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Earlier this summer, Heaven Hill Distillery unveiled the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown, Kentucky, a $19-million revamp and expansion of the pioneering Bourbon Heritage Center that originally opened in 2004 as one of the first visitor centers on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Among the highlights of the now more than 30,000-square-foot interactive, educational hub is Five Brothers Bar & Kitchen, helmed by bartender Karla Green.
Complete with a scenic rooftop overlooking Heaven Hill’s rickhouses and a lounge flaunting a unicorn case of historic bottles and artifacts, Five Brothers is a bar (the restaurant component will make its debut in 2022) that doubles as an eye-opening tourist destination, providing another glimpse into Kentucky’s distinctive bourbon culture.
For Green, who joined Heaven Hill in 2018 as the mixologist at ON3 inside the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in nearby Louisville, Five Brothers is another chance to illuminate Heaven Hill brands, particularly its “multitude of whiskeys, including our cult classics,” she explains. “The Mellow Corn and Bottled in Bond, for example, are beloved by whiskey fanatics.”
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Beyond the array of whiskies, Green has created a small but compelling cocktail menu that underscores the spirit’s mixability and is designed to engage even the most novice of whiskey drinkers.
Reimagined Classics Showcase Whiskey’s Versatility
At the 13-seat Five Brothers bar, Green’s overarching goal is to “show customers how whiskey can work in any cocktail. I want them to drink one of ours, think it’s fantastic, and then recreate it at home with little effort,” she says.
Along with go-tos like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Whiskey Sour, Green puts seasonal riffs in the spotlight, “taking everyone’s favorite drinks and turning them on their heads by using whiskey.” The Summer Sermon, for instance, reimagines the Mai Tai with Elijah Craig Small Batch, Curaçao, lime, orgeat, and grated nutmeg.
“You can’t substitute just any whiskey for another spirit,” says Green. “I love Elijah Craig as a replacement for classic rum specifically because of its 8- to 12-year-old aging and nice vanilla and caramel notes.” Easy-drinking cocktails like this also “help bring people who aren’t yet whiskey fans to the other side of the stage.”
Optimizing for Visitor Crowds
Green worked to build a cocktail program for the high-volume setting, which accommodates around 100 patrons. “To make sure the cocktails are flawless, I wanted to start with a fun list like this that doesn’t require many steps in the background,” she says.
However, Green hand-picked her team to find experienced bartenders—some have been making drinks for over 30 years—and she prizes a bartender’s “sense of ownership and creative expression.” Once Five Brothers eases into a comfortable routine, she will encourage them to dream up concoctions of their own to add to the menu.
Exploration through Flights
Flights are common options in tasting rooms, but Green wanted to go a step further to curate the half-ounce pours she offers at Five Brothers. The Glory Days, featuring J.W. Dant Bottled in Bond, J.T.S. Brown, and Fighting Cock, highlights “starter brands that have been in the background for many years and are in the midst of a revival thanks to a group of fanboys and fangirls,” she explains.
Guests can also experience age-designated whiskeys with Aged to Perfection, a lineup of Old Fitzgerald VVS 16-Year-Old, Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old, and Evan Williams 23-Year-Old. “I didn’t want to be too exclusive or intimidating with these offerings,” adds Green. “Ultimately, we want to let customers know just how accessible whiskey is.”
Using Warm Hospitality to Educate
Though the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience welcomes new visitors every day, the Five Brothers team prioritizes making guests feel comfortable and welcome. “My bartending philosophy is to treat everyone like you’ve known them forever,” says Green. “Bartenders have direct experiences with customers, and they need to know that when they see me or a team member, they can trust us.”
Green speaks from experience: When she first moved to Kentucky in 2016, the Wisconsin native wasn’t well-versed in whiskey. But armed with a graduate degree in English from the University of North Florida, she had a knack for research and diligently dove into her studies.
“If you’re from Kentucky, bourbon might be in your blood, but I feel like a lot of tourists are where I was—at the beginning of their journey,” she explains. “We aren’t pretentious; this is a place where customers can comfortably begin a conversation by sharing how little they know.”
Tourist numbers are gradually ramping up in Kentucky, but Green acknowledges that fewer crowds has brought its own rewards: “When I have a line of 25 to 30 people on a busy weekend, I don’t always have the time to make a personal connection. Now I’ve had a chance to meet and talk to our guests.”
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