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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bourbon: as American as Old Glory

A bartender at the Seelbach Hotel's storied bar in Louisville stamps a Passport for a traveler on the Urban Bourbon Trail.  To be part of the trail, each bar must have at least 50 different bourbons available. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time at the Seelbach.

My mind has turned to bourbon as we prepare our July 14 travel section. I mean, of course, that I'm thinking a lot about bourbon since it's interwoven with everything about Louisville, where I traveled in May to learn more about why that is.  A declaration by Congress made it the only distinctly American spirit and its contents and the techniques to create it are rigidly controlled. It must, for instance,  be at least 51 percent corn and be aged for at least two years in new but charred white oak barrels. But distillers manage to find variations to make their bourbon different from that of their neighbors, such as single barrel distillations, and that is part of the fascination with bourbon. It's a fascination  that has spread around the world in recent years, making sales of the American spirit skyrocket.

Sea salt and vanilla are among the products aged in used bourbon barrels.
 Since only new barrels can be used, that means there's a lot of leftover bourbon barrels around - something that inspired  Bourbon Barrel Foods entrepreneur Matt Jamie. He ages his own soy sauce in repurposed bourbon barrels and has found the process to be just as successful with Worcestershire sauce and vanilla. I brought back some of his bourbon infused salts and spices and they've brought a great bourbon flavor to foods from the grill. These uniquely Kentucky flavors make great gifts. Find them at the Butchertown Market in Louisville or order at

The majority of the used bourbon barrels are purchased by the Scots and Irish and sent back overseas to be used for aging Scotch and Irish whiskys. Sounds to me like a win-win scenario for everyone.  
Emil Paganini, a retired nephrologist and husband of my cooking school friend Loretta Paganini, is one of those who traveled Kentucky's Bourbon Trail with a group of friends and came back smitten with collecting bourbon. It sounds a lot like the Urban Bourbon Trail I took between bourbon bars in Louisville, Only those with 50 or more bourbons are allowed to be part of it.

Loretta and Emil are collaborating on a Bourbon dinner set for Wednesday July 10 at their Sapore Restaurant in Chester Township. You'll meet Emil in a story I'm planning for Monday's paper, but once the paper hits doorsteps and newstands the dinner will likely sell out quickly.

So I'm giving those who follow my blog a heads up in advance. Book that dinner and learn a lot about bourbon at

 Then be sure to watch for the July 14 travel section, which is sure to deliver some surprises.

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