Two of our Spirits Captains – El Gaucho Seattle’s Dasha Mulein, and El Gaucho Bellevue’s Lonnie Anderson, were invited to visit Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark Distilleries in Kentucky. Not only was it an educational trip, they created a custom barrel of Knob Creek Rye, which will be available for our guests to enjoy within the next few months. Dasha and Lonnie recap their trip.
Dasha: When I was 25 years old, my friend bought me a bottle of Black Maple Hill 23 Year for my first father’s day, and I have been a huge fan of bourbon ever since. Recently the opportunity arose to select a barrel to be bottled exclusively for El Gaucho Restaurants, and Lonnie (El Gaucho Bellevue’s Spirits Director) and I jumped at the chance to visit the epicenter of American whiskey.
Lonnie: Let me first say, or declare, rather, that I’ve never been a bourbon drinker. At least that was the way I was before my visit to Jim Beam Distillery and Marker’s Mark.
Dasha: We arrived in Louisville, checked into our hotel, and headed out to dinner, where we enjoyed a round of Kentucky Mules. As you might guess, these are Moscow Mules, but made with the finest of Kentucky brown spirits. After dinner we headed to a bar called simply “Bourbons.” The proprietor of this establishment has an extensive collection of old bourbons and ryes ranging back to the early 1900’s – yes, that’s pre-prohibition! We got to see and sample a ceramic decanter of 1972 Old Rip Van Winkle. I then sipped 25 Year Michter’s Rye while he educated me on the way things used to be before bourbon became so popular, and where he thinks things are going. It was an amazing experience, to say the least.
Dasha: We awoke in the morning feeling a little hazy, yet excited, and headed to Jim Beam. Our first stop after checking in was Warehouse K, where we got to sample barrels of Knob Creek of different ages and from different locations in the rack house. It was fantastic to be able to see first hand the things that we had only previously read about. After each of us bottled our own bottle and marked the sealing wax with a thumbprint, we had a fantastic barbeque lunch and headed back to the hotel.
Lonnie: The Jim Beam Stillhouse was incredible. The interior looked like it was built in the 1800’s and hadn’t been touched since. We went up a couple of floors, and experienced the difference in temperature of each floor. I was a little uncomfortable because we were walking on wooden planks that were five floors up – a little scary, especially because I’m afraid of heights! We learned the science behind the storing of bourbon on different levels and temperatures of the rackhouse. Basically, the higher you go the hotter it is, which will age the bourbon faster than storing the bourbon on the much cooler floor level. It depends on what the master distiller is looking for with regard to flavor and alcohol, as to how he decides to age his craft.
Dasha: Day three began bright and early as we headed to Maker’s Mark for the most informative tour I have ever received. We saw everything from the corn being sorted to barrels being unloaded to wax being dipped. We even got to taste their closely guarded yeast strain! Our Maker’s tour concluded with an hour-long bourbon class, where we tasted and compared Maker’s side by side with its Kentucky, Tennessee, and Canadian counterparts, as well as got a bourbon science lesson. After dipping our own bottle in the famous red wax, we headed to a local Kentucky “hole-in-the-wall,” and I enjoyed the best fried-chicken sandwich I’ve ever had, aside from the one on El Gaucho Bellevue’s lunch menu, of course!
Lonnie: Our tour began in the visitor’s center at Maker’s Mark. Our tour guide explained the Samuels family story, and the recent generations of Bill Samuels, Sr., who created Maker’s Mark.
Dasha: All in all, this was an amazingly fun and educational trip. Not only did we get to hand select a great product to bring back to our guests, but we had the opportunity to see first hand the care, craftsmanship, and years of experience that goes into that product. Our barrel of Knob Creek Rye will be on our back bars in the next few months, and we will be bringing our guests delicious cocktails to highlight it.