Virtual Gourmet

  June 18, 2023                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 



Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson at Le Grand Colbert
 in Paris in "Something's Gotta Give" (2003)



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani


On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. June 21, at 11AM EDT,I will be interviewing Rohini Dey, restaurateur/owner of Chicago's VERMILION about authentic Indian cuisine.

Go to: The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.



                                        LOUISVILLE COMES ALIVE
                                                                                        By John Mariani


         Having been a frequent visitor to Louisville going back to the 1970s, I waited a long time for this city slumbering beside the Ohio River and within sight of Indiana to claim parity with progressive southern cities like Charleston, Savannah and Nashville by capitalizing on its history and heritage. Now, after an absence of five years, I have found Louisville has bounded into the 21st century with impressive vitality. Although much of its core was not too long ago in shabby condition, downtown Louisville has magnificent antique buildings with cast iron facades, now as colorfully restored as San Francisco’s Painted Ladies, many by new distilleries with the deep pockets to do so. Several needed to be shored up with new infrastructure costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
       Walk or drive around the city and you’ll also find the splendid Neo-Gothic Cathedral of the Assumption (1852) with its 287-foot-high steeple (right), stolid Victorian and Tudor mansions on Cherokee Road, and an array of unusual shotgun houses in Germantown.  The majestic old 1889 Union Station (left), one of three that once served the city as a hub for the north, south and west,  is architecturally part of American railway history, now operating as offices of  the Transit Authority. Its  turreted tower and façade’s limestone comes from Bowling Green; its windows totaled 278, many of stained glass. At its height, twenty special trains would come into the station during Derby weekend. 
Long delayed plans—added to by the Covid years—to position the city as an artistic center have finally come to fruition, and its acceptance of the LGBQT community provides a welcome to everyone that seems  increasingly rare in other southern cities. A life-size golden statue of a Full Monty Michelangelo “David” right on Main  Street is like an beacon inviting the whole world to Louisville. There was even a Drag Circus this May in the 21C Museum Hotel, itself an anchor for the arts in town, which is not an event you’re likely to see in Tallahassee.
   The hotel really is a true museum set on two floors, one with the considerable height to allow large dramatic sculptures and installations. The attached hotel has very comfortable, bright modern rooms and baths, and several years ago the hotel’s dining room, Proof on Main, set a bar for other innovative restaurants to follow. Itself decked out in a changing array of contemporary art, one’s table conversation will inevitably involve what hangs around you, though  I’m not sure I want to sit under a recent photo of one man giving another oral sex.
        Until the David arrived, the dominant Pop Art work in town had been a 120-foot Louisville Slugger baseball bat at the entrance to the storied manufacturer’s museum of baseball history and bat making. At first, the city fathers denied permission for such an idiosyncratic monument but relented after the company convinced them the building needed a plumbing vent, which just happened to take the shape of Babe Ruth’s bat of the 1920s.
