Whisky is a great match for barbecue and all kinds of finger-licking foods, but with appreciation for the spirit on the rise, more and more imbibers prefer their whisky with a white-tablecloth meal. Distillery restaurants are catering to these discerning guests with farm-to-table fare, luxury ingredients, and fusion cuisine while enlisting award-winning chefs. “Distilleries are following the model wineries have been,” says Newman Miller, chef-in-residence at Maker’s Mark’s Star Hill Provisions, which opened last April, focusing on bold flavors that pair well with whisky.
The best distillery cuisine will satisfy any discriminating diner, while offering whisky lovers something a little bit extra—the chance to relish tasty glimpses of their favorite spirit throughout the meal. Whisky might peer from a rich sauce, punctuate a dessert, or star in a paired cocktail. “We are in a unique place in the world where we have the chance to work with some of the best locally sourced produce, and we can play on old traditions and experiment with connecting these to the fantastic whisky we craft here,” says Addy Daggert, head chef at Glenfiddich’s Malt Barn.
Great food, great whisky, and great conversation. Even casual whisky lovers will find plenty to love at these distillery restaurants.
Malt Barn Restaurant—Glenfiddich Distillery, Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland
Mosey across the stone floor from the dimly lit bar and cozy up to the roaring fireplace in this airy restaurant. Chef Addy Daggert grew up working in his family’s restaurant and has racked up a collection of awards, including Speyside Chef of the Year and twice winning Grampian Chef of the Year. He’s best known for using local ingredients at their peak of freshness to create plays on traditional Scottish fare while always keeping whisky front of mind—either as a pairing or as an ingredient. For example, he cures the smoked salmon with Balvenie DoubleWood 12 year old to create rich, layered flavors of smoke, sea salt, and subtle sweetness, and the fruitcake, dark chocolate torte, and crème brûlée are each spiked with a different Glenfiddich. Perhaps that’s the key to Daggert’s Grampian Pastry Chef of the Year 2013 title.
Eat this—Cullen skink, made with potatoes, onions, cream, and smoked haddock, served with fresh bread and oatcakes
Drink this—Glenfiddich 12 year old
Farmers & Distillers—Founding Spirits Distillery, Washington, D.C.
This farmer-owned restaurant is inspired by farmer, distiller, and founding father George Washington. “He was an entrepreneur ahead of his time,” says chef Joe Goetze, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Everything that can be is made in-house, down to the breads and cocktail ingredients, like lemongrass syrup and blueberry bitters.
The steakhouse portion of the menu allows you to personalize your order of custom-aged beef with sauces like charred scallion soy butter or chimichurri, and sides like roasted heirloom carrots and sweet potato confit. Fresh fish is sustainably wild-caught or sustainably farmed. They offer a variety of pasta dishes, Chinese fare, protein bowls, and an array of options for vegetarians. Local art inhabits the walls, with many portraits of Washington, including a 20-something George sporting a man bun. Don’t miss the shared cocktails, designed to satisfy up to four thirsty imbibers, like the boozy, spicy, with a hint of sweet Suffering Candidate, with rye and gin, ginger, lemon, and cane syrup, served on pebbled ice with mint and candied ginger.
Eat this—Twice-cooked beef tenderloin with seasonal green vegetables and cashew fried rice
Drink this—Never Bitter Julep, a mix of Founding Spirits American whiskey and their own amaro
Star Hill Provisions—Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto, Kentucky
This farm-to-table restaurant takes local to a new level by sourcing produce and meats from distillery employees’ small farms whenever possible. It’s an initiative led by chef-in-residence Newman Miller, who grew up on a tobacco farm just a ten-minute drive from Maker’s Mark and attended Sullivan University’s culinary program. “My best food memories are simple food at its peak,” Miller says. “The Holy Grail is to cook living vegetables, vegetables that have been picked in the morning, cooked, and served. We can’t do that every time, but that’s the direction we are pointing the restaurant in.”
