These days, it’s hard to find a chef not talking about American whiskey. But for Sean Brock, it’s been a lifelong obsession.
“Bourbon’s my passion,” he says. “I love the history of it, I love its connection to the South, I love how it tastes.” And naturally, his restaurants, McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, S.C., and the new Husk outpost in Nashville, each stock more than 50 whiskies.
And he has a personal collection any whiskey aficionado would kill for. There’s a wall of rare half-century-old bottlings in Brock’s home that aren’t just antiques—they’re for drinking. “I prefer the stuff from the ‘50s and ‘60s,” he says. “I feel like that was the golden era of bourbon.”
It makes sense, since he is after all a Southern boy through and through. Brock grew up in rural Virginia, attended culinary school in Charleston and worked in Richmond, Va., and Nashville before returning to South Carolina to take over McCrady’s in 2006. He’s been nominated for four James Beard Awards there and was named Best Chef: Southeast in 2010, the same year he opened Husk.
Brock changes his menus daily, highlighting local and seasonal produce. He even calls out the farms he works with by name. Husk, he says, is “not about the chef or creativity; it’s about shining a light on the producers and artisans.” Brock also started a large garden in nearby Wadmalaw Island that grows an array of rare heirloom crops to save them from extinction.
While Brock is a big fan of enjoying bourbon with food, he draws the line at his kitchen. “I’d say that cooking with bourbon is sacrilege,” he confesses. “When you use it for cooking, you ruin all the work that went into it.” (If you must incorporate bourbon into food, Brock suggests adding it without cooking it.)
He also has strict rules for himself when it comes to cocktails. “I stick to four drinks: bourbon neat, Last Words, Micheladas and Gin & Tonics,” Brock says. Though he taste-tests every new tipple before it’s allowed on one of his restaurants’ lists, he leaves the actual bartending to his skilled mixologists. “At the bar, my thoughts and ideas are secondary—we allow the bartenders to really have 100 percent free reign and creativity,” he says.