        The Frazier History Museum is excellent for contemporary art, and the welcome center for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is of equal interest, arranging for tours of the state’s distilleries. Also downtown is the enormous Mohammad Ali Center (right) beside the river, which pays justified tribute, warts and all, to one of America’s greatest athletes and civil rights advocates. Not surprisingly, given its size, there isn’t enough Ali-bilia to fill four floors and some updating of the video quality is much needed, but it’s a must-see in town to appreciate how encompassing his iconography truly is. You can also visit Ali’s pink-and-blue boyhood home on Grand Avenue, the Columbia Gym where he trained as a teenager and the beautifully landscaped Cave Hill Cemetery where he and his family are buried.
         I also would not miss the Speed Museum (left) of fine arts, with its fine balance of traditional and modern works, currently featuring exhibitions of Kentucky women’s art and quilts. The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs is a requisite stop that uses all of its considerable space to give the history, the pageantry and the color of the annual race with a palpable thrill, not least in the impressive wrap-around movie projection of the race, as if you’re standing in the course’s infield.
         The current attractions of Louisville surpass its significant self-promotion as Bourbon City, which has succeeded in bringing not just visitors from nearby states but from all around the U.S. and, increasingly, from abroad of a kind who might well go on the Scotch Whiskey Trail, tour the Champagne houses of Épernay or sail the Rhine flanked by Germany’s finest vineyards. Indeed, had it not been for the soaring interest in America’s only native spirit in conjunction with new investors in distilleries, Louisville might still be slumbering. The aroma of bourbon on Main Street has become the smell of money.
         Outside of downtown there has been a remarkable growth of old neighborhoods into new ones populated by young people and dense with boutiques, restaurants and eateries. (I’ll be reporting on Louisville’s eating places in upcoming stories on the city.) The Highlands, in particular, with its beautiful Cherokee Park, teems with bars, local clothing stores, cookie and ice cream shops;  NuLu—“New Louisville”—has burgeoned as a new trendy area, and Portland contains the beauty of the riverscape with its fine bridges spanning the wide Ohio.
         Louisville is attracting more new hotels to add to a number that have their own legendary histories. The Brown Hotel (right) opened on West Broadway in 1923 and is now on the National Registry of Historic Places,  with a daunting lobby of tiled archways and long reception desk. It is home to the elegantly appointed English Grill (currently closed), where the hot brown sandwich of turkey and rich Mornay cheese sauce was created.
The Seelbach Hilton Hotel, done in a Beaux Arts Baroque style, has been a caravansary of legend, not least after F. Scott Fitzgerald began visiting on his weekend passes from the army and later using it as the “Muhlbach Hotel” in The Great Gatsby. The Seelbach had always attracted Kentucky’s distillery crowd as well as bootleggers like Lucky Luciano, Al Capone and Dutch Shultz during Prohibition. Capone’s favored room had a large mirror so that he could always watch his back, as well as two hidden doors leading to secret passageways.
The Seelbach’s golden age faded, and although its magnificent second story tiled dining room is still intact, it has lost most of its luster as a dining venue. The Seelbach Bar (right), however, retains its popularity and is a good place to get a mint julep or Old Fashioned. Its array of bourbon labels is impressive.
         The gigantic old Galt Hotel is fit enough for conventions, and its dated design and décor make no bones about its utility for such.
         This summer Churchill Downs will open Debut Derby City gaming with its own five-story hotel, near the airport, whose bland exterior does nothing to tell you this is Louisville, though the 123 rooms are said to be festooned with Derby artwork and furnishings. Casinos are always risky business for a city that has long prided itself on its quiet, genteel spirit, so just what it does to Louisville in the next decade is anyone’s guess.




