A bourbon legend hosts dinner at M’Coul’s

by Brian Clarey

chow. A bourbon legend hosts dinner at M’Coul’s

ABOVE:Fred Noe, scion of the Jim Beam clan, prepares to taste his destiny.RIGHT: Entree choices at the bourboin dinner were a grilled pork chopor a stuffe.d Cornish game hen. (photos by Michael Hughes)

Frederick Booker Noe III, the broadhipped and charismatic scion of the Jim Beam clan, slowly gets to his feet and begins to do his thing: extolling the virtues of bourbon — his bourbon — to the upstairs crowd at M’Coul’s. His lecture, laced with expletives and dripping with homespun charm, lays out the federal laws regarding bourbon as servers place the first course in front of diners. It’s got to be made in the US, Noe said, from at east 51 percent corn. It must be aged in wooden barrels, with no artificial flavor or coloring. And it must be distilled at 180 proof. He doesn’t mention that it goes great with the saut’ed vegetables and redpepper butter that we’re eating, but indeed it does. He’s been at it all afternoon, first with a stop at Churchill’s, where he says he “blew some know-it-all out of the water” at least two times, and then here at the bourbon dinner, where a good 30 people sit with six samples in front of them, listening and

waiting for their food. A bourbon dinner does not mean that you’re having bourbon for dinner. It is a three-course meal designed to match the whiskey. Noe’s presence adds a certain weight to the proceedings. As the face man for the company his great-grandfather forged in Kentucky from an old family recipe, Noe calls himself a “professional drinker,” and as the seventh-generation custodian of the Beam family mash he knows more about bourbon than just about anyone on the planet. Before we sample the booze, he teaches us the “Kentucky chew,” a sloshing technique that he says allows the entire mouth to taste the whiskey, and instructs us not to slam the shots down. “That shit’s for the movies,” he says. Dinner is a choice of a bone-in, centercut pork chop with gouda grits and squash in brown butter or a stuffed Cornish game hen with whipped potatoes and asparagus under pan glac’. The six smoky and aromatic bourbons match the meal well. “A lot of times, people’s first experience with bourbon is not a pleasant one,” Noe says, by way of introducing the first sample, Basil Hayden’s Distiller’s Reserve. It’s light in color from the addition of rye to the mash, and Noe says it makes an excellent mint julep, if you must. The next sample is Jim Beam Black, and Noe’s picture has recently been added to the label.

“My picture is on the front of the bottle,” he says. “I thought it should be in the bottom of the bottle.” The bourbons in front of us are something of a Jim Beam family scrapbook.

Baker’s, a flavorful bourbon that sips almost like a cognac, is named for Noe’s second cousin, Baker Beam. “As long as he’s alive, I’ll never be the black sheep of the family,” he says. Booker’s, the high-end product in the line, Noe calls “my daddy’s bourbon,” bottled uncut and unfiltered, straight from the barrel. It was all his father drank. “This was the way bourbon was a hundred years ago,” Noe says, when Kentucky farmers would bring their jugs over to the Beam homestead and fill them for a nickel. We’re drinking out of plastic cups this evening, but Noe says that the glass is almost as important as what

you put in it. “I used to think it was bullshit,” he says, “but take the same product and put it in different glasses, you get different tastes. And with that we raise our cups to his father, the late Booker Noe, in an ago-old Beam family toast. “May there be no hell,” Noe says, “and if there is, I will see you there.” Dessert is a chocolate and banana mousse, which goes wonderfully with a swish of Knob Creek. Afterwards Noe signs bottles for guests and drops a few more pearls of wisdom on the bourbon-saturated faithful. “If it tastes good, swallow it,” he says. “You might as well drink it and fill it with tea if you want to save the bottle.”

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RIGHT: Bartenders Jesse Russo (left) and Sarah Sadler. BELOW: Jocelyn Moon, Billy Moon, Peggy Fersner and Jon Fersner (left to right) love them sone Kentucky bourbon.

M’Coul’s Public House 110 W. McGee St., GSO, NC 336.378.0204