Daily, Miller creates a different Red Plate Special incorporating that day’s fresh ingredients. “It’s usually big and hearty, packed with intense flavors that are spicier, acidic, or bright,” he says, offering, by example, Malaysian wagyu beef curry with cucumber salad, a boiled egg, and steamed rice with onion naan. The standard menu includes savories like a Lexington-style Kentucky Hot Brown made of country ham, roasted turkey, bacon, toast, white sauce, and tomatoes, served in a skillet. A fresh soup is offered daily and changes based on the freshest ingredients of the season. Handcrafted cocktails, like the house Highball made with Maker’s, fresh lemon juice, and Kentucky Ale-8-One, are made with as much care as the food.
Eat this—Red Plate Special, featuring the day’s freshest ingredients
Drink this—Star Hill Old-Fashioned made with Maker’s Mark cask strength, turbinado simple syrup, and Angostura bitters
Service Bar—Middle West Spirits, Columbus, Ohio
Built around a 19th century neoclassical Brunswick bar, this open-air industrial space has a dinner-club feel with touches of dark leather, walnut, brass, and marble. The communal 24-person table allows friends and strangers to eat together. The menu offers familiar dishes with innovative twists, such as lamb wontons with soy-chili oil sauce and pork cheek gnocchi with roasted squash, mushrooms, and herbs. Chef Avishar Barua combines his Bangladeshi roots, Midwestern upbringing, and New York City experience to create a new menu each season, as well as gluten-free and vegetarian versions of popular dishes. “Avishar is one of the brightest talents not only in Columbus, but Ohio at large. He has a unique ability to channel the familiar while challenging the palate by carefully weaving hints of nostalgic flavors and techniques throughout his seasonal menus,” says owner and general manager Brady Konya. The drinks menu highlights Middle West Spirits’ OYO whiskeys in barrel-aged cocktails and flights like the Old-Fashioned flight of four seasonal flavors, each with a different base.
Eat this—Cheesy Brisket Crunch: oak-smoked brisket wrapped in crispy corn tortillas topped with pepper jack queso and salsa guasacaca
Drink this—Perfect Dark, their version of a perfect Manhattan with a base of wheated four-grain bourbon, wheat whiskey, and dark pumpernickel rye whiskey.
Some distilleries offer more casual eats, making it easy to fill your belly quickly before or after a tour.
Old Kiln Cafe—Ardbeg Distillery, Port Ellen, Islay, Scotland
Ardbeg’s menu offers stick-to-your-ribs Scottish fare like haggis and fish pie, as well as top-notch soups and baked potatoes with sweet chili chicken, tuna salad, or cheese. Look for daily specials served with a dram.
Firehouse Sandwich Stop—Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky
Housed in a 1930s firehouse, this walk-up eatery serves mostly handheld food with whiskey-inspired names. Looking beyond barbecue, the Bung Up—a quarter-pound Angus beef hot dog topped with pulled pork, chili, and cheese—is a favorite.
Cutwater Spirits—San Diego, California
Shared plates are the way to go—a cheese board; fries loaded with pulled pork, cheese, and gravy; chicken legs with a choice of sauces; and shrimp made with Cutwater Bloody Mary mix. Pair your meal with a flight of Cutwater’s whiskeys.
CASKS Cafe—Isle of Arran Distillery, Lochranza, Isle of Arran, Scotland
Located on the second floor of the visitor center, this café serves lunch featuring fresh bread baked with their own grist, plus local meats and cheeses. Scottish favorites include a venison burger or a platter of smoked salmon, cheese, and oatcakes.
Fred’s Smokehouse—Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, Kentucky
It would be a sin if Jim Beam White weren’t the foundation of the barbecue sauce at this smokehouse, modeled after the original built by Jim Beam. Seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe can occasionally be spotted behind the counter or jumping in to fuel the smoker.
Wolfhead Distillery—McGregor, Ontario, Canada
The dining room at this upscale pub, which sources primarily from local suppliers, is separated from the distillery by huge windows, so diners can watch whisky and vodka trickle off the still as they enjoy lunch or dinner.
Glenn’s Creek Cafe—Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, Kentucky
Following a distillery tour, this super-relaxed cafe is the place for sandwiches, soups, and salads. Try the Turkey in the Barrel with hot bourbon mustard, pulled pork with Woodford bourbon barbecue sauce, or bourbon-spiked chili.