                                                                                         Loews Regency New York Hotel
                                                                        540 Park Avenue


         Just as the long-gone Four Seasons Grill once epitomized the Power Lunch, the  Regency Bar & Grill has for several decades now been known for its “Power Breakfast,” at which the city’s movers and shakers get in an early morning meeting before limo-ing off to Wall Street, City Hall or some media conglomerate. They order the bagels and smoked salmon ($32) or the eggs Benedict ($30), and some have even been known to follow with a second breakfast meeting around nine o’clock, when a line snakes out the door waiting for a table.
       The hotel’s owner, Bob Tisch, began the idea of the Power Breakfast in the mid-70s during New York City’s financial crisis, when he invited the city’s business and political leaders to breakfast to discuss ways to help the city recover from bankruptcy.
  It’s always been a beautiful room, set on two-and-a-half levels, the first at a bar that is always packed by six PM.        
The art deco carpet, raised banquettes, brown columns and black walls, abstract paintings and black-and-white photos of Upper East Side celebrities have a palpable sense of being a uniquely New York venue.  I’m sorry to say that the white tablecloths at breakfast (right) are yanked for lunch and dinner, though still in evidence on the tier of banquettes that are the coziest of spots to dine (above).
         There’s a new executive chef onboard—they seem to change every few years—Manjit Manohar, who’s doing a deft job of balancing some of the traditions of the Regency Dining Room while adding his own seasonal ideas. Previously, he was chef at Millennium Hilton Hotel, following stints at The Standard Highline, and The Pierre Hotel.
ou begin with a generous bread basket—complementary, an increasing rare gesture these days!—which you’ll need to nibble on while waiting for cocktails, which one night took more than fifteen minutes to arrive. Busy, busy bar crowd.
         One item that will never leave the menu is the roasted tomato soup with a grilled three-cheese sandwich ($22) that has both a childlike comfort to it along with levels of flavor. You can get truffle fries ($19) as an appetizer, if you like, and right now there’s a white asparagus vichyssoise ($24) with early summer’s ramps, hazelnut and chive oil. Manohar is justly proud of adding “Crisp & Dip” ($24), fit for a table of four, composed of se
asoned tzatziki, hummus, baba ghanoush, festive olives and pita crisp. One of the best of the apps is a plate of juicy veal meatballs in a lusty tomato sauce ($24) that you’ll need the toasted Chardonnay bread to soak up every last drop.
         I asked if his “Jumbo Lump New England Crab Cakes” ($34) really contained jumbo lump crab, and though he said they did, I found the pieces of crab more broken up and shredded, which is an unlikely way to treat such an astronomically pricey ingredient these days. In any case, the grain mustard sauce and rocket lettuce made this a delightful starter, or even as a light main course.
         “Joan’s Chopped Salad” ($29), named for Tisch’s wife, was a good take on the original Brown Derby Cobb salad, containing romaine lettuce, chicken, egg, applewood smoked bacon, grated Vermont cheddar, avocado, tomato and balsamic vinaigrette (right), though original’s addition of chicory and Roquefort provides more assertive flavors.
         Among the main courses the “Big Burger” ($32) is more than just a triumph of size; in fact, I’ve seen bigger, but rarely better. The patty is about two inches thick and well-seasoned, served with American or cheddar cheese on a toasted brioche bun with housemade pickles, onion, tomato and truffle fries (the same ones you might have ordered as an app). When in the mood for such an American classic, the Regency’s is a classic rendering.
         You expect the dry-aged New York strip steak ($74) to rate with other Prime specimens in the city, and, though expensive, you get a full pound of beef, rather than the 14 ounces that has become common. So, too, four hefty lamb chops fill the plate ($78). We took some of both home. There are several sauces to choose among ($6 each).
         I’m always skeptical about farm-raised salmon, though just in the past week I’ve had two first-rate examples from Australia and, at The Regency, New Zealand. Meaty, subtle in flavor and impeccably seared to keep the fish moist, it comes with sugar snaps, pickled ramps, Meyer lemon and a dill broth ($45).
         The inclusion of  two pizzas and three pastas is to be expected these days on a New York menu, and if you have kids along, they’ll be happy with the Regency’s.
         Hotels do so much banquet business that pastry kitchens turn out desserts of high quality, like the Grill’s dark chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce, gold dust and streusel crumbs ($16); Key lime pie ($16); New York cheesecake ($16); strawberry shortcake ($16) and first-rate creme brûleé ($16).
        I was surprised that the dining room’s wine list is so short, with only the higher priced bottles (above $100) offering interesting choices. In this category, upgrading is critical. After all, the Regency has to compete with the high level demanded at its New York hotel competitors.
         By the way,  Manohar has debuted a monthly dinner series in the Regency Room, each month partnering with a local beverage purveyor to develop a multiple course pairing menu for guests and locals.
So, after all these years, the Regency rules as Power Breakfast central, but if you do not feel you need to be among the 200 plus who take up residence each morning, allow yourself to get hungry enough for a splendid dinner of classic foods done with enough flair to mark Manohar as the best chef the room has had in years. It’s a place truly to relax, without daunting noise around you, to share dishes with old friends and family.


Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.    



