels. Simply divine.
If Pop Rocks made a “velvet tobacco” flavor, it would taste exactly like FAE-01, the newest release in the Maker’s Mark Wood-Finishing Series. It drinks like a whiskey from 1962 that you found in your grandpa’s attic, but that’s not meant to disparage it. Quite the opposite. It’s earthy, it’s viscous, it’s spicy, it’s balanced, it’s warm and, most of all, it’s accessible.
This is the third release of the Wood-Finishing Series, and the first of 2021. As with the other releases, there was a goal here — and that was to highlight one component of Maker’s Mark, as lead by Maker’s Master of Maturation and Director of Innovation Jane Bowie. For FAE-01, it’s the distilling process, which produces “fatty acid esters” — hence the term FAE — that Maker’s is known for.
In a Zoom call with a handful of Kentucky media Wednesday afternoon, Bowie went through her process step by step to getting to the final mouth-watering product — her favorite so far of the three.
“For 2021, we leaned into our column stills and nonchill-filtering process, which, simply put, helps us retain the texture and a higher viscosity of the whisky,” Bowie said in a previous press release. “What we got is an expression that highlights the fruit‑forward taste profile in an unexpected and much welcomed way. It tastes just like a barrel warehouse smells.”
She reiterated that last statement during the call, and through a series a samples given to us, she led us through her “shelf of shame” experiments. Let’s just say there was no shame in anything we sampled today, and it was quite eye-opening to see what a handful of staves can do to a final product.
Bowie said she started first with an American white oak stave (un-charred) and a French oak stave (un-charred) to compare the two flavors. By doing this, she was able to determine she wanted to go with the American oak for this release.
The next three samples were examples of aging fully matured Maker’s Mark with the FAE stave (American oak, seasoned and toasted on one side) and aging them for a few weeks in different parts of the distillery: a walk-in refrigerator, Warehouse A and the Private Select Cellar (which I like to call the Bourbon Bat Cave).
Here, she figured out she liked it aged in the Cellar the best.
It was a fun and enlightening time tasting through Bowie’s journey to FAE-01, and I am blown away by the finished product, which packs that delightful sweet caramel and vanilla taste but turns the spice and tobacco notes to a 10. This isn’t one you can shoot back after dinner. You’ve gotta swirl it, nose it and tell it it’s pretty. It’ll hang around a lot longer than some of your other favorites.
Take your time with this one, which is bottled at 110.6 proof, and go on your own journey through all its distinct flavors.
FAE-01 should be out on shelves now, so keep an eye out for it. It’ll retail for $59.99. And stay tuned … there’s a second FAE experiment coming in the fall. It’s so good, it couldn’t be kept to just one release.
Now this is pretty cool! Maker’s Mark is paying respect to one of its founders — Margie Samuels, wife of Bill Samuels Sr. — with this new collector’s bottle, called the Margie Samuels Founder’s Bottle. And what’s also cool: $25 from each bottle will go toward scholarships for the Bellarmine Women of Color Entrepreneurs Leadership Certificate program.
Margie was one of the first women to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame, and she is credited with not only coming up with that signature Maker’s red wax, but also envisioning bourbon tourism as we know it.
Margie was responsible for creating just about everything that makes Maker’s Mark the household name it is today — from the iconic bottle shape and red wax-dipped top, to the name, logo and inviting distillery visitor experience.
These limited-edition bottles will be available at the Loretto distillery’s gift shop starting Friday, March 5. They will retail for $64.95 and will be signed by Margie’s son, Bill Samuels Jr., former master distiller and chair emeritus of Maker’s Mark. The bottle also features artwork by Owensboro artist Aaron Kizer.
The sun is shining in my old Kentucky home today, and with talk of the Kentucky Derby, I feel as if spring is officially here. I jumped on a Zoom call this morning with fellow Louisville media to hear all about the new Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottle, which features equine artwork from the same artist as last year — Richard Sullivan — and, get this, the image is basically an extension of last year’s art.
Why does that matter? Because it’s going to look damn cool on your bar, that’s why! Sullivan’s image of the horses running the Kentucky Derby has basically been extended between the two bottles, so you can display them side by side and practically have Derby artwork on your bar — with delicious bourbon inside!
Bourbon and art make a lovely pair.
