Big Jones Welcomes Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley with a Celebration of the Kentucky Table

June 7, 2012 we are happy to welcome Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace Distillery to Big Jones for a special dinner to celebrate the whiskeys of Buffalo Trace. This dinner means a lot to me personally as many know, if I’m drinking it’s usually with a bottle of Buffalo Trace nearby, if not Eagle Rare or Blanton’s. I’ve also been a long time fan of the Sazerac collection of rye whiskeys (long time customers can remember when it was our go-to whiskey for the Sazerac cocktail before rye became so hot and it went on allocation) as well as the antique collection including Thomas Handy and George T. Stagg. Of course they are now also the home of Pappy Van Winkle, a tipple every bourbon enthusiast has to take now and again to be reminded just what heights bourbon whiskey can reach. Buffalo Trace is one of the biggest and perhaps most significant players in the resurgence of bourbon whiskey into the minds of epicures, to the extent that I think there can no longer be any doubt that Kentucky stands only with Scotland as the most hallowed ground in the history of distillation.

My grandparents on my dad’s side of the family, Grandma Rose and Grandpa Albert Fehribach, had a little farmstead right on the old Buffalo Trace east of my hometown of Jasper, Indiana, which had been in our family since they settled the area in 1836. Back in those days, the Buffalo Trace was the main road out of Appalachia into Illinois and linking up to the Mississippi River on the far end, but I always knew it as the path of the buffalo from Kentucky to the Wabash River in Vincennes.

The roots of inspiration here are obvious, and rather than dating a menu as I’ve done with previous bourbon dinners, what I’ve tried to do here is collect vignettes of some of the most traditional yet unique foods from the annals of Kentucky cooking. Because of the history of settlement patterns and the realities of climate zones and rainfall patterns, there’s a great deal of crossover here with my own family’s ancestral cooking, and studying the history of Kentucky foodways has been an inspiring look into my own past. This dinner then has double significance representing the foods of my native country, and cooking to serve with some of my absolute favorite bourbons including my own personal standby, Buffalo Trace.

Many of you have surely heard of beer cheese, and perhaps know all about salt rising bread, but I suspect few Chicagoans are familiar with the Western Kentucky standard of barbecue, mutton. We’ll be getting a mutton in from Mint Creek Farm and giving it the long, low slow hickory wood treatment and serving it with the requisite black sauce, a concoction of our house made worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, and spices. This barbecue is compelling enough that we are not seeking to “elevate” it in any way, you’re going to get a very traditional plate of mutton barbecue.

Before we’ve even done this public release, at least a half dozen people have mentioned to me the price is too low.  I don’t think so and I’ll elaborate for a moment. The Big Jones Bourbon Society is, first and foremost, an organization of whiskey enthusiasts. When we designed the passport and as we’ve put on these dinners, our goal has been to keep our events and our tastings as approachable as possible. I realize that even at $50, many folks will be priced out of participating and that hurts me more personally than missing out on another $25 or $50 per ticket. At $50 we can cover our expenses and maybe, if the stars align in our favor, make a few pennies. I’m more concerned with building our community and I believe that in the end profit will take care of itself. That said, I’m not concerned with making money on this dinner or any other BJBS dinner. I want as many people as possible to have access to our activities, and to be introduced to distillers we care about. So, while we could easily sell this out at $75 or $100, my conscience could not forgive me for leaving out that many more people who couldn’t afford the higher price point. Let’s sip some bourbon, eat, celebrate these great craftspeople, and worry about money another day.

Please join us for a special evening of culinary adventure and world class spirits. Reserve soon, as it will sell out quickly.

Big Jones Welcomes Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley

Thursday, June 7 2012

6:30 reception   *   7:30 Dinner

  • Salt rising bread with Kentucky beer cheese, heirloom radishes, and many relishes
  • Fried green tomatoes with country ham & egg salad, and green tomato relish
  • Henry Moore corn spoonbread souffle with scrambled brains & chives
  • A refreshing shot of house-cultured buttermilk with pickled beets & early summer herbs
  • Barbecued Mint Creek Farm mutton with black sauce, kohlrabi slaw, sliced early onion, and creamy new potato salad
  • Local strawberries with shortcake of heirloom buckwheat and ham drippings and whipped housemade cottage cheese

Buffalo Trace bourbons to be poured:

  • White Dog Mash #1
  • Buffalo Trace
  • Eagle Rare 10 year Single Barrel
  • Blanton’s Single Barrel
  • Weller Special Reserve