By  John Mariani


To read previous chapters of GOING AFTER HARRY LIME go to the archive



“So,” said Katie. “Do you believe what Kovalyov said?”
         David had been waiting to explode and launched into crude invectives about the way they’d been picked up and brought to Kovalyov to be interrogated. He also assumed their rooms were bugged and Kovalyov would hear every word. David couldn’t care less.
         “That was no interrogation,” he said. “It was an exercise in Russian bureaucratic bullshit. Kovalyov was lying through his teeth about everything.  Hell, he probably knew everything about us before we stepped off the Metro. Those two fake students reported they saw us. They must have intercepted Philby’s book at the hotel before it was delivered to us and found out when we were to meet him. Goddamnit! I should have seen it coming.  I must be getting senile not to.  What makes us think we could just stroll up to Kim Philby’s apartment and say, ‘Oh, hi, Mrs. Philby, okay if we drop by to chat with your dead husband?’”
         “So you think the Philbys knew that the Russians knew about us?” asked Katie.
         “I don’t know, but I can guarantee you for damn sure those two goons patrol that neighborhood and keep an eye out for anyone knocking on Philby’s door. Freaking stupid of me not to suspect that right off the bat.”
         “Yeah, and I missed that thing about University of New York. Dead giveaway.”
         “I hadn’t thought of that frankly,” said David, “but it all adds up in retrospect.”
         “So, you definitely do not believe anything Kovalyov told us was true?”
         David nearly spat and said, deliberately loudly, “Not a freaking word!  Like we’re supposed to believe a parade of journalists traipse through Moscow looking for the dead Kim Philby and end up interviewing two actors who happen to look just like the Philbys we’ve seen in photos.”
         “What about what he said about Lentov?”
         “Now, that is surprising,” said David.  “Lentov said he was telling us all these details about Philby in order to embarrass the Russians and to allow Philby to do so, too. That doesn’t sound like a guy who would tip off the Russians that two Americans are coming over to Moscow.”
         “Unless Lentov was lying to us,” said Katie. “You yourself said that these guys never stop lying.”
         “Yeah, maybe Lentov’s actually trying to embarrass his British handlers by tearing open the Philby fiasco again. It’s something we’re going to have to figure out, Katie. When we get back to London I’m going to pay a nice warm visit to Comrade Lentov.”
         Katie looked at her watch and saw it was close to seven o’clock and said, “Well, if they’re booting us out of here in twelve hours, we’ve gotta pack. Do you want to just catch some dinner downstairs?”
         “Last place I’d eat it. They probably have the dining room bugged too. I think we’d better grab a bite outside the hotel, where we can talk. Meet you in a half hour downstairs?”
         David left and Katie sat down on the bed, bewildered as to what their next step should be. She knew that once they left Russia she was free to write the Philby part of the story, which in and of itself was a unique scoop on her part, even without finding Harry Lime. For, despite everything that Kovalyov said, she still had her recorded interview with the Philbys to back up her story.        
She grabbed her handbag to check the recorder to see if everything had come out audibly.  She pushed her hand around in the bag and didn’t feel the recorder, then poured its contents on the bed. Her passport was there but not the recorder.


                                                                     *                         *                         *        



         The next morning when Katie and David came down to the lobby at six-thirty, the concierge said, “Your drivers have not yet arrived, but I do have a message for you.”
         Katie took the envelope and asked the concierge, “May I ask if you were here when this message arrived?”
         The man nodded, saying he had been on duty all night.
        “And can you tell me who delivered it?”
         “It was a man with a British accent, an older gentleman. It arrived only about a half hour ago.”
         David assumed the concierge would report the delivery of the message to the FSS, but there hadn’t yet been sufficient time to do so.
         Katie took out a photo she had in her notebook of Kim Philby.
         “Is this the man?” she asked.
         “Yes,” said the concierge, without hesitation.
         “Did he tell you anything else?”
         “No, the gentleman just said make sure that you received the message as soon as you came in.”
      David asked to see the envelope, looked at it carefully and knew that an old pro like Philby would have sealed it in such a way so as to reveal if it had been tampered with. David saw none. They went off to the other side of the lobby.  He opened the envelope and removed a sheet of paper that the two of them read together in silence. 

         Dear Miss Cavuto and Detective Greco,
         I was very glad that we had a chance to chat this afternoon and my wife sends her regards.
         As I think I mentioned to you, I would be so grateful if you could find those pills I have run out of for my condition. I believe you can buy them in London.  I’d be happy to reimburse you for your time and effort.
         They are called EmeeniFed and I believe they are made by a company  named HgaRX or something like that. I’d be most appreciative  if you   could send some to the address you visited.
         Best of luck with your story,

