YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE 21 TO READ THIS POST. But you do to enter the distiller sites linked in this post.
Two trips and two years in the making but we did it. We finally filled out our Kentucky Bourbon trail passport. Now we can claim our prize for our effort. The best part is having “family” living amongst the distillers, so it was not a hard decision to visit!
THE BIRTH OF BOURBON
You could say the birth of bourbon is due to the Federal Government. Many of the settlers were making rye whiskey in Pennsylvania with family recipes. Enter the Federal government, they offered incentives to grow corn and move to the western region of Virginia, also known as the Kentucky region. Many settlers moved to this area and one of those farmers was Jacob Beam. Jacob Beam who, like others, used his father’s whiskey recipe to distill his excess corn into a new, sweeter kind of whiskey-voilà bourbon was born. His bourbon became a local favorite. By the early 1800s, Kentucky was home to about 2,000 distillers. According to the website, he sold his first barrel of Old Jake Beam Sour mash in 1795.
Our very first stop was to the Four Roses Distillery and our first stamp in the passport. Wild Turkey tastings overlook the rolling hills. Woodford rounded out the first trip. Your tasting at Woodford Reserve is amongst the barrels in candle light. With tastings of the double oaked and single barrel. With a bit of chocolate to cleanse the pallet.
The first trip included a trip to Makers Mark, a special dinner, and evening stroll around the grounds but with a twist, a Chihuly glass exhibit. What a treat. All the buildings were open and the glass was a lit up as the sun went down. You could even taste the sour mash if you wanted to. Yuck.
In a city once rich with distilleries, Town Branch Distillery is the first new distillery built in Lexington, Kentucky in over 100 years. Town Branch, named after the river that runs through Lexington, is unique to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as it is the only combination distillery and brewery – If you prefer beer to bourbon this is the stop for you as it is the only stop on the trail in which you will get to sample beer as well as bourbon! Try the stout, and yes, it has bourbon in it. Town Branch not only distills bourbon, but an excellent Caribbean rum, and gin. I do not really like gin but I would by theirs. Sundown is also produced there, and well it is hard to describe. It is a thick syrupy concoction, but with a Kentucky spin, it is infused with Kentucky bourbon and sugar. The Bluegrass Sundowner is made by adding boiling water to the liqueur to release the flavors and aromas. Topped with a dollop of whipped cream and there you have it.
While we were walking the grounds at Jim Beam, you cannot help but notice the black mold on the buildings and trees. It is called by the common name distillery fungus, distilleries’ shadow, whiskey fungus, angels’ share fungus, and warehouse staining fungus. It really Baudoinia compniacensis is a fungus that resides near the distilleries. Spirits maturation facilities, bonded warehouses, and large bakeries. It may look gross but it is not harmful to animals for people. What its presence really means is that nature is working as it should and that close-by, our spirit of choice is in the making. THEREFORE, if you happen to come across black mold you just might just be in the vicinity of some bourbon.
Evan Williams opened Kentucky’s first distillery in 1783, along the banks of the Ohio River. They still make bourbon the same way. It is a pretty good interactive tour. You finish with a sample tasting in a re-creation of an old saloon.
Angel’s Envy is a family run distillery. Grandpa started it and brought his son along to create a bourbon that is finished in port barrels. Chocolate is an added bonus to the tasting. It is from a local chocolate shop. This sample was infused with orange. It was so good we had to hunt down the chocolate shop. This is the distillery I really learned how to sip and taste bourbon. So, next time you order your bourbon ask for two ice cubes on the side. You take your fist sip then add a ice cube and enjoy the rest!
Bulleit is actually distilled on the grounds of the STITZEL-WELLER DISTILLERY. From their website: Originally opened on Derby Day in 1935 and reopened to the public in 2014, the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery is one of the true cathedrals of the American whiskey industry. Located only five miles from downtown Louisville, the Stitzel Weller Experience is one of the most convenient and impressive stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. We are proud to invite guests to step foot on this hallowed ground and gain a unique perspective on the dichotomy of the historic contrasted with the innovations of tomorrow that include Bulleit Bourbon, Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and I.W. Harper Bourbon. Bulleit is still distilled according to Bulleit family tradition. It is a high rye content bourbon and has a spicy flavor. The bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels and uses the limestone-filleted water, Kentucky is famous for.
Recipe for a Manhattan and a my favorite fall bourbon cocktail the Bourbon Apple Cider Cocktail
Recipe for a Manhattan
2 parts Maker’s Mark 46 Bourbon
1 part sweet vermouth
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Cherry for garnish
Combine ingredients over ice in a mixing glass.
Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass neat or on the rocks.
Garnish with a cherry.
Bourbon Apple Cider (My favorite in the fall)
1 part Bourbon
3 part Apple Cider (fresh pressed preferable)
A splash of ginger beer
Garnish with cherries and apples
In a cocktail glass with ice, stir the bourbon and apple cider. Top with cold ginger beer. Garnish with cherries and a slice of apple.