"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Lexington, Kentucky
Fort Boonesborough State Park

I'm always tweaking our travel schedule around.  This time it worked out that I had about a week to fill.  I asked Steve if he'd like to do the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky?  Of course he said YES!  We've had other friends do the various Bourbon tours that make up this "trail" and they all loved it.  So here we go!  I was able to get us a reservation at Fort Boonesborough State Park.  Lucky for us as they didn't have much open.  It's a large state park just south of Lexington and a great location for our stay.
I didn't get any pictures,  but it was a very nice private spot (some are not) that we barely fit it.  It was $33 for W/E.

Steve couldn't wait for the tours, so after we got unhooked we went in to town for dinner and a little sampling of some of the local bourbons.  We ended up at The OBC Kitchen.  They have over 500 bourbons and some great food!  The manager came out and talked to us and suggested some great ideas to start us out.

Just a sample of what's available.

Steve did a sample of bourbon and I had a specialty cocktail.
The food was delicious!
A piece of advice, figure out which tours you want to take.  They are spread out between Lexington and Louisville.  It's difficult to do more than two in one day.  Make reservations early. 
First up, Jim Beam.

I don't drink the hard stuff, so I was the DD.  The grounds were very impressive and I really like all the flowers and landscaping.

These are the buildings, and there are several of them, where the bourbon is aged.  That's a lot of barrels in those buildings.  They are open buildings where the product goes through the heat of the summers and the chill of the winters.  This contributes greatly to the flavor of the bourbon that the barrels will release.

While we waited for out tour, we each got to have a drink included in the tour.  Prices for tours ranged from $5 to $15. The Old Fashioned that Steve ordered came with a side show.  They heat up the peel to release the oils by squeezing it then lighting it.

They had very beautiful gardens also.

I learned a lot about the bourbon making process. Bourbon is not required to be made in Kentucky, but it does need to be made in America. The distilled spirit is from a grain mixture that must include at least 51% corn; the remainder includes rye, wheat, and/or malted barley.  It must be to no more than 160 proof, barreled for aging at no more than 125 proof and bottled at 80 proof or more.  It also has no aging requirement, except straight bourbon, which has a minimum aging requirement of two years.  Four to eight years is the preferred.  It also cannot not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits.
The grain is ground and mixed with water. Usually, though not always, mash from a previous distillation is added to ensure a consistent pH across batches, creating a sour mash. Finally, yeast is added and the mash is fermented. Most use stainless steel vats, one used Cypress wood.

The resulting clear spirit, called "white dog",[is placed in newly charred American new, white oak barrels for aging, during which it gains color and flavor from the caramelized sugars in the charred wood. Changes to the spirit also occur due to evaporation. Bourbons gain more color and flavor the longer they age in wood. Flavor, not a particular duration, is the goal, as bourbons aged too long can taste unbalanced.
The barrels are stacked in these buildings.

Looking up is the pulley which the barrels are brought to the upper floors.

They also have tried hanging hams to cure here too.

Even though it was in the upper 80s and a bit humid, it was nice and cool inside the buildings.  The smell inside is heavenly.  It reminded me very much of the buildings in Italy where balsamic vinegar is aged.  Similar process too.  I'd much rather have the balsamic than the bourbon though :-)

A special bottle of Willets Bourbon Commemorative Still Bourbon bottles. 

Makers Mark was our final tour for the day. They all have very similar processes.  Maybe their mash recipe is slightly different, or how they char their barrels or age or how many floors their aging buildings have, but generally the same.  Some rotate their barrels as they age, some do not.  One had steam filtered from the floor up to speed up the aging process.

Maker's Mark has the distinct "bottle" everywhere.  Even in the shutters above.

Wow, were the flower gardens pretty here!