         Kim Philby


         Katie looked at David and asked, “I don’t remember him mentioning any pills, do you?”
         “No, not at all,” said David, “maybe he just forgot. But he sure as shit wanted us to have this info as soon as possible before we left Moscow. He even delivered it himself to make sure it wasn’t intercepted. He’d certainly must have known the surveillance schedule of those two goons, so he got up before sunrise and came here to the hotel.”
         “The pills are that important?” asked Katie.
         “Maybe, maybe not, but there might also be something about these pills that hold a clue to Harry Lime or Harold Neame. I guess we won’t know till we check them out when we get to London.”
         The Americans turned around and saw the two young men from the day before entering the hotel. The concierge said, “Oh, I believe these are your drivers,” then asked Katie to sign the credit card bill for their stay. “We have cancelled the next three days of your stay.”
          David stuck the Philby letter in his coat pocket and told Katie to say nothing further. The two men said nothing but, “Please, the car is waiting outside.”
         The streets of central Moscow had been completely cleared of the snowfall from the day before and the drive to the airport took less than an hour. During that time David had carefully taken the letter from his pocket, opened it and memorized the name of the pills, then quietly tore the letter in two.  Katie looked at him wide-eyed, seeing that the letter she regarded as evidence of Philby’s existence was being destroyed.
         Upon arrival at the airport, while the security men took the Americans’ bags, David threw one part of the torn letter into a waste basket and the other in another basket several yards away.  He figured if the concierge had found a way to contact the Russians—there had been no cell phone call during the drive to the airport—the men might search for it before allowing them to leave.
         Still no call. The men led the Americans to the airline counter, where they checked their luggage, even though it might easily have been carried onboard; they then stayed with the Americans through the security check—flashing their FSS IDs—and all the way to the gate to wait for the flight to leave an hour later.  There, one of them took a call on his cell phone, nodded, looked back at Katie and David, and nodded again.  David was sure they were going to frisk them for the letter.          A woman in what appeared to be a security uniform was walking towards the men, then the three of them came over to Katie and David. The woman said in a thick accent, “If you will, please come with me.”
         The two men went with them to a room just before the terminal’s security gates. There was nothing in it but a partition in the middle.
         “What’s this all about?” asked David gruffly. “You wanted us on that flight and now it’s leaving without us?”
         The two men said nothing, but the woman asked Katie and David to remove their shoes. She then took Katie behind one partition and the men took David to the other. The Americans were each patted down, removing David’s passport and wallet, while the woman went through Katie’s handbag.  The Russians conferred and gave back the passports and wallet. The woman opened the door, and the two men led the Americans back to the flight’s gate without a word then walked away, one of them on his phone.
         David felt the childish urge to give them the finger and yell, “Great hospitality here in Moscow,” but knew Katie would disapprove. He then ran the name of the pills through his brain several times until it was stuck there, then whispered it to Katie.
         The flight was delayed for de-icing the wings and Katie and David feared at any moment their Russian caretakers would return to board the plane and take them off.  He must have looked at his watch every thirty seconds. The flight attendants were speaking with someone outside the plane, and at one point the captain joined them, all of them glancing towards and nodding at the two Americans.  But finally the doors were shut and the engines began to whine. Twenty minutes later they were airborne.
         Katie and David both breathed a great sigh of relief, but it was a long while before they spoke to one another. Katie was embedding the name of the pills in her memory, still not yet willing to commit anything to paper.
         Finally, Katie said, “Y’know what’s so ironic about all this?  The Third Man begins with the burial of a body people think is Harry Lime’s and ends with digging up the grave. And here we are talking to a man whose body is supposed to be six feet under in a grave in Moscow.”
         “If it gets out Philby is alive, something tells me his grave will just—poof!—disappear,” said David.
          “But if he dies soon—before I have a chance to write anything—they’ll probably just let things lie as they are now.”
         “I think he’s just resigned to dying very soon and doesn’t give a rat’s ass any more.”
         “You mean he’s fatalistic?”
         “That’s just a nice word for a rat’s ass,” said David. “Well, anyway, your story should certainly stir things up. I’m glad you have the interview on your recorder, with Philby speaking. Actually, I was surprised he said okay to being recorded.”
         Katie shook her head, exhaled and said, “I was just about to tell you: while we were in Kovalyov’s office, they confiscated my recorder. I’ve got nothing but my notes and hearsay.  And now we haven’t got the letter.”
         “Bastards! Well, I guess that was to be expected. All the more reason we pursue the lead Philby gave us.”