In this morning’s press conference, Sullivan, a Louisville-based artists and former professional baseball player, said this opportunity has been a dream come true, and his artwork is meant to “capture the spirit of the Kentucky Derby.”
The bottles will hit shelves as early as this week and retail for $49.99. You might be able to find some of the 2020 bottles in area liquor stores, and in fact, I just saw some recently at the Total Wine in St. Matthews.
Evan Williams releases Kentucky Derby Festival bottle March 11
And speaking of Derby, the fine folks at the Kentucky Derby Festival are once again partnering with Evan Williams for the annual Kentucky Derby Festival Bottle that features the 2021 Pegasus Pin on the neck. This year, the wax is a dapper hot pink!
The limited-edition 2013 vintage is bottled at 115 proof, which commemorates both the 66th Kentucky Derby Festival plus the 49th Pegasus Pin anniversary (66+49=115). Each bottle of the single barrel bourbon contains the exact day it was put into an oak barrel to age, the barrel number and the date it was bottled.
“Our partnership with Evan Williams celebrates two of Kentucky’s favorite things — the Derby Festival and bourbon,” said Matt Gibson, Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO, in a news release. “Although 2021 will be different, Pegasus Pins are still a great way to share the Derby Festival spirit and support your favorite events.”
Also coming out this week is a new limited release in the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, titled FAE-01. This is the third in the series and is named after the staves that altered the standard Maker’s Mark bourbon.
“For 2021, we leaned into our column stills and nonchill-filtering process, which, simply put, helps us retain the texture and a higher viscosity of the whisky,” said Jane Bowie, Maker’s Mark Director of Innovation, in a news release. “What we got is an expression that highlights the fruit-forward taste profile in an unexpected and much welcomed way. It tastes just like a barrel warehouse smells.”
Now you got my attention! The smell of a rick house is like no other, and it brings me pure joy whenever I’m inside one.
The bourbon will be released anywhere from 110.3-110.6 proof and retail for $59.99 a bottle.
Y’all, you peel off the roof of any bourbon or whiskey distillery out there, and you’ll find lots of women working behind the scenes in every aspect from distilling to ownership to ambassadors and so on. Of course this isn’t news to me, because I’ve been writing about these ladies for years.
I was recently tasked by The Bourbon Review to round up a handful of innovative women working in whiskey today, and my list quickly grew to more than 20 in five minutes flat. As I say in the article, this list is only the tip of the iceberg — and I feel bad I had to leave out so many others.
What was fun about writing this piece was learning about a few of the women I didn’t know as much about and reading all about their distilleries and passions and nerdy whiskey backgrounds. What wasn’t fun was rounding up all 22 photos. But that’s my job, and someone’s gotta pay some bills and feed the dog!
Here’s an excerpt from “Founders & Creators: 22 Women of Whiskey,” and for the full story, click here.
Anyone who believes whiskey is a man’s drink probably hasn’t gotten out of the house in the last decade. In fact, women make up nearly 40% of whiskey consumers, according to a recent study by MRI-Simmons. And behind the scenes, women are taking on more leadership roles in the distillery than ever.
We wanted to highlight a handful of women in the whiskey industry, and that list quickly grew to 22. This is only the tip of the iceberg. To keep it manageable, we decided to limit the list to those working in the United States and those working in distilling and/or ownership roles. Each week this month, we also will take a deeper dive with some of the women here, so stay tuned.
You’ll see the word “passion” a lot throughout the list. Most of the people below are simply following their love of science, distilling and innovation and their desire to put a fingerprint on the whiskey industry despite their gender. And they all are doing just that.
Let’s raise a toast to passion, drive and whiskey-makin’ badass women!
1. Nicole Austin — General Manager/Distiller at George Dickel (Cascade Hollow Distilling)
Nicole Austin came on board at Dickel in 2018 after learning the ropes at Kings County Distillery, Oak View Spirits and Ireland’s Tullamore Distillery. In 2019, Austin launched her first product, the award-winning 13-year-old Bottled-in-Bond George Dickel Tennessee Whisky. The chemical engineer is certainly bringing new life to the Diageo-owned distillery in Tullahoma, Tenn.
3. Jane Bowie — Master of Maturation/Director of Innovation at Maker’s Mark
Since 2016, Jane Bowie has been leading the charge of innovation at the quaint and historic Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky. Bowie started as an international ambassador for the company years earlier and then made her way to the distilling side of the operation, overseeing Maker’s Private Barrel Select program and creating new products like the wood-finishing series. Sensory analysis is what she loves most, and it shows in the novel new releases coming from the distillery.
