Elite in Louisville

What is elite?  If you’re a football fan you’ve heard the debates of is Joe Flacco elite? Is Matt Ryan elite? Is Eli Manning elite?

The answers are: No. Maybe.  And only against the Patriots.

The South Regional of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is in Louisville this weekend.  Fans from Tennessee (go Vols!), Virginia, Purdue and Oregon (editor’s note: Oregon is not located anywhere near the “south”) will soon be descending on Louisville. The Regional is made up of Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight matchups to determine who goes to the Final Four.  That’s a lot of numbers and I was told there would be no math.

The Bourbon Fellowship had a great time during our group tour at Old Forester.

I live in Louisville and as a public service to any that may be visiting this weekend for the South Regional (or maybe you’re just here to visit your great-Aunt Edna) here are the Elite 8 restaurants and the Elite 8 things to do while you’re visiting.

Elite 8 Restaurants

Some of these will be downtown and near the arena.  Some may be a short drive away.  These are all great restaurants in all aspects.  However, all will also have wonderful bourbon offerings (except one because nothing is perfect).

Doc Crows: At Doc Crows you’ll find everything from barbecue sandwiches to top of the line steak.  So you can eat on a budget or you can splurge a bit.  The bourbon list is extensive and don’t forget to save room for the bread pudding.

Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen: Merle’s is recently expanded and features live music.  Tacos and hot chicken are the top features on the menu.  Any pour of whiskey can be made a double for $2 (whether it’s a Jim Beam or a Pappy’s).

Down One Bourbon Bar: Here you’ll find salads, unique sandwiches and smothered biscuits (you’ll need to see it).  The bourbon list is solid at prices that won’t cause sticker shock.

Jeff Ruby’s: This is THE place for a special night out.  The steaks are the best in town and the service is unparalleled.  These things do come at a price, however, but this place is worth it.  They offer an impressive whiskey list and the prices are reasonable given the upscale nature of the restaurant. 

Feast: What’s the best barbecue in Louisville?  That’s a tough question.  What’s the best barbecue in the downtown area?  That’s easy: Feast.  Pulled pork, brisket or ribs…you cannot go wrong.  Be sure to order the tots and the bourbon slushie!

Silver Dollar: This is a bourbon bar’s bourbon bar located just a short drive from downtown.  I can just sit and endlessly turn through the whiskey menu.  It is has so many unique offerings.  They really know their stuff here.  The food is outstanding, too.  You’ll find everything from burgers to catfish to chicken and waffles.  You won’t be disappointed.

River House: My favorite restaurant in Louisville is River House.  It is a short five minute drive from downtown, but the Uber there will be worth it.  Seafood and the raw bar are features of River House, but the steaks, chicken and pasta are making me drool right now thinking about it.  If the weather is nice they have a beautiful patio with views of the river.  Bourbon isn’t the main thing here, but you’ll easily find something you’ll love to sip on as you watch the river flow.

Mmmm…donuts.

North Lime Donuts: What do you need for breakfast after having one or ten too many the night before? Well, donuts, of course!  The best donut place in town is North Lime.  They’ve only been in town for a short time and it is a few minutes from downtown, but for the love of a funnel cake donut…it is worth it. Sorry, no bourbon served here.  Hopefully, that is in the business plan.

Elite 8 Things to Do

Four bourbon things:

The heart of Whiskey Row

Old Forester Distillery: The opening of the Old Forester Distillery was an important piece to the revival of Whiskey Row.  The tour of this traditional brand’s ultra-modern distillery is very impressive.  If you go, tell Drew I said “hey”.

Peerless Distillery: Technically, Peerless isn’t selling bourbon yet.  They do have some award winning rye, however.  The tour is a lot of fun, too.  Try to go on Saturday and hear the introduction to the tour delivered by Peerless owner, Corky Taylor.

Michter’s Distillery: This is the newest addition to Louisville’s downtown distillery lineup.  To be honest, I haven’t taken the tour, but I’ve been in the gift shop and it looks great (and they occasionally stock the shelves with some difficult to find bottles of bourbon and rye).   A friend told me the tour was “kinda boozy”, so that’s a strong recommendation.

Other distilleries: This is cheating a bit to group all of these and count them as one but, again…I was told there would be no math.  Any iconic bourbon distillery is going to be within an hour drive of Louisville.  If it’s a pretty day, the drive will be pleasant and the distilleries are beautiful properties in their own right.  Go here for more info on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Four non-bourbon things:

Kentucky Science Center: You brought the kids with you to the Sweet Sixteen?  What were you thinking! I mean that is seriously dumb.  If you made this mistake you can make the best of it by going to the Kentucky Science Center.  They have lots of great activities to keep your little crumb cruncher entertained.

