After a full day of tours and tastings, we headed back to the Seelbach Hotel for a "free evening." For me, this meant going out to dinner with a group from the conference, and continuing my quest for an interesting drinking experience in Louisville.
First Stop: Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse
This place had been highly recommended to me by some folks from the area, so we went there for dinner. The decor is a little overwhelming - see photo. Unfortunately, the cocktail menu was disappointing - everything sounded very sweet, and the one person in my group who was brave enough to order something from it (a mojito) was not able to finish it because it was so sweet. So I sipped on some Booker's neat, and then tried a Kentucky Ale. After all, the master brewer for Kentucky Ale, Chris Bird, was in our group, so the least we could do was try his beer (it was very good, I brought some of the bourbon barrel ale home with me). Although the drink list was disappointing, the dry-aged steaks at Jeff Ruby's were fantastic. All of us had a steak, and everyone loved them (and the asparagus, it was a bit hit too).
Second Stop: Proof on Main
Unfortunately, no one in our group had found any other cocktail bars for us to try, and some in our group had not been to Proof. So we went back. This time, we sat at the bar and talked to the bartenders, Jason and Les. It was pretty quiet, given that it was a Monday night, and they seemed to have fun with our group. I saw some house-made tonic water on the menu, so I tried the tonic water first. It was very light on quinine, with clove, allspice and citrus flavors. With gin, it seemed to liven up a bit, but was still a bit too light on flavor and quinine for me.
Spirit Tastings, Tastings, Tastings
Proof has some really interesting stuff on the bar that you don't see everyday, including some spirits from small distilleries around the U.S. that aren't in Chicago yet. I started by comparing Vermont Gold and Cold River vodkas neat and iced. The differences were striking. Each had a delicate aroma somewhat reminiscent of their base ingredient (Vermont Gold is maple sap, Cold River is potatoes), but the Cold River had much more flavor and texture. Being a fan of grain-based vodka, I liked the Vermont Gold better, but I can see why some folks love the Cold River.
Then I tried a couple of things I've never seen before. First up - Cadenhead's Green Label Rum. This spirit was complex and smooth, with rich caramel notes. Very sippable by itself. According to their website, this is a single-barrel rum, and I've not seen it before or since. Definitely give it a try if you see it, but it might not taste the same as the one I had unless you go to Proof!
Next up, Dumante Pistachio Liqueur. I'm not sure how I feel about nut-flavored liqueurs, although I do have a bottle of crème de noyaux for those rare occasions when someone asks for a Pink Squirrel (actually the only time that's happened was when someone wanted to test me and see if I knew what it was). Dumante was definitely pistachio flavored, very sweet, and had a hint of the "almond extract" flavor I always associate with my mom's cherry pies (which by the way, are the best ones ever).
The gents at Proof didn't really have any cocktails using the Dumante to recommend, so I sipped on it awhile. I'm not a huge fan of very sweet drinks, so I gave up on it eventually. Interestingly enough, I met Paul Paletti, Jr., the fellow who is importing Dumante from Italy, at our conference the next day - he is a well known lawyer in Louisville, also known for his interest in photography (apparently the collection in his firm's offices are quite impressive). Mr. Paletti advised that there were lots of cocktail ideas on their website, and that they were headed to Chicago soon. Perhaps I'll be seeing more of Dumante in the near future.
Spotting the Red Penguins
One of the most whimsical and fun things I've ever seen in a bar is the red penguins at Proof. They show up in different places at different times, yet no one would admit to seeing anyone move them (and no, we weren't just seeing things!). They're all over the attached museum too - keep your eyes peeled if you go.
It was late, so we wandered back to the Old Seelbach Bar, which was now closed. It was off to bed, to rise for another 8 am bus departure for the next day of the conference. More on that soon!