Not all distilleries are huge with recognizable names. The bourbon industry has exploded in recent years and there are dozens of new products on the market, from both established distilleries and a few new kids on the block. Be sure to check out the businesses known as Craft Distilleries. In 2012, the Bourbon Trail launched a Craft Tour. Craft doesn’t necessarily mean new but is more size-related. Family owned and run Willett, for example, is more than 80 years old and is one of 13 distilleries featured in the craft passport. And remember, not all distilleries are included in the official trail – for instance, Buffalo Trace.
Every property had its unique features and personality and although the basic principles for distilling are the same – grind the grains – cook the mash – ferment and strain the product – store in charred white oak barrels – and age for at least 2 years. Jim, our tour guide at Willett wins the award for the best guide with hard facts. He really explained the details of the cooking process. It was a fitting conclusion to our series of tours and at least one in our group felt they were now ready to distill their own.
Located in Bardstown, known as “Bourbon Capital of the World”, Willett is undergoing a renovation to their visitor’s center as well as an addition that will include two bed and breakfast-style facilities and some lakeside cabins. The Willet tour ($12) also featured a look at their gleaming copper pot still, the inspiration for their beautiful bottle design.
In this Rickhouse, they were also curing hams for a James Beard nominated chef with restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, putting that Angel’s Share to good use. So logical, I will have to make it a point to try some one day soon.
We have sampled many bourbons new to us and have learned how to study the color, identify the smells (gotta smell it with your mouth open), how it tastes on different parts of the tongue, and the “finish” after you swallow.
In the final analysis, as one guide said, “the best bourbon is the one you like.”
Favorite Fact: I have two here. Bourbon is taxed annually, from the first year it is in the barrel. To prevent the “burn” that some bourbons produce after you swallow (and which distillers call a “Kentucky Hug”) don’t inhale – it is actually caused by the fumes you breathe as opposed to the liquor you drink.
Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com
Craft Tour: http://www.kybourbontrail.com/craft-tour