If I cannot drink Bourbon and smoke cigars in Heaven than I shall not go.” Mark Twain
Three Fire & Vine Hospitality spirits syndicate members recently traveled to Kentucky and all three described it as a heavenly opportunity. Lonnie Anderson of Aerlume, Sarah Choi-Amaya from El Gaucho Tacoma, and Chris LeRoy of The Lakehouse, enjoyed a whirlwind trip to visit Four Roses, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Michter’s Shively Distillery and Old Forester. The three enjoyed learning about the history and process of distilling bourbon and were able to select and bottle some special releases made just for Fire & Vine restaurants.
Lakehouse bar manager, Chris LeRoy says that Kentucky bourbon truly is the finest in the world because of “weather and water.” Kentucky sits on massive sabs of limestone and when rain water is filtered through the stone, it removes iron and other minerals that would interfere with the pure flavor of the bourbon. Sarah Choi adds, “You have never tasted water as delicious as Kentucky’s.”
Weather comes into play when it is time to barrel age the spirit. “Most of the distilleries still use rickhouses that were built more than one hundred years ago. The buildings are not insulated which causes the bourbon to expand and contract inside the charred American oak barrels. This allows the bourbon to soak up all the toasted oak and the honey and vanilla flavors that come with it.”
The trip began at Four Roses and the team did a blind tasting of seven different barrels and selected two custom barrels – a lighter version for El Gaucho and another with spicier notes for other Fire & Vine Hospitality restaurants. The team picked the lighter barrel for our El Gaucho locations because guests love to taste and enjoy our selected barrels either neat or on the rocks. They chose the spicier blend for other Fire & Vine restaurants including The Lakehouse, Aerlume and Miller’s Guild because they tend to be more cocktail driven and that recipe would be perfect in an old fashioned and other bourbon-based drinks.
The group continued on to Jim Beam where they were impressed by the size of the operation which included a still which stood eight stories tall and produced 35 gallons a minute. Sarah Choi says she was enjoyed the strong family history at Jim Beam and the opportunity to dip and seal her own bottle Knob Creek Single Barrel with her thumbprint captured on the wax top. Makers Mark was the next stop and the team found it to be charming and said resembled a small village. Lonnie Anderson recently worked with the Makers Mark team to create custom barrels for El Gaucho and enjoyed reconnecting with the place and the people.
The final day included trips to Michter’s Shively Distillery and Old Forester. Michter’s is a younger distillery and their lab showcases the latest technology in water filtration and the ability to raise and lower the temperatures of the rickhouses without relying on weather patterns. Chris LeRoy noted that “this ability gives them a bourbon that might only be two years old but the barrels have gone through the expansion and contraction process multiple times resulting in a complex flavor.” Sarah was dazzled by two barrels that had 14-karat gold iron rings on the barrel. She joked, “Now that’s my kind of bourbon!”
Old Forester was the last stop and an interesting mix of the old and new. The location is the same spot where the distillery was founded but was completely renovated and reopened in 2017. They make and char their own barrels onsite. A sample of their custom Mint Julep chocolate was the perfect way to end the trip and celebrate Mint Julep month and the Kentucky Derby.
The trip is part of Fire & Vine Hospitality’s commitment to sourcing the finest products in the world and providing exceptional training and educational opportunities for our team. Please pull up a seat at the bar and let Lonnie, Sarah and Chris share more stories about their Kentucky adventure.