For a long time — up until 2016, in fact, when Kentucky Senate Bill 11 passed — when you visited a distillery in Kentucky (such as the many points along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail), you were treated, mostly, to a tour and a tasting. There were sometimes special tours, of course, and special events, but you weren’t allowed to have a cocktail mixed up or take a seat and soak up the beauty of a bar. That changed, though, with the passage of the bill, which allowed (among other things) distilleries to serve their products by the drink.
Since that time, a number of distilleries — both new and established — have opened cocktail bars in various iterations. Some, like Michter’s, Old Forester, and Copper & Kings, maintain regular bar hours while others are only open at specific times or for special events. Either way, it’s easy to see that cocktails are here to stay in distilleries in Kentucky.
To find out more about the connection between cocktail bars and distilleries in Kentucky (and more specifically, Louisville), we talked to Joe and Matt Magliocco, respectively president and vice president of Michter’s Distillery, which recently opened its downtown Fort Nelson location, complete with its own cocktail bar, the Bar at Fort Nelson.
For Joe Magliocco, the addition of a bar was meant to be educational.
“The bartenders around the U.S. deserve so much credit for the resurgence of American whiskey. They did tremendous work to bring it back and make it popular again by showing customers how great it is in cocktails. We would like visitors to Fort Nelson to learn about how to make good cocktails and about the importance of the quality ingredients and ice.”
“The bartenders around the U.S. deserve so much credit for the resurgence of American whiskey.”
Matt Magliocco agreed.
“Michter’s as we know it today simply wouldn’t exist without the support of bartenders in the U.S. and around the world. Since the re-establishment of the brand in the 1990s, Michter’s has benefited enormously from the support and advice of bartenders who appreciate the quality of the liquid and proudly work with Michter’s in their own cocktail programs.”
In addition, there is the Fort Nelson Fellows program for bartenders, allowing for education on the industry side as well, ranging from guest shifts to master classes with bartenders from around the world.
What that translates into is a bar program designed around not only classic cocktails (a list of which was developed in conjunction with cocktail guru Dave Wondrich), but inventive drinks created by the bar staff, such as a multi-layered milk punch named Long Walks in the Rain.
Matt Magliocco, who worked on developing the bar program, said that their focus was to put forth a product that could stand up to other cocktail bars around the world. The bar wouldn’t just be a place to kill time while waiting for a tour. Instead, the Michter’s team worked to ensure that visitors would come and enjoy a drink regardless of a tour.
“Our hope is that guests will always find something to enjoy, be it a well-balanced version of a familiar favorite (like our classic Rye Manhattan) or their first experience with a multi-layered milk punch (like our bar manager Dante Wheat’s self-developed Long Walks in the Rain).”
For something that was not even in the plans when the brand went to contract in 2011, the bar has been a resounding success so far.
“Knock on wood — the Bar has been busy every day since opening to the public on February 2,” Matt Magliocco said. “ It has certainly been [seeing] a crowd of passionate whiskey drinkers alongside people who have time to kill and just want to enjoy a great drink or a coffee while they’re in the area.”
So, the next time you’re in Louisville and decide you need a drink, look up the local distilleries. Not only will you have access to their spirits, poured by the people that know them best, chances are you’ll also get to try those same spirits in new and delicious cocktails.
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