John Mariani, 2016



                HOW MICHTER'S SPIRITS

                                                                 By John Mariani

Copper Stills at Michter's


         Bourbon is back big time.
        After decades of languishing along with other brown whiskies, interest is soaring, especially in the higher priced, limited release market. According to IWSR, which does analysis for the spirits market, in 2022 bourbon became the fourth-largest subcategory overall sold on the on-line store Drizly (following red wine, white wine, and vodka; tequila overtook rum and bourbon for total sales).
In 2016, bourbon held 26 percent volume share of the whiskey market in the U.S., and by 2021it had grown to a 30 percent share.  Moreover, the higher end of the price spectrum of bourbon, with bottles $100 or more, rose from a 10.5 percent share in 2021 to a 12.2 percent share in 2022. And within that category, bottlings that can cost in excess of $1000 are on allocation.

         Among the most coveted is Michter’s, which only became a brand as in the 1990s  but is now, despite deliberate keeping stocks low and releases in small batches, the fourth fastest rising brand in the market, ahead of Booker’s and Basil Hayden. Recently at auction a bottle of Michter’s 20-Year-Old bourbon went for $27,500.

         I visited Michter’s founder Joseph Magliocco (left) at his distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, to find out what’s driving the bourbon market. 



What prospects for whiskey did you see before you got into the business?


In the 1990’s when we started out on our plans to bring out a rye and a bourbon, the American whiskey business was still in a serious downturn. We had no idea how the category would grow over the next quarter century.


Why buy a brand name for a distillery that no longer existed?

I was familiar with Pennsylvania Michter’s and its great history because I sold it as a summer job during college. After the Pennsylvania distillery went bankrupt in 1989, the brand name went abandoned. In the 1990’s we acquired the brand name for $245 and got to work on re-establishing Michter’s in Kentucky. It would have been a shame to let this historic American whiskey brand disappear.

Where did you obtain your initial stocks?


I was working with Dick Newman, former President of Austin Nichols the maker of Wild Turkey, as my advisor. My Sales Vice President Steve Ziegler and I went around Kentucky with Dick to several distilleries and tried their stocks. With the American whiskey business being in the doldrums, distilleries were happy to offer us wonderful stocks that they were overloaded with. In the 1990’s, there was little to no market for older age statement bourbon or American rye. Dick, Steve, and I selected bourbon barrels and rye barrels of a style we really liked, and our first two Kentucky Michter’s offerings were 10 Year Kentucky Straight Single Barrel Bourbon and 10 Year Kentucky Straight Single Barrel Rye. Due to confidentiality agreements, I cannot disclose the particular distilleries that we purchased this whiskey from.

How much whiskey were you able to produce when you built your own distillery and how much today?


We have Michter’s Shively distillery with a 46’ high copper column still and a 250 gallon copper pot still doubler custom designed by the great American still maker Vendome. This distillation system is comprised of over 11,000 pounds of copper. Our second distillery Michter’s Fort Nelson has the legendary 550 gallon copper pot still that does the first distillation and the 110 gallon copper pot still doubler originally used at Michter’s Pennsylvania distillery. As a company policy, we do not release production and sales data.

Maker’s Mark was highly influential in the late 1980s in putting bourbon back on the map with their marketing. What were your ideas to promote Michter’s?


With our very limited budget, we didn’t have many marketing alternatives. We concentrated on tasting people on our whiskeys and on educating people about them. It was bartenders and whiskey knowledgeable retail people in our industry who spearheaded the comeback of American rye and the growing appreciation for quality American whiskey. These are the people that have been so vital to promoting Michter’s.

Have you had influence on the movies and TV shows Michter’s has been featured on, like Billions (below)?


No, but we are thrilled whenever we are watching a TV show or a movie and see Michter’s.

Your small batch philosophy has given Michter's  a distinct cachet. But isn’t expansion the American way of entrepreneurship? Bigger and bigger?


Everything we release at Michter’s is truly small batch (we intentionally designed our batching tanks so that they cannot hold more than the contents of 20 full barrels) or single barrel. Although Kentucky Michter’s has grown over the years, we are still quite small compared to many other American distillers. We have to allocate our whiskeys because demand exceeds supply, and we do want to be able to offer our loyal customers more whiskey over time. That being said, we have made a conscious decision to not cut any corners as we increase our capacity. Whether we are doing it or not, our goal is to make the best American whiskey. We want our quality, if anything, to get even better over time. If that means growing more slowly, so be it.

Why do different iterations of whiskies aged in various barrels mean such a wide spread of prices on the shelf?