Louisville Slugger Museum: Everybody needs a personalized bat.  This is where you get one.  The tour is a lot of fun, too.

Kentucky Derby Museum: There isn’t any racing going on at Churchill right now, but you can relive the Kentucky Derby here.  “The Greatest Race” exhibit is worth the price of admission by itself.

Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar: This downtown blues bar is a great way to spend an evening. The music is always good. The service is friendly. The bourbon is cheap. Count me in!

If you have any questions or need other suggestions, just tweet at me.  I hope you have a good time, especially if you’re a Vols fan!

Hopefully, this helps visitors for the South Regional or anytime. Maybe it will remind a local of a place to visit that they had forgotten. We’ll be back to the regularly scheduled program tomorrow. Cheers!

Kevin

It Isn’t Brain Surgery

It isn’t brain surgery.

That’s what people like to say when they want to define a certain task as being simple to perform.  Not just simple to perform, mind you, but simple to perform expertly.  You don’t want your neurosurgeon patting himself on the back because he did a slightly better than average job fixing what’s wrong with your medulla oblongata. You want that doc getting an award for the work he did on you.  After all…it is, in fact, brain surgery. 

What isn’t brain surgery is hosting a new bourbon group.  However, if you’ve never led a bourbon group before (or even BEEN to one before) then getting it right can feel a little more intimidating than it really is.  I made notes on several different ideas for that first Bourbon Fellowship going back and forth on what would be an appropriate way to launch this group.  In the process, I developed a few “Do’s and Don’ts” that may come in handy for your own bourbon group:

  • Do…offer pours of interesting bourbon in traditional whiskey glassware.
  • Don’t…open a bottle of Benchmark telling guests to “take a swig and pass it around”.
  • Do…ask your friends to share their thoughts on the bourbon they taste.
  • Don’t…scream at them they are WRONG! (a la John McGloughlin) and then subject them to lengthy personal tasting notes.
  • Do…provide light snacks such as pretzels, crackers, cheese, etc.
  • Don’t…dump leftover Halloween candy on the table and say “Trick or Treat, suckers”.

Fortunately, on that first night I think we were closer to the “Do” end of the Do-Don’t Spectrum.  I decided I wanted each Fellowship to have a few distinctions.  One was to have a theme.  Something more memorable than just filling a table with as many different bottles as possible every time you meet. In future blog posts I’ll go into more detail on some of the themes, but some examples are a specific brand (Knob Creek, Blanton’s, Booker’s) or a different style (rye, bottled in bond, barrel proof) or…well you get the idea.  The theme for Meeting One was Ten Year Whiskey.  The lineup consisted of Michter’s, Rebel Yell, Henry McKenna, Eagle Rare and Whistle Pig Rye.  Most people wouldn’t turn down a pour of any of those, so it seemed like a safe and successful way to start and everyone seemed to like it (they’ve kept coming back, at least).

A re-enactment of the Ten Year lineup. Doesn’t it look Wonderful Tonight.

I also thought having a specific playlist as background music during the evening would be another distinction for the group.  That first night the soundtrack was live versions of Eric Clapton songs.  Why Eric Clapton? Probably because I had just been listening to a lot of Clapton at that time.  Why live?  Why not? It’s in the way that you use it, anyway.

The final and most important question was: who to invite?
The short answer is “Friends you didn’t mind drinking some of your best bourbon”.  Also, guys that you wouldn’t mind if they stayed After Midnight. It didn’t really concern me how “into bourbon” someone was.  In the first e-mail invitation I sent out I actually said: “I want to start hosting, on a semi-regular basis, a bourbon fellowship.  Where a few guys come over, slow down for an hour or two and sip some bourbon (or rye or rum or Kool Aid or whatever you prefer).”  Nobody had any Kool-Aid, but I don’t think everyone drank bourbon that night.  I think my oldest son (who is of legal drinking age and yes I am old) just drank a Dr. Pepper and joined in the conversation. He’s come a long way in his bourbon journey since then, by the way.

We’ve got eleven of us in The Bourbon Fellowship now.  The rules for membership were simple:

1. No Knuckleheads.

2. Membership is limited to how many people I can fit in my basement.

While we are currently at capacity, we try to have a guest in from time to time if a “regular” can’t make it.  A couple of the guys are very knowledgeable about bourbon, a couple are relative novices and the rest of us are somewhere in between.  We are all, however, learning more and more as we go.  Nobody has ever said you have to be an expert about bourbon in order to enjoy bourbon.  After all…bourbon, in fact, is not brain surgery. 

This week, we are having the First Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Challenge. It will be a blind tasting of eight different bottled-in-bond bourbons. Next week, I’ll let you know how it went and we’ll have some reviews of the Final Four by a few of the guys in the group.

Kevin