Group Photo Van Winkle

On The Road culinary adventures in Kentucky with Julian P. Van Winkle, III – October, 2012

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

They came for the bourbon.  Not just any bourbon, but the world’s most elusive bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle.

Of course, there were other reasons for joining our most recent On The Road culinary adventure to Louisville, Kentucky.  We had several highly acclaimed chefs lined up to prepare elaborate dinners with wine and bourbon pairings, a pop-up cooking demonstration including lunch at an emerging artisan’s warehouse location, and brunch with a pastry demonstration by a French chef.

Louisville Skyline

Yes, I am sure the itinerary excited even the most discriminating traveler, but I know that for many of our guests who traveled from as far away as California, Florida, New York, and Tennessee, the opportunity to hang out with the legendary Julian P. Van Winkle, III and to sip and savor his new release of very exclusive bourbon was the primary reason they ventured the distance to Louisville.

There were calls and emails prior to the trip from several of our guests asking if any of the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons would be available for purchase if they attended the event.  Julian P. Van Winkle, III hears that question at least 100 times a day, so with some trepidation, I sent him an email inquiring as to the availability of his cultish bourbon.  The response was vague, yet somewhat encouraging, as I passed it along to the attendees.

A selection of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon at Seviche, A Latin Restaurant

As with all of these adventures, there is much anticipation and excitement prior to the event. The planning time is long and involved, details are tedious, and the expectations are high.  Menus are finalized, wines and spirits ordered, chef’s schedules coordinated, final numbers given, event locations prepared, and hotel reservations confirmed.  You cross your fingers, keep the faith, and look forward to meeting and sharing with new friends who are interested in learning about special culinary destinations, great chefs, food artisans, and who anticipate extraordinary food and sipping fine bourbon and wine.

The guests begin to arrive at Seviche, A Latin Restaurant, on Monday evening.  We know Chef Anthony Lamas well and he has become a good friend.  He is stoked and ready to put on a phenomenal event.  The Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Dinner is the perfect way to kick-off our second culinary tour in Louisville.

Tables were beautifully set at Seviche for the evening’s dinner

The private dining room, softly lit with candles and accented with white lilies on the tables, is beautifully set for the evening.  The menus are creatively designed and placed at each seat.  Chef Lamas and his staff have gone above and beyond to make this an extraordinary event.  We begin to see familiar faces arrive from last year’s adventure to Louisville and introduce ourselves to the new guests who have joined us for this tour.  A Bourbon Old Fashioned, featuring Pappy 10-year bourbon, awaits the guests as well as some of Lamas’ favorite spiced up hors d’oeuvres.   Anthony takes our guests on a behind the scenes tour of Seviche’s kitchen and we meet the staff that will be preparing and serving the evening’s dinner.

Preston and Julian Van Winkle at our dinner table at Seviche

Julian P. Van Winkle, III and his son, Preston, 4th generation of the Old Rip Van Winkle legacy, have arrived.  Likened to rockstars, they are the special guests of the evening and are looking forward to Chef Lamas’ dinner paired with five of their small batch bourbons.  They mingle with guests and we all take our seats in anticipation of a very special experience.

Tasting of five of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons

This dinner was to be the official release of this year’s Pappy.  However, the release date for 2012 has been delayed almost two weeks, so Julian Van Winkle supplied us with bourbon from his personal stash, ranging from the Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year, 107 proof with “notes of toffee, maple syrup, and dark fruit” to the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-year, 95.6 proof boasting “caramels and cream with a touch of oak and a great nose.”  My personal favorite, savored until the last moment, was the 90.4 proof 20-year Family Reserve that showed a butterines in taste and character.

Menu from the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon Dinner at Seviche

Chef Lamas and his culinary team put together an outstanding five-course dinner to complement each bourbon, incorporating additional bourbon in several of the dishes.  Each course that arrived was more impressive than the prior one, concluding with an unexpected and delectable dessert, Fois Gras Apple Bread Pudding with Bourbon Dulce De Leche, Marcona Almond, and Horchata Ice Cream.  Every dish paid homage to Southern ingredients and Kentucky bourbon along with the addition of a bit of spice and heat from Chef Lamas’ Latin culinary heritage.