First thing’s first: It’s time for more Bar Bingo, this time featuring Valentine’s Day-themed cocktails at nine of your favorite local watering holes! If you don’t know what Bar Bingo is, read my post about it from early December.
The effort is once again put together by members of the Responsible Bar & Restaurant Coalition, and the goal is to collect a stamp from all nine places that are offering up two intriguing Valentine’s Day-themed drinks. Participating bars include:
Pints & Union
The Limbo/Riot Café
Once you collect all the stamps, you take a photo of your complete bingo card (which can be picked up at all nine bars) and text it in to Olivia Griffin, owner of The Limbo. You are then entered into a drawing for gift cards, booze and other fun prizes. All cocktails will be $10 or less.
I had a fun time completing my Bar Bingo in December, and it looks like this one will be fun as well, especially with drink names like Favorite Mistake (Gold Bar), Courtney Love (Ostra), Let That Man Go (Mag Bar), Emotionally Slutty (Limbo), Not in Love (Meta) and Champ “Pain” in My Ass (Zanzabar).
I believe the bingo cards will be collected through Feb. 28, so might as well start tonight!
Four Roses/Nanz & Kraft’s Flower Hour moves online
Each Valentine’s Day, Nanz & Kraft Florist in St. Matthews throws a big party with Four Roses featuring bourbon samples, appetizers (read: lots and lots of cheese and chocolate), a silent auction, jazz band and much more.
This year, however, they’re taking that party online, sort of, since we can’t really gather, sip and gab like we used to.
The good news is the online auction component will still be happening in the shop, and you have from now until Feb. 13 to stop in and place your bids. Nana & Kraft is located at 141 Breckenridge Lane.
Items up for grabs include the 2020 Limited Edition Small Batch, the 130th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch, the Al Young 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch and more. Basically, I’d like any of those bottles mentioned, ESPECIALLY the Al Young 50th, so if you need a reason to bid, make it a gift for me!
I can wine and dine you for that bottle, including but not limited to day drinking at your bar of choice, an invitation to my Bourbon Bungalow for a one-of-a-kind tasting experience, or partaking in a pub crawl through the Highlands or Germantown — or neighborhood of your choice.
Anyway, there’s another special promotion going on with Nanz & Kraft, too, and it includes a Valentine bouquet featuring a dozen Heart Roses and a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch for $125. Proceeds from this go to the American Heart Association.
So I have something to admit, and I’m guessing you already know this. I haven’t been getting out as much as I’d like to, because I REALLY don’t want this nasty Corona-cock virus, especially when the vaccine is so close. I feel like I’m letting you down as the Bar Belle of Louisville, but that’s where I am.
The other day, however, armed with a mask and an appetite for discovering new places, I managed to get to two bars and a pizza place (later in the week).
I not only love tacos, I’m obsessed with tacos. I want to eat them every day. I want to bask in all their folded-up glory. I want to be a taco.
So naturally I figured I’d love this new restaurant and bar that opened recently in the former Panera Bread location in the Highlands, which used to be the world-renowned ear X-tacy before that. In fact, I never frequented that Panera Bread because I felt like it was spitting on the X-tacy legacy, but now that something local has moved back in, I’ve let that guilt go — and it has nothing to do with tacos being in the name, I swear.
Anyway, this place is awesome! It’s colorful, spaced out, friendly and quite delicious. And the tacos are fairly authentic — as in Mexican-style tacos, not the Americanized version that comes with mounds of cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.
I had one asada (steak) taco ($3.75) and one tinga taco ($3.50), which featured chicken, and both were tasty and flavorful. The asada was cooked to crispy perfection, with just onions and cilantro added to the meat. And the chicken on the tinga was juicy and flavorful as well, and it was more like pulled chicken than pieces or, well, chicken finger-style. Both were served on homemade corn tortillas (you can also ask for a flour).
Now, my girlfriend and I are regulars at El Mariachi in Lyndon, and while we loved these tacos and admired their authenticity, we still think Mariachi serves up slightly better tacos. This is no knock on I Love Tacos, because I’ll definitely be back for more.
