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The Final Tasting. Our Last Day in Bourbon Country.

  

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

Willets:  www.willettdistillery.com

Let Me Count the Distilleries . . . Day 3: More Bourbon.

There are at least 33 distilleries in Kentucky, responsible for 95% of the bourbon produced in the U.S. And, bourbon can only be produced in the U.S. and must be 51% corn, stored at a maximum of 62.5% alcohol (125 proof).

Today we take in three more distilleries and tastings with a Mint Julep Tour. Our terrific guide Wendy and driver Don showed us more of the beautiful Kentucky countryside and filled us in on a bit of the history and happenings in Louisville as well as the fast-growing distillery industry.

We began the day about an hour out of Louisville at the Makers Mark Distillery.  What a beautiful setting.  As an incredible bonus – the Dale Chihuly glass installations that will be in place until the end of October 2017. The appearance of this property was a definite favorite.  I loved the storybook-style architecture with the bright red shutters and their liquor bottle cutouts.  This site is too beautiful to miss on any bourbon tour.

At Makers, we had the chance to dip our own bottle in their famous red sealing wax, and so I did.

After lunch, we circled back to the cute town of Bardstown to stop at Heaven Hill and the Bourbon Heritage Center for a look and tasting.  Probably most famous for Elijah Craig bourbons and their new product Larceny, this property is not the distilling site, which is located in Louisville.  I was not a fan of these bourbons but did purchase some yummy Evan Williams bourbon-infused chocolate sauce.  Chocolate in any form goes very well with bourbon and each distillery has offered a delicious chocolate candy with their tasting.

Vintage Jim Beam Bottles.

At the end of the day, we hit the Jim Beam facility – distillers of my favorites – Knob Creek and Basil Hayden. This is one huge commercial enterprise and I had the opportunity to place my personal bottle of Knob Creek on the production line and seal the black wax with my thumbprint. A final touch was engraving the bottle with a commemorative message – a perfect souvenir (and one I can drink!)

It was a long, but fascinating day topped off by sharing a famous Hot Brown (turkey, toast, bacon and Mornay sauce, better than you can imagine) back at The Brown Hotel.

 

My bottle of Knob Creek in production.

Favorite Fact: Margie Samuels named Makers Mark, designed the bottle, logo and the red wax tradition. A master marketer, she was the wife of Bill Samuels, Sr who created the Maker’s recipe. She played a major role in the success of the company, significantly at a time when women generally had no role or place in the industry.

 

 

Mint Julep Tours: www.mintjuleptours.com

Makers Mark: www.makersmark.com

Heaven Hill: www.heavenhill.com

Jim Beam: www.jimbeam.com

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

Loving the Angel’s Share: Day 2 in the World of Kentucky Bourbon

 

 

After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we piled into our van and headed out for the noon Distillery Tour ($14) at Woodford Reserve.  It’s a beautiful country drive through horse country, rolling hills and endless fences to Versailles, about half an hour from Lexington.

Another historic property with National Register designation, Woodford’s beautiful gray stone buildings reflect the personality of its Scottish founders.  Owned today by the Brown-Forman conglomerate (based in Louisville), we watched them bottle Old Forester, helping a sister-product meet demand.

Learning about the process is interesting.  I have been surprised about the smells during the cooking and fermentation process.  The closest overall is the smell of banana bread.  That was a surprise.  We tasted the sour mash today and it was not pleasant. It’s very warm by the 100-year-old cypress fermenting tanks and the mash is a bubbling, sometimes moldy-looking, a grainy, yellow stew; not appetizing.

Once in a Rickhouse you feel as if you could become intoxicated just from the smell.  The 10% evaporation during the bourbon’s first year in the barrel (and 3-5% each year after) produces the scent, known as the Angel’s Share.

The Woodford property is sophisticated and sleek with lovely grounds, leafy trees, lots of stone and dramatic triple copper pot stills. A 500-foot-long gravity-fed barrel run is still in place. After our informative tour and tasting, we enjoyed a nice lunch from Glenn’s Creek Café on the back porch before making the one-hour drive to Louisville.

 

In Louisville, we stayed in the elegant, historic Brown Hotel. Tonight, we enjoyed an amazing Chef’s Table dinner, in the kitchen of the English Grill.  Under the stewardship of English Grill Manager Troy Ritchie (who also wears the dual hats of Wine Sommelier and Bourbon Steward), we enjoyed the handiwork of archeologist-turned-chef Dustin Willet, and server Kelly.  Troy surprised us with a visit to the rooftop for a beautiful aerial view of Louisville and a sneak peek into the Mohammed Ali Suite, chock-full of Ali memorabilia (for the uninitiated, Ali was from Louisville).  It was an amazing evening.

 

Favorite Fact: Opera singer Lily Pons let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite at The Brown Hotel.

Woodford Reserve: www.woodfordreserve.com

Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com

A Trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

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).

One of Blanton’s popular bottle stoppers.

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.

Bourbon flight at the Lockbox bar at 21C.

 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

See the USA . . . .

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We are driving.  Driving far. Headed to South Dakota to see the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and more. And that is just the beginning of our latest road trip.

A trip like this means some serious time behind the wheel and hats off to my husband for doing all the driving.  I navigate and try to keep things interesting and entertaining.  One tool I keep in my travel bag is the app for RoadsideAmerica.com.  It is loaded with quirky, oddball, funny and just plain strange sights and points of interest along the highways and byways of the USA.

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Bean Station. The Cherokees, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett once fought, lived and traveled through this valley.

After leaving North Carolina just before 8 AM, we hit Tennessee for some $2 gas and a Waffle House breakfast.  We were all set for a beautiful scenic drive on Highway 25E past Cherokee Lake, through the tunnel at Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky.

For the “Justified” fans out there, this is Raylan country, rural and a stone’s throw from the real life town of Harlan portrayed on the series. We breezed through without any problems from the Dixie Mafia or backwoods crime bosses.

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Like the sign says, “Birth of a Legend.”

 

 

Next stop, Corbin, Kentucky, home of the original KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken for the uninitiated). We visited the small museum located in a reproduction of the first store (and on the National Register of Historic Places), as well as the new statue of the Colonel now gracing the center of town.  No, we did not eat chicken (but we could have). I won’t give away any of the Colonel’s secrets for those anticipating a visit of their own.

Even when you don’t have time to make the crazy stops on the RoadsideAmerica app, it’s so much fun to read about them. I loved the story about America’s first train robbers who are buried in Seymour, Indiana, the largest sausage (in Kentucky and not real), and the history behind the Civil War-era Pigeon Roost Massacre site.

Four hundred sixty miles later, we reached our destination – Bloomington, Indiana.

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Indiana University.

The birthplace of my Father and the campus of Indiana University, where Dad got his undergrad degree. I had never been here and it was nice to find the home he lived in from 1927 – 1931, still survives.

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Phi Mu house; landscaping in progress.

The pretty campus was nice and quiet this time of year, and I was amazed at the size and quantity of sorority and fraternity houses; IU must hold some sort of a Greek-life record.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures.

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At the end of the road: Great food and Guinness at the Irish Lion in downtown Bloomington. Open since 1982, in a building from 1882.

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