Bourbon lovers, set your DVRs: the 16th season of Bravo’s flagship cooking competition show, Top Chef, is set in Kentucky, and it includes a trip to one of the state’s most famous distilleries. Premiering Thursday, December 6, the new season will incorporate all that the Bluegrass State has to offer, including horse racing, college athletics, and, of course, bourbon—in particular, Maker’s Mark.
In the season’s second episode, airing December 13, the cast visits Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto and creates their own Private Select bourbon, a custom whiskey finished in barrels made using proprietary oak staves. Bottled at 54.9% ABV, the Top Chef Private Select was finished in a barrel made with three baked American Pure staves, which impart notes of brown sugar, vanilla, and caramel; three Maker’s 46 French oak staves, which deliver dried fruit flavors; and four roasted French mocha staves, which are toasted at high heat in a convection oven, adding traces of char, maple, and cacao. The limited release of 480 bottles will be available for $80 at the distillery and select retailers following the episode’s airdate.
“Those of us that are from Kentucky have always known that our defining culture here is so special—that culmination of the whiskey, thoroughbred racing, music, and food,” says Rob Samuels, chief distillery officer for Maker’s Mark. “When we first learned that Top Chef was even considering choosing Kentucky as the backdrop for an upcoming season of the program, we were honored.”
Samuels says that prior to making a location decision, the Top Chef producers visited Maker’s while it was featuring a glass artwork exhibition by sculptor Dale Chihuly. From there, chef Newman Miller—head chef at Star Hill Provisions, the distillery’s on-site restaurant—prepared an eight-course meal, paired with Maker’s Mark bourbons, that Samuels says blew them away. Top Chef was sold, choosing Maker’s as the only bourbon distillery featured on the show.
When it came time to shoot the segment, Samuels says, the weather forecast could not have been worse, but just before filming, the clouds parted. “The setting was really magical, and the energy and the creativity—it just felt like it was the perfect setting to showcase the craftsmanship of the chefs and their culinary creations,” he says. While certain details about the episode and visit can’t be shared before it airs, Samuels notes that the competing chefs went deep into local ingredients and culinary traditions, and that they kicked off a tasting by sampling spirit directly from the still.
The special Top Chef edition of Maker’s Private Select was announced at an event held at Craft, the New York City restaurant helmed by chef and show judge Tom Colicchio. According to Samuels, Colicchio named the trip to Maker’s as his highlight of the entire Kentucky experience. “It was a great honor,” Samuels says of hosting the show. “And it’s exciting for all of us here in Kentucky that we’re going to get to share our culture with the viewership of Top Chef.”
Tune in to Bravo on December 13 to see the visit for yourself and discover how the cast crafted their own version of Maker’s Private Select.