Why are most of the distilleries located in Kentucky?  The water.  Kentucky has a lot of limestone which the rivers and streams flow through.  Limestone is a natural filter and is mineral rich with calcium and other good stuff.  So start with the best, right?  Next up, the tasting.
I tried a tiny sip of some, but they all tasted the same to me, yuck!  I guess I don't have that gene.
 Steve's flaming Old Fashioned

Day 2 we started at Buffalo Trace.  This was one of our favorite tours.
More gorgeous flower gardens.

They had a great intro before we toured.  The above picture shows how much evaporation happens in the barrels as they age.  The top L is a full barrel, then next to it is at 4 years, the bottom L is 8 years (close to the preferred) and the bottom R is at 12 years.  That's very little product left and a lot of evaporation after 12 years.
I noticed that many of the aging buildings at all of the distilleries had a blackish patina on them.  When I asked what it was, they said it is mold.  It's a harmless mold released from all the steam in the cooking process and humidity.

If you look closely you can see the barrels in the windows.
Next up was Woodford.  To get there you drive through some very expensive, beautiful horse country.  These horses have some serious homes.  The barns are amazing!
There is one after another, after another.  Green pastures and lots of wide open area.  We didn't see too many horses, but the barns were huge and lavish.

More barns.

Here at Woodford they age in Cypress instead of stainless steel.  It is a neutral wood, meaning there is no flavor or color that comes from it.  They do it to keep things "the way they were done way back then".  But time is taking a toll on the old Cypress and slowly they are switching over to stainless.

These barrels must be new for the bourbon to age, but afterwards they are shipped all over the world and used to age Scotch, Brandy and beer.

Love how they still roll the barrels out for loading.

The bottling area.
While doing our tasting at Woodford, we sat next to a nice couple.  As it turns out Jason manages a restaurant called Goodfella's that serves specialty pizza's and, of course, bourbon.  We talked a long time and he invited us to be his guest later in the week.  Sounds great!
To wrap things up our last tasting was at Four Roses.  They are going through a major renovation so there wasn't much of a tour, just a talk then a tasting.

The gift shop where Steve did a little damage.

On our last night we drove over to find Goodfella's and take Jason up on his offer.
Wow, did he take good care of us!  They have a crazy amount of fancy mixologist drinks.  He made several suggestions and even bought us our drinks!
One of the gals making my fancy drink.  She burns the fresh Rosemary which goes into the drink I had.  They make all their own simple syrups, pineapple ice cubes, etc.  All fresh!
And the pizza was out of this world!  We got the Fuggetaboutit Pizza.

Jason also poured Steve some special bourbons that were his favorites.
 Me, Jason and Steve
 Thank you Jason for taking such great care of us!!  We had a blast!


  1. You guys really did it right. As a bourbon lover I'm sorry we only made one tour. I thought it was cool that the Makers Mark buildings are all painted black because of the mold on the walls. I think the grounds are a beautiful as the tours are interesting - thanks for sharing your good time!!

    1. Steve really liked that tour at MM. I think tours of just about anything are very interesting.

  2. Steve and I only did Buffalo Trace but thought it was a great tour. So when will you be in our area? Can't believe how much we are enjoying it here. The White Mts in NH are beautiful!

    1. We really like that one as well. We'll be in your area mid/late Aug and would love to meet you both.

  3. Not into the hard stuff but that looks interesting. Great timing meeting Jason!

    1. We sure had a good time there. Jason was great!

  4. The only tour we've done is the Jack Daniels in Tennessee which is also in a dry county. I found it fascinating but I'm not sure I'd want to do more than two or three at the most tours. And I know what you mean about catching up on blog reading. A lot of time now, I read but don't get comments made.

    1. They were interesting but I was pooped after 3 days of tours! Seems like most everyone is always where we plan to be the next year!

  5. I understand you Debbie! When we were in winery, all tastes were the same for me, I distinguish it only by colors

  6. It would be interesting to take a tour. I'm not a fan of bourbon either so I'd opt to be the DD too. Glad Steve enjoyed it :-)


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