However, recently, we took a little family trip to some of the stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail - where I not only learned a lot about the bourbon-making process, but I also discovered an appreciation for the taste of bourbon. Usually the expensive bourbon. Of course...
Have you heard of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT)? It was formed in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association to give people an up-close view of bourbon-crafting. There are nine major stops on the KBT, and if you pick up a Passport at your first stop and get a stamp at each of the nine distilleries, you can then get a really cool free KBT t-shirt! (They also have a Craft Distillery Tour with eight stops. If you pick up a Passport for this tour, and get a stamp at each of the eight distilleries, you can then get a free julep cup!)
Our first stop was at Woodford Reserve, which is the oldest and smallest distillery in Kentucky. The drive here is beautiful, on some really narrow, winding roads through large horse farms that are amazing! You will think you are lost, but just follow the directions and keep going. The distillery grounds are also stunning. Not just the landscaping, but the old buildings themselves.
We took the 30-minute tour (they also offer a 90-minute tour - and I think we will go back for that), and they load you onto a nice, comfy air-conditioned bus, which is wonderful. The cost was $7 per person, and that included the 30-minute tour, the bus ride to-and-from the buildings, a sampling of two bourbons and a bourbon chocolate.
The sampling is done in the building where the barrels are stored, and you are served your half-ounce samples on a barrel by candlelight. It is really, really cool. Literally and figuratively! You get a sample of the Distiller's Select and the Double Oaked (I liked both, but the Double Oaked was my favorite) - and the bourbon chocolate is divine! Tip: Do not buy your bourbon at the distillery - it's more expensive - plus then it has to sit in your car while you tour. The Double Oaked was $60 at the distillery, but only $54 at Kroger liquor store. We bought shotglasses for our collection in the gift shop - and they also have a little cafe for your dining pleasure if you need a little sustenance.
Our second stop was Four Roses. Another drive that has you thinking you might just be lost, but keep following the directions! It's a little different, with it's Spanish Mission-style architecture - and it's quite lovely.
This was my favorite tour, just because it was a little more personal and we got to see more. The cost was $5 per person, and that included a short video about the bourbon-making process, a tour of the facility (we walked, there were some steps, but it was pretty easy) - we saw just about everything but the barrels and bottling (which is at a separate facility) - a sampling of three bourbons (Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel), and we got to keep our bourbon glass with the Four Roses logo engraved on it.
I like both the Single Barrel and the Small Batch - we bought a bottle of the Small Batch at the Kroger liquor store for $25. I'm not sure how much it was in the gift shop - again, we only purchased shotglasses.
Our last stop of the day was Wild Turkey. I have to be honest and say that this was my least favorite. I don't know if it was because I was tired or because all of the tours were full and we could only watch a video and do the sampling or because I just didn't really like the bourbon. Maybe all three.
I'm not sure how much an actual tour costs, but I know they have buses because the buildings are very far apart here.
As I mentioned, we just did the video and sampling, which is done in the main building, and that was $5 per person, and includes your choice of three samples. I did enjoy the video, because their Master Distiller Jimmy Russell is quite the character. The day we were there they had all of their products available, which I understand isn't always the case. I sampled the Russell's Reserve Single Barrel, Russell's Reserve Small Batch, and Russell's Reserve Rye. Of the three, I liked the Rye the best (they compared this to Scotch, which I've never had). The other two just burned and made my eyes water. Yikes. No more Wild Turkey for me.
So they actually teach you how to drink bourbon on these tours. Who knew there was a special way to do it?
If you're sampling a half-ounce at a distillery, you have to make that small amount count. You don't just knock it back or you miss all of the nuances and flavors. You divide it into three sips.
- The first sip you swish around in your mouth - that one is to get your palate ready. Yes, it burns and is generally pretty nasty.
- The second sip you drink normally - and that burns going down. Now everything is "primed".
- And the third sip is when you're going to get the actual flavor. And wow, what a difference that third sip makes. You'll know by that third sip whether or not you like that particular bourbon or not.
If you don't think you're a bourbon drinker (but really, don't knock it until you give it a try, because I didn't think I would like it either) - don't worry, there's still something for you here. You can COOK with it!! I've only made a couple of things - bourbon brownie bites made with Woodford Double Oaked (yes, I used $60 bourbon in brownies!)...
and burgoo (if you don't know what that is, it's basically a cross between a soup and a stew that has vegetables, beans, and at least three kinds of meat) with Eagle Rare bourbon. Which isn't shown in the photo, but you can see one of the free glasses that we got from Four Roses...
A little FYI...because I didn't know either (bourbon newbie here)!
Is bourbon whiskey?
All bourbon is whiskey, but all whiskey isn't bourbon. Bourbon tastes different (stronger, sweeter) and has strict standards that must be met in order to be called bourbon (what goes in it and how long it's aged).
Why is it called bourbon? 95% of all bourbon comes from Kentucky. One of Kentucky's original counties was Bourbon County, and the oak barrels that the farmers shipped the whiskey in were stamped "Bourbon County". These barrels traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, and that long trip inside the oak gave the whiskey it's flavor and color. As it became more popular, it was called Bourbon whiskey.
What makes it bourbon?
By federal rules, in order to be labeled as bourbon:
- it must be distilled from at least 51% corn
- it must be aged at least 2 years in a new, charred oak barrel
- it must not have anything added to it besides distilled water
It was a great day, and we had a lot of fun! So if you're looking for something to do for the 21-and-over crowd, it's a fun time! We're planning to hit the other five stops on the KBT later in May, so I'll be sure to update you on that!
Have you ever traveled the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
What's your favorite bourbon?
Not a bourbon drinker? What's your favorite adult beverage?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~