Fog over the Kentucky River headed to Frankfort, KY

The next morning we traveled from Louisville to Frankfort, Kentucky.  Our early morning travels provided stunning views of the colorful hills and the fog hovering over the Kentucky River before the warm Indian Summer sun set in for the day.  As our guests arrived for our tour of Buffalo Trace Distillery, home of Pappy Van Winkle and the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, they were reminiscing about last evening’s memorable dinner.

Arriving at Buffalo Trace Distillery where Pappy Van Winkle is made

At the cooperage with our tour guide, Jim

One of the warehouses at Buffalo Trace

Julian P. Van Winkle, III joined us for the tour of Buffalo Trace Distillery.  Our guide, Jim, provided us with a history of Frankfort, KY, the distillery, and the bourbon making process. We were taken to the cooperage where bourbon barrels were once made and the  warehouse where the barrels rest, filled with what is essentially white lightening before time and temperature changes transform it to liquid gold. As you wander the dark passageways, you can smell the “Angel’s Share” as it escapes from the barrels sending the sweet and smoky scent of bourbon into the air.

They were bottling Blanton’s bourbon when we were at the bottling facility

The water tower looms high above the grounds at Buffalo Trace Distillery

We also toured the bottling facility where the fine bourbons are placed in bottles and sealed for distribution.  Many of our guests had never been to a distillery before, so it was fascinating for them to see the entire process.  Julian said that even he learns something new every time he goes on the tour.  The formal tour ended with a tasting of several of the bourbons made at the distillery, always a nice way to start the second half of your day.

Julian took us on a more in-depth tour of the distillery and the Mash House

Why not?

As other guests to the distillery were leaving, Julian collared our group and led us to other parts of the distillery not open to most visitors.   We toured the Mash House, where the corn arrives and is ground, mixed, cooked, and then placed in the vats and fermenters, beginning the time honored tradition and process of making bourbon.  The golden liquid mash slowly churned in the vats as the yeast worked its magic on the grains. The smell of the yeast and the sweetness of the corn filled the Mash House.  A sign by the 96,086.92 gallon fermenters stated,  “No Swimming.”  The question I had to ask was, “Why not?”

These fermenters each held 92,086.82 gallons of bourbon in the making

Each fermenter was filled with circulating sour mash or a different mix of ingredients (corn, wheat, barley, and rye) in varying amounts and different yeasts; each producing a distinct style of bourbon before it is sealed in oak barrels and laid to rest in the barrel house.

As everyone headed back to Louisville for our cooking demonstration with Chefs Anthony Lamas and Bobby Benjamin at Bourbon Barrel Foods with owner/artisan, Matt Jamie, the Kentucky sky was a brilliant blue and the temperatures had soared giving us that final taste of summer.  The weather could not have been more picture perfect.

Bourbon Barrel Foods with Chefs Anthony Lamas & Bobby Benjamin and owner/artisan Matt Jamie

The event space at Bourbon Barrel Foods

Chef Bobby Benjamin prepared a classic French dish with a unique Southern twist – Fried Coq au Vin

Entertaining us with a cooking demo, each chef prepared a main course dish, highlighting their own flavors.  Chef Lamas served perfectly seared Diver Scallops with a luscious Bluegrass Soy Red Chile Butter (prepared with Bluegrass Soy Sauce from Bourbon Barrel Foods ) complemented with toasted Macadamia nuts and rice.  Chef Benjamin brought us his unique version of Coq au Vin, Southern fried with grits and a rich, savory gravy made from veal stock.  Each course was accompanied by a white and red wine to pair with the flavors of the dishes.

Julian Van Winkle enjoys a fun twist on popcorn

Chefs Lamas and Benjamin wowed our guests at lunch

Molecular popcorn

Julian Van Winkle joined us for lunch and was a willing participant to taste test the “molecular popcorn and caramel” prepared with liquid nitrogen by Chef Lamas.   An updated version of Banana Pudding, with both a French and Latin twist, combined Brûlée Bananas and Smoked Serrano with Bourbon Pecan Brittle for dessert.

