Toasting to Bourbon Pioneer George Garvin Brown on his Birthday

 

Toasting to Bourbon Pioneer George Garvin Brown on his Birthday

You probably won’t find too many parents who settle on “Garvin” when naming their children, but that name has a long history and a deep connection with bourbon lore. If you’ve ever enjoyed a single drop of straight bourbon whiskey in your life, you likely owe a bit of gratitude to George Garvin Brown – the man who is credited with revolutionizing the way Americans bought and consumed bourbon in the 1870s. 

9-6-16-blog-post-3A bourbon innovation that was clear as glass.

George Garvin Brown celebrated a milestone birthday this past Friday – The big 170. Born in 1846, he was contemporaries with other notable historic figures born that year such as Buffalo Bill Cody, George Westinghouse and, ironically, radical temperance movement champion Carrie Nation. Of course, Brown is long gone, but whiskey aficionados celebrate his birthday every year. Before Brown came along, distillers sold their whiskey exclusively by the barrel. And since most weren’t keen on the idea of buying upwards of 40 gallons of alcohol at once, many consumers brought their own jugs from home to fill directly from retailer’s barrels. In order to extend supply, less-than-scrupulous saloons and bars were known to add everything from prune juice to tobacco spit to rattlesnake heads to help fill up the jugs. “Rectifying” barrels in this manner was a common practice that allowed retailers to achieve the ideal coloring and consistency without the cost of adding more bourbon.

At the time, George Garvin Brown was a young Louisville-based pharmaceutical salesman. Glass bottles for packaging were a recent innovation and Brown saw potential for whiskey to be sold in pharmacies across the nation next to other medicines. George had a novel idea. A forward thinking idea that would turn the world of whiskey on its head: Put bourbon exclusively into glass bottles. Sealed bottles would assure quality and, 35 years before Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, it was among the first steps in making sure consumers knew exactly what they were taking home. With this innovation, Old Forester bourbon was born, and an iconic brand was launched.

The beginnings of the Louisville based distillery that’s still growing today

Soon after Brown’s innovation, he partnered with another George – his accountant George Forman – and established “Brown-Forman and Company” in 1870, just five years before the first running of The Kentucky Derby. Fast forward 146 years to today and Brown’s company is among the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies in the world- an incredibly impressive feat since the list of failed Kentucky bourbon distilleries over that time period reads like a laundry list of long lost whiskey brands.

9-6-16-blog-post-2Fred Noe, Master Distiller of Jim Beam Brands, likes to joke that Kentucky is the land of four million people and ten last names. So it comes as no surprise that today you’ll find Brown’s descendants everywhere in the Bluegrass. Louisville’s Frazier History Museum was founded by Owsley Brown Frazier in 2004. And, just two blocks down Main Street, you’ll find the 21c Museum Hotel which is co-owned by Laura Lee Brown. In fact, the current Chairman of the Board of Directors at Brown-Forman is none other than George Garvin Brown IV – George’s great-great grandson.

Break out the cake, candles and rock glasses!

We celebrate Brown’s birthday in September pretty much the same way we celebrate a lot of things in Kentucky: with bourbon. For the last 15 years, Brown-Forman has released a beloved special edition of their flagship brand known as “Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.” The oddly shaped bottle has become a “must have” for whiskey lovers who sample, collect, and trade limited edition releases. Each batch is different, each year brings a unique offering, and each release has earned a reputation as being among the most elusive whiskey for those seeking to find it on liquor store shelves.

9-6-16-blog-post-1This year’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release was patiently aged for 12 years (three times as long as the standard Old Forester product) entirely on the 5th floor of a single warehouse. These barrels were filled and then placed near the windows of the warehouse allowing them to soak up the heat of the sun. Master Distiller Chris Morris expects roughly 14,500 bottles to be released. While this year’s release is a smidge larger than years past, The Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is relatively miniscule. It takes timing and luck to stumble across a bottle. Considering most of us are lucky to end up with a cupcake and an off-key serenading of “Happy Birthday”, that is one great way to celebrate a man’s birthday.

And, beyond limited bourbon releases, Brown-Forman continues to grow. Projected to open in late 2017 will be the newest edition to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail: A $45 million Old Forester Distillery located right on Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row steps from where George Garvin Brown began the company. And Brown-Forman, makers of Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, Early Times and several other liquor brands, is already planning a celebration for their 150th anniversary in 2020. Now, that looks to be a party that George Garvin Brown would approve of.

So, next time you find yourself near a glass of bourbon, raise it high for a well-deserved toast to the man who had the wherewithal to put all that pure bourbon into a convenient, glass bottle. And we also ask you to consider extending some overdue thanks by considering naming your next offspring “Garvin.” Cheers to George Garvin Brown!

Mint Julep Tours can arrange visits to Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Distillery or Brown-Forman’s cooperage as part of any custom tour. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to begin planning your adventure!

