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!

The Unsung Hero of Bourbon – The Barrel

The Unsung Hero of Bourbon – The Barrel
November 11, 2015 

As most avid bourbon fans know, there are a number of strict requirements that any distillery must meet before their precious distilled spirit can legally be labeled and sold in America as “Bourbon.” Of all those requirements, perhaps the most intriguing and complicated benchmark involves a product that you’ll likely never see on the store shelf or at the bar – the bourbon barrel. By law, bourbon must be aged in charred, American oak barrels that are used once and never again for bourbon. Yup, that’s right. Every last ounce of bourbon must be aged in a fresh, new barrel. Cumbersome and costly? Perhaps. But generations of Master Distillers have agreed time and time again that it’s worth it. Many argue that the barrel and subsequent aging have the biggest impact on bourbon’s signature flavor.

When you consider that over 19 million cases of bourbon were sold in 2014, it’s pretty easy to see how the demand for an endless amount of new barrels starts adding up quickly. While this unique requirement gives the bourbon industry a specific set of challenges, it also creates some incredibly unique visitor experiences for those adventurous aficionados eager to see a different side of bourbon. While bourbon distilleries on and off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® have soared in popularity over the years, many are making time to visit cooperages – factories where bourbon barrels are made. Today, two major cooperages provide the vast number of barrels to bourbon makers throughout Kentucky and beyond: Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, KY and The Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville. And for a fascinating look into the detailed and meticulous process of making a vessel in which bourbon spends years maturing, each one is worth a visit.

10.29 Photo 1The Independent Stave Company knows a thing or two about crafting the perfect barrel – they’ve been at it for over 105 years. TW Boswell (a name that for many has become just as synonymous with bourbon as the name Beam) started milling in the Missouri Ozarks in the heart of White Oak Country in 1912. These days, Independent Stave Company Trucks, which roll out of the Kentucky Cooperage location, are a common site roaming the highways and byways in counties throughout the state. After all, ISC provides thousands and thousands of new barrels to several major distilleries every year. The company offers an eye-opening detailed, industrial factory tour. Visitors here have the opportunity on twice daily tours to see the manual shaping of the staves, the fire that chars the inside of each barrel, the manual placement of the metal hoop and, most importantly, watching coopers make sure that each container is liquid-tight without any nails, glue or other manmade sealers. Any visit to ISC’s Kentucky Cooperage will provide fascinating insights into how those endless ricks of barrels you see in storage are created.

10.29 Photo 3Paying a visit to the Brown-Forman Cooperage is a quite different experience. Located less than 1,000 feet from an active runway near Louisville International Airport, the cooperage is hard to find, but full of amazing history. Brown-Forman started the Cooperage in this location back in 1945. Many modern updates have been added to the facility, but the majority of the process has remained unchanged for decades. Most notably, Brown-Forman has bragging rights as the world’s only major distiller which both owns and manufactures its own barrels. The cooperage makes more than 600,000 barrels solely for brands under the Brown-Forman umbrella such as Old Forrester, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels. (Hey, even Tennessee Whiskeys need barrels, too.) Each barrel in this cooperage is made exclusively of white oak and holds exactly 53.4 gallons. Once complete, the empty vessels weigh more than 120 pounds. Being a cooper is hard, hot work in the summer and tough, cold work in the winter.

So, next time you raise a glass, make sure that you save a toast for the beloved and often overlooked barrel. Your drink has earned that moniker of bourbon in no small part to the effort of those charred staves adding 100% of the color and upwards of 60% of the flavor of your beverage. Never discount the role that this unsung oak hero plays in America’s native spirit. After all, bourbon is only as good as the barrel from which it was once poured!

The Independent Stave Company’s Kentucky Cooperage is located at 712 East Main Street and offers complimentary factory tours at 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM Monday-Friday. A stop at the Kentucky Cooperage can be included on a personalized, custom tour with Mint Julep Tours. The Brown-Forman Cooperage is not open for public tours, but private tours can booked exclusively through Mint Julep Tours. Call 502-583-1433 or e-mail info@MintJulepTours.com to book a tour today.

Mint Julep Tours Announces October Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience

We’re proud to announce the details and information for the Chuck Cowdery VIP Bourbon & History Tour Experience. Chuck is your personal tour guide for this 3-day bourbon adventure that is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Chuck Cowdery is an internationally renowned whiskey writer, specializing in American whiskey. He is a Kentucky Coloniel and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. He’s the author of Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey (2004) and the producer/director of “Made and Bottled in Kentucky” (1992). He is a regular contributor to Whisky Advocate Magazine and WHISKY Magazine, as well as the editor and publisher of The Bourbon Country Reader. More information on Chuck and some great bourbon talk can be found on his blog at http://www.chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/.

The three day adventure starts on Wednesday at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse with an exclusive behind the scenes tour and tasting with Freddie Noe, 8th generation Beam. You’ll enjoy an authentic Kentucky southern style lunch and then head to the Oscar Gratz Museum of Whiskey History. The day concludes with a VIP tour of Maker’s Mark Distillery with Bill Samuels Jr., son of Maker’s Mark founder. This exclusive Maker’s experience culminates with cocktails, appetizers and the opportunity to dip your own bottle in a barrel warehouse under the Chihuly blown glass art ceiling.

Your experience continues Thursday with a trip to Versailles Cemetery to visit the grave of Dr. James C. Crow, then it’s off to the Woodford County Historical Society & Museum. You’ll then head to Woodford Reserve Distillery for a tour and tasting before lunch. After lunch you’ll head to the famous Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory which is where bourbon ball chocolate candies were invented. The day wraps up a with a bourbon tasting some quality bourbon shopping with Chuck.

Friday kicks off with a driving tour of Whiskey Row, Brown-Forman Campus, Bernheim Distillery, and Stitzel-Weller before your tour of the Brown-Forman Barrel Cooperage.  You’ll then take a break for a BBQ lunch. After lunch you’ll head to Churchill Downs for a tour of exclusive areas and a tour of the Kentucky Derby Museum. The day wraps up with with a visit and tour of Vendome Copper & Brass Works who have been building stills on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville for more than 100 years.

This 3 day bourbon adventure runs from October 15th – 17th and the cost is $599 per person which includes all your transportation, admissions, appetizers, lunches, a bourbon tasting with Chuck and an autographed copy of his book. There are only 20 spots available and you must book by September 1st. Reserve your spot today by calling Mint Julep Tours at 502-583-1433 or sending an email to chasta@mintjuleptours.com. More information and a flyer for the tour can be found at http://bourbontrailtours.com/Exclusive-Experiences.html