Bourbon is more popular than it has been in a long time. This is just one reason for me to find out more about it so I did the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Finally one full week of vacation! I planned a trip and it was not only for fun (I am bending the truth a little here). I wanted to learn more about bourbon and of cause tasting was the way to go. Years ago I visited the Glenmorangie distillery in Scotland and this is where I dipped my toes in the whiskey uh water.
I am living in Atlanta and Bourbonlandia aka Kentucky is right on the other side of the Smokey Mountains and it was about time to make a trip over the hills. Our first destination on this road trip was Nashville because we love it there and it’s always worth a detour. Although it’s not exactly part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail I want to mention two restaurants we had dinner at because the food was amazing. The first one is Little Octopus and Mr. F enjoyed their burger! AMOT Eatery is the second one and everything on their menu is gluten-free (besides some beers), great food, great wine, and very great service!
After we stayed two nights in Nashville, we headed towards Louisville but not without stopping in Loretto for our first bourbon distillery tour at Maker’s Mark. This was great to ease into bourbon because they make them smooth and easy to drink due to omitting rye for winter wheat. See, I paid attention! You can dip your own bottle into the wax at the end of the tour and I had fun doing so.
We continued our Kentucky Bourbon Trail and stayed two nights in Louisville. We visited Bulleit (Louisville), Evan Williams (Louisville), Jim Beam (Clermont) and the Bourbon Heritage Center (Heaven Hill). The Bourbon Heritage Center offers a ‘Whiskey Connoisseur Experience’, they are not stingy and let you taste the good stuff. If you happen to travel to Louisville Wild Eggs is a great place for breakfast and Mr. F was very happy with Feast BBQ.
We visited Four Roses on our way to Lexington and made it to Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve and Town Branch the next two days. I am not going to explain each of these distillery tours, go for yourself and find out! It’s totally worth it. Of cause, they are all talking about bourbon and how they make it, but the interesting part is their individual histories, traditions, and the little stories they can tell.
Here are some fun topics and facts:
Every bourbon is a whiskey but not every whiskey is a bourbon, you will hear that a lot. Whiskey is the umbrella and stands for all of them: single malt, Scotch, Irish… and bourbon. There are three things that make a bourbon and this is by law: made from at least 51% corn, aged in a brand charred new oak barrel and it has to be made in the US. However, 95% of the bourbon is made in Kentucky because of the climate and the good water, which is filtered by limestone.
After distilling the bourbon looks clear and is called a white dog, it’s basically moonshine and gets its color from the charred oak barrels during the aging process.
I already miss the smell in this barrel houses, walk in take a deep breath it is bourbon you are inhaling. The longer the bourbon is aging the more bourbon is lost to evaporation, it’s called angel’s share.
Have you ever heard about Kentucky hug? The people there are very nice and hospitable but not running around and hugging every stranger on the street. This term stands for the warm and fuzzy feeling when the bourbon runs down your throat. I heard one question a lot on this bourbon trail: “What is your favorite bourbon?” The answer is always the same: “the one I am drinking right now”. And they all agree on drinking bourbon at room temperature, no ice but sometimes a few drops of water can make a big difference and bring out the vanilla and caramel flavors.
Don’t forget to visit the souvenir shops, you can find special editions, selected single barrel bottles, white dog, and bourbon balls.
Everyone we talked to agreed on one topic: prohibition almost ruined everything. It was the dark age! Almost every distillery had to close and shut their door for decades or never opened again. However, if you had been lucky you would have a prescription from your doc for a bottle of “medicated bourbon” with instruction on the leaflet for basically a hot toddy. Chears uh get well soon.
There are more bourbon barrels in the state of Kentucky than people living there!
Below you can see how a day in the life of a Bourbon Master Distiller looks like. It’s a dream but before you sent your application, it’s very hard to snatch a job like this. A Bourbon Master Distiller can taste about 100 flavors (I tasted about five) and often the job is inherited from father to son and it’s a long family tradition.
Don’t forget to pick up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport at the first distillery you are visiting. You will get a stamp for each tour and if you collect stamps from the nine distilleries, you get a free t-shirt. You can also find their addresses and a little map in this little booklet. Check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website for more information.