Some of the industry’s special releases can require more expensive barrels and costly extra production steps. Ultimately, the prices are set by people’s demand for these iterations.

Steve Ziegler said at one time, "My job was a lot easier years ago when we felt lucky to sell 50 three bottle packs nationally in a month. Now unfortunately, what we release simply is not enough to meet demand right now, and we are addressing the shortfall without cutting corners.” When did things take off?


I can’t really pinpoint a particular time when things “took off.” We started off with extremely modest sales, and the growth of Kentucky Michter’s has been gradual over a 20 plus year period.

Is everything you make now allocated?


In how many countries do you have markets?


We sell all over the U.S., and we sell to over 60 export markets. The Michter’s whiskeys have been well received internationally, and our export business is significant for us. It’s wonderful for our team to be able to sell an American product abroad that is recognized as high quality.

How do you say “no more” to long-term customers who have stayed with you or important clients in hotel/restaurant markets like NY, Vegas, London, Dubai, etc?

That is one of the hardest challenges that we face. We are so grateful to our customers who have done so much to introduce people to Michter’s. We unfortunately don’t sometimes have as much to offer them as they would like. We comply with the applicable laws about allocating and do our best to allocate fairly.

For years Booker Noe and Pappy had achieved cult status, with available bottles going for well over SRP. You said that at a recent auction a bottle of M 20 Year old went for $27,500, yet it is available on line for around $6-$7,000. What causes such mania?

For years there have been great Scotches and great Cognacs that have been selling for thousands of dollars a bottle. It‘s great to see that people around the world are now realizing that whiskey made in the U.S. can rival the world’s greatest spirits. The prices being paid for some terrific American whiskeys reflect that realization.

What makes the 20 Year Old and your newest  signature releases  much different from other bourbons and ryes you make?

At Michter’s we pay as much attention and take as much care with our Michter’s US*1 Bourbon and our Michter’s US*1 Rye as we do with our most mature and most rare offerings. Our Master Distiller Dan McKee and our Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson carefully monitor the aging of our barrels. The ones that they let age to 20 years and beyond are pretty extraordinary. When making great whiskey, there is no substitute for patience. Whether it’s a special release like our Toasted Barrel Whiskeys (in 2014 Michter’s became the first whiskey company to finish whiskey in a barrel that was toasted, but not charred) or one of our ongoing offerings, we pursue a house style that is rich and flavorful.

How did Bourbon Row on Main Street come about? Whose idea? Did the old distilleries and new distilleries  agree on the idea. Were you in at the beginning?


In 2011 we announced our plans to renovate the historic Fort Nelson Building and turn it into a distillery. At that point, as far as I know, we were the first whiskey company in decades  to announce a downtown distillery. Because of the poor condition and the historic status of the Fort Nelson Building, we were not able to open Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery (left) until our renovation was finally complete in 2019. By then several other wonderful downtown distilleries had been opened by other Kentucky distillers. I think that having a group of great downtown distilleries creates a critical mass that benefits all of them.

Is your plan to keep making small batches of successful bottling or to put a series of new products in the market?


At Michter’s we are always experimenting and innovating in an effort to make the best whiskey possible. We plan to continue to offer single barrel and very small batch whiskeys made at Michter’s Shively Distillery and eventually offer some of the whiskey we have been making at Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery on the legendary Michter’s pot to pot still system first used at Pennsylvania Michter’s.

You bought a house in Louisville recently though you also live in NYC. Do you think Louisville will demand you be there full-time?

I work between Michter’s in Louisville and its Manhattan-based  parent company Chatham Imports. After 25 years of staying in Louisville’s great hotels, I bought a home in Kentucky. The people I have met here in Louisville are wonderful, and I plan to spend a lot of time in Kentucky.





"I learnt a number of life lessons on the four-day trek along the fabled Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, not least the importance of pronouncing the sacred site correctly. 'Machu-Pick-Chew' means 'old mountain'; 'Machu-Pea-Shew' translates to 'old penis', which can be very entertaining for the trek porters when western tourists — and I confess I was among that number — haven’t done their homework."—Kay Burley, "Deep-fried guinea pig and secret oxygen supplies: what it’s like to hike the Inca Trail," London Times (May 2023).


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here:

© copyright John Mariani 2023