Bob and I had the opportunity to visit the Maker's Mark Distillery this weekend to attend the TasteMaker's Dinner Honoring Chef John Currence. Now, if Chef Currence sounds familiar, it may be from Season 3 of Top Chef Masters. Or from The Mississippi Delta episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Or, you may have seen one of the many issues of Garden & Gun which sing the praises of his four restaurants in Oxford, Mississippi. Well, you get the idea. Chef Currence knows Southern Food.
It was a beautiful, if warm, Southern summer night, so we took the hour-or-so "scenic route" to Loretto from Louisville. With work opportunities for the book, I've been fortunate enough to visit Loretto pretty frequently over the past couple of years, but Bob hadn't had the chance to see some of the newer additions like the Tasting Cellar and Star Hill Provisions. To me, one of the most special things about the Maker's Mark campus is the strong commitment to building new structures that fit nicely with the original Victorian architecture from the property's days as Star Hill Farm and Burks Springs Distillery. In researching my book, I've been able to speak with several folks -- including Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr -- about the strong commitment to preserving Mrs. Margie Samuels's original vision of the distillery, honoring her design choices in every new project. If you haven't been out to Maker's Mark in a few years, you're in for a real treat; all the familiar Victorian elements are there, but the campus has been upgraded in so many new and beautiful ways!
The event kicked off around 6 p.m. with hors d'oeuvres: pimiento cheese beignets (which basically combines everything I love on earth) and pickled shrimp salad gougeres. The shrimp salad, served on tiny little croissants, was amazing, and I resolved at once to replicate the recipe! This course was accompanied by a Maker's Mark-spiked University Greys' Punch. A bluegrass duo performed on the patio, but we sought refuge from the heat by ducking into the side bar at Star Hill Provisions. It was so cozy and charming!
I sadly forgot to capture a photo of the soup course, which a chilled celery veloute with crabmeat and butter-toasted bread crumb. It was a great night for a chilled soup, and I never say no to crabmeat! This course was followed by a Maker's Mark highball.
The salad course, crisp and refreshing with a peppery bite, featuring Maytag bleu cheese, roasted tomato vinaigrette, and pickled apples.
We then were served a Maker's 46 Manhattan. I love Maker's 46 for a cocktail; I think the spirit's complex flavor stands up so well when mixed.
The entree course was bourbon-braised pork belly with celery root puree and a casserole of crispy Brussels sprouts and lardons. I seriously loved that casserole, y'all. It combined the comfort of my mom's broccoli casserole with a well-made mornay sauce and charred Brussels sprouts. This is another dish I hope to recreate at home!
We finished with a bourbon and clove poached pear served in phyllo with Maker's Mark frozen custard and bitter cocoa nibs. The course was accompanied by Star Hill Provisions' Maker's Mark Private Select. The Private Select program has created so many interesting expressions of Maker's Mark. It's so interesting to try different barrels and see how different folks' tastes run.
As longtime fans of the Maker's Mark brand and the distillery campus, we took a moment to walk around after dinner to notice all the beautiful new additions to the setting -- we even caught glimpses of frolicking rabbits and a lounging distillery cat! Bob noted how very much the distillery has changed from the late 90s, when the tour was a bare-bones look at how the bourbon is crafted. It was a fun evening of food and cocktails in a perfect setting!
Thanks so much to Maker's Mark for inviting us out to experience this fun event! The next TasteMakers dinner will honor Chef Edward Lee and will be held on Saturday, July 14. You can purchase tickets here.