I have been a bourbon drinker since I was a J-school student at the University of Tennessee. Something about the hills, and football . . . . but the love of bourbon stayed with me ever since. Through the last few years, I developed a heightened interest in visiting some of Kentucky’s many distilleries. Finally, with the urging of some good friends, we made it happen.
Eight friends, four days, six distilleries, great food and a lot of laughs later, we headed home.
First stop – Buffalo Trace. The largest property not on the nine-site official Bourbon Trail, Buffalo Trace has deep roots in the community that go back more than 200 years. During the Trace Tour, our third-generation guide, Freddie, kept us entertained while imparting details of the company’s colorful history, as well as facts about the much-sought-after Pappy Van Winkle bourbon now produced here, (they acquired the Van Winkle business in 1972). This is a huge distillery and when their current expansion is finished they will have 1 million 53-gallon barrels in storage warehouses (known as Rickhouses in the distillery world).
On the National Registry of Historic Places, this is one of the only free distillery tours, and runs every hour on the hour. A highlight this day was seeing the by-hand bottling of Blanton’s Single Barrel. I learned about the differences between wheat and rye bourbons and am pretty sure I prefer the wheat. We loved Freddie’s folksy stories and enjoyed learning how to identify a few of the smells and differences between the White Dog Mash (which is really legal moonshine) and their more refined products. We clapped and rubbed hands filled with the clear White Dog, smelling how it changed. Ultimately it proved to be a good skin softener. The group favorite at the tasting was the Bourbon Cream Liqueur handcrafted from small batches of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Delicious, and even better when mixed with root beer. We can’t wait to try it in a root beer float.
Buffalo Trace is located in Frankfort, about 30 minutes from Lexington and the 21C museum hotel, our home for the night. At the hotel, we enjoyed a bourbon flight in the Lockbox bar, under the direction of the hotel’s very capable, bourbon steward. I tasted a few new to me and picked the Wellers 90 (a Buffalo Trace product) as the best of the group. Bourbons can be ordered in a .5, 1.5 or 3 ounce pour, and the assortment, organized by distillery, was impressive. No Pappy Van Winkle, however, at any price.
Favorite Fact: Buffalo Trace kept operating during Prohibition, for “medicinal” purposes. With a doctor’s prescription, you could get a pint every 10 days.
Buffalo Trace: www.buffalotracedistillery.com
Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com