The 6 months we lived in Cincinnati, we had designs on exploring the bourbon trail. We never made it. While we visited Louisville once, we traveled with Samantha so we never made it into a distillery.
Being in Frankfort positioned us well to explore the bourbon trail and while we had limited time, we managed to squeeze a few visits in on the weekend.
First, even if you don’t like bourbon or don’t drink, I still highly recommend driving along these bluegrass roads. The scenery is simply stunning and I haven’t tired of it yet. I really do love the gently rolling hills with miles of horse fences.
If you do drink, you’re in luck. The distillery tours are pretty reasonable and give you a lot of great information. We ended up doing 3 and each highlighted a different part of the process which I enjoyed.
Our first stop was Four Roses, a spanish mission-style architecture outpost in Kentucky. For $5 per person, you go to walk through the working distillery and if you were brave enough – even get to try some fermented mash. Only a handful took this opportunity, and it really wasn’t bad. I teetered on a ladder to dip my finger in the huge vat of mash and it kinda tasted like watery cornflakes. Sure glad it improves later in the process. A few tastings later, we were on our way to the next distillery.
Buffalo Trace has several different free tours available, but we took the really basic tour. It was lead by Jimmy & let me tell you – if Jimmy was my high school history teacher I may have enjoyed history a lot more! We learned about the prohibition era and the effect it had on the bourbon world, along with other interesting historical moments that has made the industry what it is today. We got to stop in one of the rick houses & breathe in the magical Angel’s Share of bourbon, which is what the industry calls the percentage of bourbon lost to evaporation.
What I really liked about Buffalo Trace was the historical grounds. It was really a beautiful industrial complex and we braved the chilly weather to walk around it. We also got to see the hand bottling process for one of their lines of bourbon. We also enjoyed the tastings here & made an unexpected purchase. Our last taste was of a bourbon cream. I’m not usually fond of sweeter drinks but a shot of the bourbon cream sold me – creamy, smooth texture with a nice finish of bourbon – it’s my new after dinner drink.
Our final distillery was the next day & a special trip. Keith & I are both huge fans of Bulleit Bourbon after tasting it in mixed drinks in Cincinnati and we decided to take the drive into Louisville instead of visiting other distilleries we weren’t familiar with. Even though the tastings at the end of the bourbon and the rye were nothing new to us, we enjoyed touring the complex and getting to hear more about the background of the historic Stitzel-Weller distillery and how Tom Bulleit revived his grandfather’s old recipe.
This distillery allowed a peek into an old cooper where they used to repair the leaking barrels (most work now can be done inside the rick houses with better equipment than what used to be available). Barrels are pretty important to the bourbon world and there is a list of what is required to be able to say you make bourbon. One of the requirements is a brand new oak barrel that belongs only to the whiskey that is in it. The lengths they go to to repair the barrels, along with weighing & recording the whiskey they take out of the barrels was pretty impressive.
We also found why Bulleit really shines for us as a bourbon. It has a higher rye percentage than other bourbons which gives it a nice, sweet touch. We really need to find the 10 year Bulleit to try that out but we were told it tends to sell out quickly (they didn’t even have any available at the distillery.) P.S. Keith found the 10 year at a local liquor store & it’s awesome.
All in all, it was a nice opportunity to get a view into making spirits in Kentucky. Oh yes, we also learned that there are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than people, a helpful fact to keep in mind when the zombie apocalypse strikes.