Our French inspired dinner was our 2nd evening’s event at La Coop Bistro with Chef Bobby Benjamin

Our guests began arriving at La Coop Bistro for our last evening’s dinner

Following an afternoon break for our guests to see the city, or visit their pillow, we made our way to an eight-course French inspired tasting dinner with wine pairings at Chef Bobby Benjamin’s La Coop Bistro.   A newer restaurant in the NuLu section of town, Chef Benjamin is a rising star in the culinary scene of Louisville.  Benjamin and the culinary team at La Coop created a menu with eight inventive courses that showcased his French training.

Chef Benjamin’s menu from the kitchen with his notes from dinner

Wine pairings,  selected by Brett Davis, the Master Sommelier, included many beautiful wines, such as this white, Domaine Cady, Les Varennes, Coteaux du Layon Saint Aubin, 2004.  Paired with Benjamin’s Foie Gras Torchon with Sunflower Seed Nougatine, Kentucky sorghum, and sliced truffles, our senses and taste buds were delighted  The wines, perfectly paired, really elevated the incredible flavors of the dishes.

Chef Ghyslain Maurais

Some of the pastries offered at Ghyslain

With Chefs Laurent Géroli & Ghyslain Maurais at Ghyslain on Market

Hard to top the last few days, the job for the final event was left to Chef Ghyslain Maurais as our guests gathered at Ghyslain’s On Market. While Ghyslain demonstrated pastry techniques that we could manage at home, guests indulged on charcuterie, fresh fruit, and a tasting of breakfast sandwiches.  Listening to Ghyslain’s background and humorous anecdotes, everyone laughed and enjoyed the pastry demonstration.  His “assistant” was Laurent Géroli, Executive Chef of The Brown Hotel and a close friend of Ghyslain.   As one last indulgence, a beautiful dessert Ghyslain prepared, his chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate shell, went home with our guests.

Goodbyes are hard after a few days of camaraderie around great food, wine, bourbon, and shared experiences in a beautiful city.  Strangers become friends and friends are now more like family.

What started as a quest for the ultimate bourbon for many of our guests, ended in a completely different experience than what they could ever have anticipated.  The guests that had never traveled to Kentucky were dazzled.  They didn’t know what to expect when they stepped off the plane in Louisville, however, when they left, they were ready to make plans to return.

The folks living in the Louisville area were exposed to people, places, foods, and restaurants they were not familiar with and were impressed with what they experienced.  Everyone learned something new, whether it was about cooking, the region, bourbon, or the people they met.  Everyone took away something more than what they came for.  That is what we design when we plan these “culinary adventures.”  People leave with a greater appreciation of the culinary world, the chefs and artisans, and have a unique experience in the host city that they would not be able to replicate on their own.

Did they ever get that elusive bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon that they originally came for?  In the end, it did not matter because they walked away with so much more: the experience of the event; an amazing culinary experience; the pleasant surprise of the city of Louisville; the breathtaking beauty of the Kentucky countryside; and new friends.

Here is a link to the video recap of our culinary tour

Louisville is calling again.  We are already planning a return visit in 2013 with new events and surprises for our On The Road culinary adventure participants.  Stay tuned.

A special thank you goes out to everyone who participated in or contributed to our event: The Brown Hotel, Seviche, A Latin Restaurant, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Bourbon Barrel Foods, La Coop Bistro, the Louisville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Kern’s Kitchen (home of the original Derby Pie®), and Art Eatables® (creator of the small-batch Bourbon Truffle™).

In particular, I want to recognize the individuals who, without them, this adventure would not have been possible: Julian P. Van Winkle, III, J. Preston Van Winkle, Chefs Anthony Lamas and Bobby Benjamin, and Matt Jamie.  We appreciate all of your hard work and time devoted to making this trip to Louisville such a great success.

* We did not photograph food from the dinners as we were being respectful of our guests and the other patrons at the restaurants.

* Some photographs in this post and in the video are used with permission from either our guests, Jesse Hendrix-Inman, John Nation, or the internet.

* The songs in the video can be purchased at Amazon .com or iTunes.