Despite what my mother thinks, I did not major in whiskey consumption during my nearly decade-long stint at college, but thanks to a recent event at Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder, many of us can now say we’ve been to “bourbon school.” Monday night, over 70 thirsty patrons poured into the Bourbon & Larder for Heaven Hill Distilleries’ Old Fashioned University, a night of Southern food and whiskey enlightenment.
“If you’d have told me that 72 people would have showed up to a bourbon dinner in August 10 years ago, people would laugh at you,” says Bernie Lubbers, the international brand ambassador for Heaven Hill. Heaven Hill is the largest distillery of whiskey in the country and has been responsible for more than 15 different brands of bourbon.
Lubber’s job as a brand ambassador is to represent the company all over the world and, in true Southern fashion, the class he hosted at Seven Sows was jam-packed with detailed stories and lore from the early days of the historic, family-owned distillery.
Founded shortly after Prohibition in 1935 by the Beam family of Jim Beam notoriety, it is now a separate company from Jim Beam. Heaven Hill is best-known for it’s Evan Williams and Elijah Craig labels, the latter of which is a 12-year-aged bourbon that sells for less than $30 in North Carolina.
“Elijah Craig 12 Year is amazing and one of the oldest aged bourbons on the market,” says Lubbers. “Our family doesn’t believe in spending a lot of money on advertising or on logo bar mats and things like that, but passing the story along and selling every bottle you make isn’t a bad idea. Our motto is ‘longer, stronger, cheaper.’”
Monday night’s tasting paired bourbon’s with courses planned by Chef Michael Moore. Moore was unable to actually cook for the event because he was busy attending to the delivery his third child, Grace — Moore’s wife went into labor the morning of the dinner.
Nevertheless, the fearless staff pressed on, cranking out elegantly presented plates of beef tartare with peaches, peanuts, sriracha and Padron aioli; crispy chicken livers with barley-cauliflower risotto, bourbon-soaked cherries, smoked pecans and micro-sorrel; and smoked pork cheek with whey-cooked corn grits, potlikker, wild mushrooms and pork rind dust.
The meal wrapped up with a sugar bomb of a dessert: Lilly Duke’s butterscotch pudding with peanut butter fudge, local blackberries and pig-shaped shortbread, because in an animal-centric dinner, one has to have a meat representation in some way, shape or form.
Each course was paired respectively with the complex, spicy and nutmeg-heavy Elijah Craig 12 year; the delicate and oaky Evan Williams 10 year — a whiskey that is actually the same distillate of Elijah Craig, only aged for two years less — and the Larceny, a wheated bourbon with hints of butterscotch and caramel.
Dessert was paired with the legendary 100-proof Rittenhouse Rye whiskey. Though readily available outside the state, it is both a rare and difficult bottle to find in North Carolina, as the state chooses to purchase only a few cases each year.