Kentucky’s Exploding Culinary Scene

Kentucky’s Exploding Culinary Scene

For years, Kentucky’s best known restaurant was a charming little place called The Beaumont Inn. Located in historic Harrodsburg, The Beaumont lays claim to being the state’s oldest family-operated bed & breakfast. The quaint main dining room has been serving timeless Bluegrass classics liked fried chicken and country ham since 1845. But just as the number of bourbon distilleries has boomed in recent years, so has the number of innovative, ground breaking Kentucky restaurants. Today, new highly touted dining spots are drawing crowds to Louisville, Midway, Lexington and beyond. Each one fronted by ambitious, young executive chefs who are redefining both the culinary landscape and the menu. And the accolades from national publications are starting to pile up. Travel + Leisure magazine recently added Louisville to their list of “America’s Best Cities for foodies”, while Thrillist named Derby City their “Best Up-and-Coming Food City.” Simply put: Kentucky is becoming a destination for foodies. But to find the very best that the state has to offer, visitors often need a sense of adventure. And a pretty good sense of direction.

2.18 Blog Post 1“You sure this is right?” The guide let out a light laugh as he pulled the bus around another corner in Old Louisville. He had heard similar expressions of concern from guests on this drive many times before. “Yeah, I’m sure.” On a block filled with Victorian homes, one neighbor gave the bus what could only be described as the stink eye. The guide stopped right in front of a non-descript square building: Chef Edward Lee’s 610 Magnolia Restaurant, what very well may be the most unassuming fine-dining location on earth. Critically acclaimed 610 Magnolia is well known for their six-course pre-fixe meal served Wednesday through Saturday evenings. With intimate seating for only 50, the food served in this smart casual hideaway may be best described as Southern by way of Brooklyn by way of Korea. In fact, you could describe Chef Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia’s proprietor and Louisville’s own Food Network Iron Chef, in a very similar way. Lee has joked that he came to Kentucky to attend the Derby and then stayed to open a restaurant. These days, Lee has two dining spots. Milkwood, directly underneath Actor’s Theater on Main Street in Louisville, offers a more casual environment and the perfect subterranean escape from the bustle of downtown.

 

2.18 Blog Post 2If you want to eschew dinner for a hearty breakfast, then your itinerary should call for a pilgrimage to Wagner’s. The location, known as Wagner’s Pharmacy until they stopped issuing prescriptions in 2014, sits in the shadow of Churchill Downs and the building is every bit as modest as 610 Magnolia. While dining, you’ll share tables with thoroughbred jockeys, spot locals seeking out daily racing forms, and chat with horse trainers dropping in to pick up a mane comb or ointment. But don’t let all the activity distract you from the food. Esquire magazine honored Wagner’s in 2009 as “One Of The Best Places to Eat Breakfast in America.” Wagner’s, which opened way back in 1922, gained a bit of national attention when Chef Bobby Flay famously threw down (and lost) in a televised competition centered around omelets. Most of the staff just shrugs off the adulation, but Flay quickly learned what locals had known for decades – no one in the country makes better omelets than Wagner’s.

2.18 Blog Post 3With a growing number of amazing restaurants, it’s unlikely that you’ll go hungry in Louisville. Food options at bourbon distilleries throughout Kentucky, however, have always been a bit more limited. In fact, among the state’s major distilleries, less than half of them have lunch spots that allow guests to dine on premise. And, of those, only Woodford Reserve can boast a “Chef-In-Residence.” Glenn’s Creek Café, located inside the distillery’s visitors center, is the brain child of a chef who is leaving her mark all over the state: Ouita Michel.

 
2.18 Blog Post 4Chef Michel started turning heads when she opened the Holly Hill Inn in tiny Midway over 15 years ago. Today, she currently operates five restaurants and a bakery in locations that span three Kentucky counties. Each restaurant is tucked away behind a horse farm or down a narrow country road. Visitors at Wallace Station often enjoy lunch outside over a game of horseshoes usually unaware they are dining less than half a mile from the 1825 birthplace of Zerelda James, notorious matriarch to the James Gang. Windy Corner Market literally sits at a cross roads wedged on a small piece of land between large horse farms. In the spring, you’re likely to see young foals lounging beside the fence between bites of your Shady Lane Chicken Salad. All of Chef Michel’s restaurants are distinctly different from one another. And each one comes complete with a staff that could not be more warm and welcoming. And if that wasn’t enough, Ouita Michel was just named a 2016 James Beard Award Semi-finalist for Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year!

Sometimes the best meals in Kentucky are waiting for you just down a road that you might otherwise look past. To sample the very best dishes, visitors must to explore beyond the ubiquitous Hot Brown, the somewhat mysterious Burgoo, and Derby Pie. Plan a visit to see Kentucky’s legendary distilleries, horse farms and more. But make sure you schedule some time to slow down and eat. You’ll quickly discover for yourself why Zagat named Louisville one of America’s Next Hot Food Cities. And it has absolutely nothing to do with a certain famous Colonel.

Mint Julep Tours regularly visits a number of local, independently owned restaurants throughout the state as part of several of our tours. Mint Julep Tours can also create a custom itinerary for a Private Custom tour that includes a stop for lunch or dinner at nearly any Kentucky restaurant of your choosing. Hours and availability may vary depending on day or time of year. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online for more information and to book a tour today!