In 1957, Bill Samuels Sr. and his wife Margie stood on a rise overlooking the grounds of Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto and made a commitment to craft quality bourbon.
Since the family at that point had been making bourbon for more than 150 years, it could be argued that it was about time. However, during those early years, bourbon distilled at Maker’s Mark (and all of Kentucky’s other distilleries) was a far cry from the flavorful, refined product that we recognize today as the Commonwealth’s signature spirit.
According to Rob Samuels, Maker’s Mark president, Kentucky distilleries were producing “really awful whiskey.” In fact, he says a popular marketing slogan for Kentucky bourbon was “whiskey that will blow your ears off.”
Today, anyone savoring the smooth, elegant taste of Maker’s 46 knows that their ears will remain firmly attached to their head.
Last week Samuels toured a group of journalists around the 1,000-acre National Historic Landmark Distillery — the nation’s oldest working bourbon distillery located on its original site (since 1805) — and announced that his ultimate objective was to make a visit to Maker’s Mark “a true destination experience.”
That means visitors can see the whiskey being made, tour the underground limestone cellar, sample the bourbon in an art-filled tasting room, shop in the gift shop, and stop in for lunch at the newest addition to the Maker’s Mark campus — Star Hill Provisions.
Named Star Hill after the original family farmstead in Virginia and officially opened to the public on April 5, the restaurant will espouse a farm-to-table philosophy and focus heavily on Kentucky products.
Overseeing the kitchen is Chef Newman Miller, who grew up 10 miles from the distillery on a tobacco farm in Washington County, or as he puts it “seven minutes away by country driving.”
After working in restaurants from Chicago to Scotland, Miller returned to his roots, and with his wife Rachel converted the historic Harrison-Smith House on the circle in Bardstown into a fine dining restaurant.
Star Hill Provisions, described as “fast-casual,” has the look of an 18th-century tavern, its décor combining rustic and chic. Depending on setup, it can seat 30 to 50 people, with room for another 60 to 80 on an outside patio.
The menu, which will change seasonally, focuses on Southern fare, with emphasis on Kentucky’s three B’s — burgoo, Benedictine and Browns (as in hot). There will be seven or eight basic menu items, along with a daily special, and Miller plans to get much of his produce from area farmers, many of whom moonlight at the distillery.
Whether the dish is brisket and beer cheese (slow cooked brisket, homemade beer cheese, horseradish mayo, arugula, red onion, cucumber and honey mustard) or a Benedictine sandwich (Kentucky original cream cheese spread and goat cheese mousse on wheat toast with greens, pickled onion and cucumber), it will be designed to pair well with the restaurant’s specialty Maker’s Mark cocktails.
This is the first time in the history of the distillery that craft cocktails such as the bourbon slushee and Star Hill Old Fashioned can be ordered along with food.
Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Star Hill Provisions is predicted to be such a hit with distillery visitors that an all-glass extension overlooking a wooded area is already on the drawing board.
The restaurant is definitely a hit with one very special visitor, according to Rob Samuels.
“My father (Bill Samuels, Jr.) has been showing up more often since Chef Miller added the Benedictine and bacon sandwich to the menu,” he says.
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.
Star Hill Provisions deviled eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise
3 ounces cooked Kentucky Country Ham
2 ounces pickles
Pickle juice to taste
Black pepper and salt to taste
Pickled red onion to garnish
Bring eggs to a boil, then immediately cut heat and let sit for 8 minutes. When time is up, submerge in an ice bath to cool. Peel eggs and slice in half. Separate white and yolks.
In a food processor, combine yolks, mustard, ham, pickles and mayonnaise and run until smooth. Season mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill whites with country ham egg salad and garnish with minced pickled red onion.