The Kentucky distillery also plays a role in the upcoming sixteenth season.
Credit: Photo credit: Daniel Rosenthal

After a high-stakes, high-elevation finale in Colorado earlier this year, Top Chef is trading snow-capped peaks for the rolling green hills of Kentucky when the new season premieres Thursday, December 6 on Bravo. Chef and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio refers to the location of any Top Chef season as it’s 16th contestant, and viewers will certainly feel the influence the Bluegrass State as the cheftestants take each other on in challenge after challenge. Among the many Kentucky institutions making appearances are Keeneland racetrack (the hub of American thoroughbred trading), Maker’s Mark distillery, and, yes, even KFC.

Last night in the private dining room at Colicchio’s New York restaurant Craft, Maker’s Mark held a dinner to celebrate the collaboration between Top Chef and the generations-old bourbon brand. Colicchio created the menu — squash agnolotti with chanterelles, pork belly with red cabbage, short ribs, and pecan pie with buttermilk ice cream and sorghum — to reflect the cuisines he’s encountered in Kentucky, as well as to accompany a slate of bourbon-based cocktails.

“When preparing this dinner to celebrate Top Chef filming at Maker’s Mark, we wanted to create something that was both seasonal, as well as connected to bourbon,” Colicchio said. “Fall and the colder months are, for me, bourbon weather, so bringing out some of these Honeynut squash, crispy pork belly, and smoked short rib dishes all felt like it connected for a big cold-weather, whisky-drinking type of evening. Having had the chance to experience the beautiful Maker’s Mark Distillery, and really get a sense for how the food culture across Kentucky is really coming into its own, this season of Top Chef, and specifically our time at Maker’s Mark was a real joy for me.”

Maker's Mark COO Rob Samuels and chef Tom Colicchio at Craft.
| Credit: Photo credit: Daniel Rosenthal

Photo credit: Daniel Rosenthal

But hosting the cast and crew of Top Chef at Maker's Loretto, Kentucky campus wasn’t the only way the two icons collided, as it was revealed at the dinner that a special Top Chef Private Select bourbon will be released next month.

Maker's Private Select bourbon is customized by selecting a combination of ten finishing staves that are placed in cask strength barrels of Maker’s Mark which are then matured for around nine additional weeks in the distillery's limestone cellar. Maker's has five flavor-embuing stave varieties to choose from, meaning there are over 1,000 possible combinations of Private Select bourbon. For the Top Chef blend, the recipe includes bourbon finished with:

  • Three Baked American Pure staves — "Made from American oak and is the first stave sampled in the program. It adds notes of brown sugar, vanilla, caramel and spice," according to Makers.
  • Three Maker's 46 staves — "Made from seared French oak and delivers dried fruit, vanilla and spice. A barrel fitted with 10 of these staves would give you a cask-strength version of Maker's 46."
  • Four Roasted French Mocha staves — Also called "Mo," they're made of "French oak toasted at high heat in a convection oven. Mo adds pleasant traces of char, maple and cacao."

The result is a bourbon with a smooth texture and baking spice-forward finish.

In tandem with the second episode of the upcoming season airing December 13 (in which Maker's Mark is featured), we'll find out how the Top Chef Private Select bourbon was created. The following day (December 14), approximately 480 bottles of the Top Chef bourbon will be sold at the Maker's Mark distillery and at select retailers for $79.99.