My friend who joined us also ordered the queso dip ($4.99), and it was quite amazing, as most queso is. On my next visit, I’d like to try the nachos, and on my visit after that, I’d like to get a burrito.
So what did I drink, you ask? You think I would have started with that! Duh. I had Ernesto’s Passion Fruit Margarita ($5.99), the frozen version, because the menu stated it was a People’s Choice Champion in 2019. It was fabulously sweet but not overly sweet, and the passion fruit tang played well with the tequila.
On my next visit to the bar area, I’d like to try the sangria ($4.99) as well as the raspberry margarita ($5.99) and blueberry margarita ($5.99).
I see that there’s also a location in Jeffersontown, so if you’re out that way, give it a try!
If you like to drink with your four-legged friends, then this new Highlands dog bar is for you! And if you just want to be around dozens of dogs that are romping around a room for hours, then you’re welcome to perch at a table to watch (and drink).
The space used to be a car repair shop, so it’s big and airy and concrete from wall to wall, with garage door-styled windows and doors that’ll open up when it’s nice out.
There’s also a dog park out back, and the bar offers various membership options for this area.
The menu is fairly small, with just a handful of beer (craft and domestic), wine and cocktail options. But there’s also local coffee and cold brew served, so that’s a nice option if you want to bring your laptop and get some work done while your dog frolics around the joint.
I don’t want to paint the picture like it’s a wild, free-for-all dog party going on. There are actually “park rangers” armed with squirt guns and tin-can shakers patrolling the area to make sure all the mutts are behaving.
Plus, your dog has to be updated on all its shots before entering, and there are forms to fill out. But you filthy humans can come right in and partake in the festivities.
I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I blame the worldwide pandemic for that. This is Chicago-style pizza in the former space of the beloved Clifton’s Pizza, and it was nice to see that they actually cleaned and spruced things up!
Not only that, but the beer taps were clean and had to be new, because my Bud Light was ice cold, crisp and crazy delicious as I was stuffing my mouth with deep-dish pizza. Yes, I know Bud Light isn’t local, but sometimes I slide back into the tastes of my college days and partake in a guilty pleasure. Leave me alone!
Jake & Elwood’s only serves beer and wine, and since it’s a Chicago-themed place, there’s plenty of Old Style and 312 on tap as well, plus an assortment of cans and bottles.
But let’s get to the pizza! You can get either thin crust or deep-dish Chicago-style, and the toppings are all the usual suspects. The menu also includes hot dogs (another Chicago staple), french fries — loaded or naked — as well as appetizers and salads.
I had a 10-inch cheese deep-dish pie, and my friend had two slices of thin-crust. We both enjoyed what we ordered and had plenty to take home.
I just had one criticism, since I have actually eaten a Chicago-style pizza in Chicago, and it’s about the amount of cheese that was used — or lack thereof.
The pizza came out with 2- or 3-inch-thick crust, per usual, but the middle part should be so heaving in cheese that it’s almost like a lasagna. This was not — it was actually thinner (since I didn’t add any toppings) than my friend’s thin-crust pizza.
That didn’t stop me from eating it, of course. And next time I’ll just ask for extra cheese. The sauce is spot-on, and overall it was a fun dining experience. I’ll definitely be back for more beer, too.
You know it, you love it, you look forward to it every year. No, it’s not the Super Bowl, it’s the annual Double Double Oaked release by Woodford Reserve.
It was announced just about 15 minutes ago that the 2021 edition (which actually has 2020 stamped on it) will be put out at the distillery in Versailles on Wednesday, Jan. 27, starting at 10 a.m. The limit this year is four bottles per person.
I definitely applaud the limit, because last year the Distillery Series release sold out in one day, as people were allowed to buy an entire case if they so desired — and many of them definitely desired.
It’s hard to say if the Double Double will last longer than a day this time, but it’ll be interesting to see. The 375mL bottles usually run about $50 each.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Double Double Oaked, we’re glad you crawled out from under that rock to join us. The product was first launched in 2015 and is basically bourbon that was meant to be Double Oaked but was left in the second flavoring barrel (heavily toasted, lightly charred) for an extra year. That first release may have been an accident, but it flew off the shelves, and now Woodford is aging it extra on purpose.
Just a warning: It’s going to be a madhouse Wednesday at the distillery. So dress warm and pack some patience.