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    Along a winding road outside Bardstown, Kentucky, past several well-established distilleries, Salt River Electric and a few factories, is a large building on a grassy expanse. This distillery, Bardstown Bourbon Co., emulates Mid-Century Modern architecture, with a flat roof, panes of reflective glass and wood paneling. The rickhouses feature columns of windows that allow visitors to look up at the barrels inside.

    Bottle & Bond, Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s restaurant, is furnished like an upscale hotel. Sage-green velvet chairs and soft leather couches sit around dining tables. Petrified moss covers the back wall, a backdrop for the company logo. A view of a copper pot still offers a peek into the beating heart of the distillery. A fireplace is encased in glass under a chimney of wooden blocks, splitting the main dining room from the bar. (Louisville-based bourbon personality Fred Minnick created the bourbon list, which features a selection of vintage whiskeys, the oldest of which, an 1892 Cedar Brook Handmade Sour Mash Whiskey, costs $1,600 for a one-ounce pour.)

    The $40-million distillery — opened in 2018 by four people who come from industries like healthcare and telecom and operate behind the scenes — has found its foothold in the tradition of bourbon, thanks to master distiller Steve Nally, formerly of Maker’s Mark in Loretto down the road, and chief operating officer John Hargrove, formerly master distiller at Barton 1792 in Bardstown. On 100 acres of working farmland, the operation has cemented itself as a spot on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

    Perhaps the biggest portion of Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s business relies on producing spirits on behalf of other brands like Jefferson’s, High West, Belle Meade and Hirsch. Brands do this for various reasons — to produce a limited run, for example, or to bolster output after their own distillery has reached capacity. While the model is similar to MGP, the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, company known for mass-produced bourbon and rye that’s blended and bottled into over 50 labels from well-known brands, Bardstown Bourbon Co. works with clients to distill private recipes or to collaborate on a custom recipe. Like MGP, Bardstown Bourbon Co. has released its own labels, including the Fusion Series of blended bourbon and the Discovery Series of 12-year bourbon, both sold at liquor stores throughout Louisville. It has also released several bottles in the Collaborative Series, formulating spirits with other companies, such as Louisville’s Copper & Kings and Goodwood Brewing.

     

    But Bottle & Bond seems to be the real draw. Restaurants inside distilleries were fairly uncommon until recently. Jim Beam has been home to Fred’s Smokehouse for several years, but in 2016 the state passed legislation that allowed distilleries to serve spirits onsite. Maker’s Mark added Star Hill Provisions in 2017. Bottle & Bond came the following year, and it has brought on Louisville restaurant leaders, including assistant vice president of customer relations Dan Callaway (formerly the general manager at Decca) and bourbon education and spirits specialist Brandon Habenstein (who did turns at Rye, Decca and Monnik).

    Through a visa program, the restaurant is bringing in chefs from South Africa, the Philippines and more to apprentice with executive chef Felix Mosso, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and most recently spent three years at the famed Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. While learning about the production and flavor profiles of American whiskey, the trainees cook up glazed Brussels sprouts with bourbon bacon and Kentucky blue cheese; tender gnocchi and vegetables in a bourbon mushroom sauce; grilled chicken with a Nashville dry rub; and grilled salmon with a bourbon glaze. As a result of the program, the community gains members who would otherwise be unlikely to find themselves in the area.


    Cast-iron friend chicken with French fries.

    “The (students) will be an integral part of (the restaurant) as the new menus unfold,” says John Castro, the company’s executive director of culinary operations. “Let’s look at some of their flavor profiles. Let’s go ahead and buy the ingredients in mind, then say, ‘OK, does it work?’ Ultimately, they may want to go back to their country and make bourbon. And unless we give those opportunities, explore those flavors, we’ll never know. We’ll be the same as everybody else.”

    Castro most recently served as executive chef at Winston’s, the former restaurant at Sullivan University, where he was also an instructor. Before that, he spent a couple years consulting at luxury hotels in Taiwan. (Bardstown Bourbon Co.’s future plans include an on-site hotel.) Castro attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, but his understanding of food began at a young age. His parents — his father a doctor who immigrated from the Philippines, his mother the head nurse at the hospital where he worked — made a home in rural Scottsburg, Indiana, about 30 miles north of Louisville. There, Castro’s mother became a dealer in Asian vegetables, growing produce in her garden for the growing Filipino population that worked with her husband.  “My mother could grow anything,” Castro says. “My mother would grow all of the vegetables that nobody had seeds for, nobody even knew about — bitter melon and all kinds of strange eggplant nobody had ever seen.”


    Red Claw cocktail with Suntory Toki Whisky, sake, white port, tonic and grapefruit peel.

    The home became such a hub for Filipino food that the family started to host an annual pig roast. Today, there are five professional chefs in the Castro family, including John’s brother Joe, formerly executive chef at the Brown Hotel. “I want to be able to create a culinary community, using some spirits,” John Castro says. “Honoring tradition but moving it forward.”

     

    This originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “Bourbon Trailblazer.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Chris Witzke, chriswitzke.com

    Cover photo: From left, grilled salmon with bourbon glaze and broccolini; sweet potato gnocchi with broccolini in bourbon mushroom sauce; glazed Brussel sprouts with bourbon bacon and blue cheese.

    Michelle Eigenheer's picture

    About Michelle Eigenheer

    A Louisville transplant beginning to appreciate all the city's small things.

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