After our first day on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, day two started bright and early; if you’re going to spend an entire second day drinking whiskey, 9:00am is probably when you’ll want that to kick off.
Day two began with bourbon stop three at an extremely rainy Wild Turkey. We watched the country roads leading to the distillery flood as we waited for our sleepy tour to begin. But the group woke up quickly as we loaded a bus for the short trip to the factory; our tour guide (who was also a Jonathan, and I was immediately partial to him) announced as we pulled into the stormy streets that there are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than there are people, and personally he’d like to keep it that way.
You’re perfect, Kentucky. Never change.
Production was shut down at the distillery (something nearly all the distilleries mentioned they do during the hottest month or two of the Kentucky summer that aren’t as optimal for bourbon brewing), so we embarked on a quiet tour. Perfect for loading up on bourbon trivia for that American liquors category I’ll be writing into Jeopardy to request.
Kentucky is a perfect breeding ground for bourbon because:
- The state’s climate produces a desirable temperature and humidity fluctuation for the aging process. But the best bourbon will come from a cross-section of barrels aged on floors four, five, six, and seven of the warehouses. The next time you splurge on a fancy bottle of bourbon, check the label to see if it indicates where it was aged in the warehouse (if I remember correctly, floor seven is the most coveted).
- Limestone that naturally occurs in Kentucky waters breeds perfectly sweet bourbon. Many of the distilleries we visited pointed out natural water sources sitting right on the property from which they make their product.
- It’s where Abraham Lincoln was born.
- That last one may actually not have a lot to do with bourbon.
Wild Turkey wins the superlative for tasting-I-was-most-nervous-about; though I’d never personally had Wild Turkey, I was well aware of its reputation for reducing grown men to piles of tears and/or vomit. Except for Wylie, of course, whose stomach I’m pretty sure is made of iron and machine guns.
After I tried my first Wild Turkey bourbon (I can’t remember the specific name, but Tour Guide Jonathan said it was perfect for bourbon beginners, and if that’s true then I’m really glad I didn’t try the 101), I sampled their American Honey whiskey and felt much better.
Our sinuses cleared, we journeyed on to an appropriate stop for bourbon tour number four.
Four Roses is the only distillery on the trail that’s no longer owned by Americans; as it turns out, the Japanese are really into bourbon. Like Wild Turkey, the Four Roses Distillery wasn’t in production, so we took a quick tour and got right down to the tasting.
Four Roses wins my superlative for best ambiance; along with the roses strewn about, its Spanish-Mission style architecture helped land it on the National Register of Historic Places. Also they gave us three samples and a special toast to their 125th anniversary, so they’re all right in my book.
On to stop five!
Just kidding; I took a picture of these Woodford barrels that happened to be hanging out at stop six. Woodford Reserve (our hopeful stop five) was shut down due to flooding. I wish we’d known that before we drove over, because the back roads leading to the distillery were also flooded and there were a few moments when I thought we were going to be sucked into the limestone-ridden river and accidentally distilled into bourbon. We would taste terrible as bourbon.
Sullied by our bad bourbon luck, we found an alternate route to get back to the main road (almost submerging your car in a river three or four times is enough for one day) and headed to stop six.
Located right in downtown Lexington, Town Branch is the newest (and most urban) distillery we visited, and it’s actually more into beer than it is bourbon; they’re known for their locally-sold Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale which, in case you didn’t assume this, is aged in used bourbon barrels. Reduce, reuse, re…beer…cle.
I’ll keep working on that.
Town Branch wins my superlative for best-thing-I-put-in-my-mouth for their Bluegrass Sundown—an after-dinner liqueur made with coffee, bourbon, and sugar, and topped with deliciously fatty whipping cream. I will clearly never be a true whiskey lover. But I’ll gladly drink two gallons of Bluegrass Sundown and then jitterly roll myself home.
Last but not least, we rounded off the bourbon trail in historic Bardstown, Kentucky: home to the Bourbon Heritage Center and Heaven Hill Distilleries.
We opted for the shorter tour at Heaven Hill, and spent some time soaking in some more bourbon trivia from the heritage center displays. I didn’t retain a whole lot at this point, which is mostly because I was distracted by the far end of the gift shop; I found a press-and-sniff display that spouts out puff-of-air samples that smell like bourbon at different points during the aging process. I may have already been exposed to booze soda fountains before my trip down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but a press-and-sniff bourbon smelling machine was a definite first.
Our tour guide, Deb, wins my superlative for sassiest tour guide. She was also the first tasting guide to recommend we put a few drops of water in our bourbon samples to catch the subtle change in color and sweetness the bit of water provides.
Heaven Hill (in addition to Maker’s Mark) also gave us a sample of their chocolate bourbon truffles before ending the tour and letting us loose in the gift shop. Tour Guide Deb claimed that the truffles are the best perk of her job; after eating one myself, I almost asked if there were any job openings.
Speaking of which, one of my favorite surprises on the bourbon trail was all the inanimate animal objects I found throughout our tours.
Because we ended the trail in Bardstown, we headed downtown to their visitor’s center to pick up the perk of collecting every stamp in our bourbon passports:
Thanks for the good times, Kentucky Bourbon Trail. In conclusion, I give you a final compilation of scenes from the trail, which I like to call “America the bourbonful.”