We were in the middle of a cross-continent adventure from Vancouver to New York, and instead of staying in the North (which would have taken us through Chicago) we instead took a detour South-East towards Bourbon County. Kentucky isn’t exactly “on the way” to New York, but we wanted to choose one off the beaten track destination on our way to the big apple and decided that Kentucky wasn’t too far out of the way. We had always wanted to visit the birthplace of Bourbon, and this was our chance.
There are many types of whiskey made around the world, and one of the most famous is that made in Kentucky. To be labeled as a bourbon, it has to contain at least 51% corn, be produced in the United States and aged in charred oak barrels. Bourbon can be aged for as little as 3 months, but like most whiskeys in the world, the aging process allows it to gain a more desirable and full-bodied flavour. The limestone water found in Kentucky is thought to be one of the main reasons that this region has become such a great producer of whiskey.
Bourbon was originally produced here and shipped downriver to New Orleans, giving Kentucky some historical relevance. Sadly, prohibition ruined some of the history in Kentucky, but when it was lifted in 1933, the region once again flourished overnight. There are hundreds of small and large distilleries in the area today, and it was difficult to choose which ones to visit, but we narrowed down our list and explored the countryside in search of the best drink.
We arrived in Kentucky in the late evening, and stopped off for a few hours in Louisville, exploring the Louisville Slugger Hall of Fame (which includes the world’s largest baseball bat) and enjoyed delicious Fried Chicken, which after only a few bites will change your opinion of fried chicken forever. We drove out of the city after dark and spent the night close to the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort in order to get an early start on our bourbon tour. We had ambitious plans to visit four distilleries; Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Makers Mark.
First thing in the morning we arrived at the Buffalo Trace distillery and took the first tour of the day with a few other brave travelers. There is nothing like tasting whiskey before 10 am (and before breakfast) to give yourself a head start on the day. Our guide was a seasoned veteran and he gave us one of the most interesting and personal tours of all time. It was easy to tell that he loved his job. The Buffalo Trace Distillery is huge – and one of the oldest – producing 17 different brands.
They had about 6 different aging buildings, each filled with hundreds upon hundreds of barrels, and our tour guide explained that the distiller knows the exact locations where the best whiskey will usually be. There are certain vectors where the barrels don’t get too hot or too cold and end up coming out as the best.
After our liquid breakfast, we headed next towards the Woodford Distillery. This was one of the most beautiful, high-tech and modern distilleries we visited. They are owned by Jack Daniels and they obviously spared no money in ensuring they had one of the most impressive operations in the state. It was built inside one of the pre-prohibition distilleries and is designated a historic building. After a nice tour exploring the grounds, and another tasting, we had to get back on the road if we wanted to visit all four locations.
The next stop on our adventure was the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, which is built inside of an old spanish-inspired building. This was the smallest of the distilleries that we visited and it felt like a more personal experience. We were a part of a small group on tour and our guide was awesome. This would be my top choice if I had to recommend just one visit. While in the gift shop, I picked up a very special bottle of a limited edition distillers choice, where he has chosen four of his favourite barrels to blend into one very fine mix. I still have this bottle today, with a few ounces left, being saved only for special occasions or foreign visitors.
Finally, we made it to Makers Mark, but since this was our last stop of the day we had to choose between a tour and a visit to the gift shop, as both were about to close. While normally this would be an easy choice, taking the tour would have been a good choice, but the gift shop was the one place we wanted to visit. Here you can buy your own bottle of whiskey, which you are then able to dip into the signature red wax yourself. This was an opportunity too great to pass on, and it is how I ended up with my own personalized bottle of Makers 46.
We only had a day and a half in Kentucky, but we managed to squeeze in quite a bit. I would definitely go back to visit again. We got to experience a wide variety of bourbon producers, and sample some of the best that Kentucky has to offer. Here are a few of my best pictures from our 36 hours in Bourbon County.
Louisville Slugger Hall of Fame in Louisville. 2012.
World’s Largest Baseball Bat. 2012.
Buffalo Trace Distillery (Frankfort, KY):
Inside one of the many multi-storied brick buildings is where bourbon ages. 2012.
Bottling the high-end Blanton’s Bourbon. 2012.
Buffalo Trace Distillery. 2012.
Bottling Hall. 2012.
Buffalo Trace. 2012.
Mmmm… bourbon. 2012.
Bottling Line. 2012.
Woodford Reserve Distillery (Versailles, KY):
On the move. 2012.
Woodford Barrels. 2012.
A historic Landmark – The Woodford Reserve Distillery. 2012.
Old Pot-Stills. 2012.
Sour Mash. 2012.
Woodford Reserve. 2012.
Sour Mash. 2012.
Woodford Reserve. 2012.
Four Roses Distillery (Lawrenceburg, KY):
The Spanish-inspired exterior of the Four Roses Distillery. 2012.
Wooden Mash Tanks. 2012.
Sour Mash. 2012.
Four Roses Bourbon. 2012.
Sour Mash inside the Four Roses Distillery. 2012.