Thursday, December 12, 2013

{Vacation Re-cap} Kentucky Bourbon Trail 2013

This past weekend was!   We took advantage of super cheap flights to hop a short 1 hour ride to Bourbon Country.   It's something we have been wanting to do for a few years now.  Seeing our cousin (don't get it twisted: she's technically Tom's cousin but I practically grew up with her so she's my family too) Al go on a similar trip with her friends and now fiance (!) not that long ago only fueled our desire to make it a priority this year. She was super helpful in giving suggestions and we cannot wait to go back!

Unfortunately, horrible weather swept the country that weekend, but we still managed to see a few distilleries.  The ones we didn't hit (I'm looking at you Maker's Mark and Wild Turkey), are on our list for next time.

Once we landed and came out of the airport we were greeted with this:

I know.

After scraping off the snow/ice, we felt like grabbing some food, but many restaurants had closed early due to the weather. Luckily we picked a great hotel not far from the airport that had a restaurant and got there safe and sound. 

We chose the Marriott East Louisville due to it's close proximity to the interstate and because it would give me more travel points (hehe, I can't resist racking them up!).  We had no idea how perfect it would be for our stay.  It was completely decked out in Bourbon decor which made it fun, and also had decent steakhouse which we ate at that night.  However, the real win was a VERY well stocked bar.  We chose wisely.

A pic of the 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle we shared.  Tom originally ordered 2, but when he found out they were $50 EACH, he said we should share one. Ha

The next day we woke up and headed out!  We passed a Waffle House and couldn't resist stopping. It essentially gave Tom his start (he worked there in high school and in college).  I had no idea how big the pours were going to be at the distilleries, so it seemed like a good idea to go in with fully bellies.   Waffle House actually has some decent gluten free options (eggs, sausage, bacon, hashbrowns) so we ate up. We figured that it has been about 8 years since we last went there which is crazy when we think about how he basically ate there almost every day for 6 years.  I guess we needed the break!

Our fist stop was Buffalo Trace (Not technically a part of the KY Bourbon Trail due to political conflicts, but whatever).  Its the oldest continually running distillery in the country and looked it in the best possible way.  When we got inside the property (after a pretty drive) we were blown away by the property.  It gives a great first impression.

We signed up for the "Hard Hat Tour" which usually isn't free.  However, I think they were so impressed that everyone made the drive out despite the weather that they decided to not charge anything.    If you ever go to Buffalo Trace, I HIGHLY recommend this tour specifically with Freddie if you can get him.  It was an 1.5 hours and so informative and fun!  Freddie is actually 3rd or 4th generation from this distillery (through many different owners).  He really knows his stuff.   He had a great story about how his dad's dying wish was to pass down his knowledge to him (believe he ran the warehouse), so he took retirement from his job to come home and learned the ropes.

One couple had him for the regular tour last year and loved him so much, that they made sure to come back and do this tour with him. They said he was by far the best they had seen in Bourbon Country.  I am inclined to agree.

This tour took us EVERYWHERE.

We learned some fun facts:
 1. Bourbon street got it's name because this distillery once sent such a large shipment of bourbon to New Orleans, that they ran out of room and had to store some of the cases on the street with armed guards.
2. Hospitals and distilleries are the only places either sides didn't attack in the Civil and Revolutionary Wars.  They benefit both sides equally so they have a vested interest in not destroying either.
3. During Prohibition, you could only get Bourbon with prescriptions.  Therefore, EVERYONE had colds, etc so they could get scripts for "hot toddys" and the like.   Even colicky and teething babies were given scripts so they could have bourbon rubbed on their gums. Pretty sure the bourbon was for the moms and not he babies ;)

He also talked about how there were groups of men who would ride with barrels of bourbon down the river located out back and would disappear for up to two years at a time.  It took at least 7 months to travel down and then they had to travel all the way back.  That is, if they made it back.  It was an extremely dangerous job and not for the faint of heart apparently.

The grounds were amazing. It was like it's own private industrial village.   They have done a nice job of retaining some of the historic buildings and tools, but incorporating modern advances.   When we go back, I wouldn't mind checking out their historical tour or ghost tour.

It was a very interactive.  He showed us the fermentation barrels at different stages of the process.   Some of them looked to be boiling or seemed be in the process of being mixed, and he pointed out that there is no blade or motor; it's purely from the fermentation.  He also had us stick our hands in some of barrels to feel the difference in heat and in taste (Tom said it tasted like sweet beer). They also had some of the old rotting fermentation barrels hanging up from the original distillery which were a bit nerve wracking to walk under but cool nonetheless.

This part of the tour might have been my favorite.  He talked about moonshine and how, back in the day, one would go about testing different batches before they bought any.   He called one of the samples heartache and the other headache (hehe) and had us evaluate the differences using an old method: "Cup, Slap, Rub, Smell, Repeat"

You cup your hands to hold the sample, then you slap your hands together (and see the liquid evaporate which is fun), then rub, and finally smell your hands.  The first time you do this, you should be able to smell how strong the alcohol is.  Then you repeat the process all over (minus the cup part) and this time when you smell it you can smell the actual grain it came from (I believe this one was corn).  You do it a third time and then your hands smell bread.  At the end of all this, your hands are also super smooth and soft.

We finished up the tour with tastings. I loved that they paired the bourbon with chocolate.  I knew this trip was right up my alley ;)

Freddie caught on to the fact that I had a gluten problem (when he noticed me not tasting from the fermentation barrels) and basically pointed out that the longer bourbon is fermented and then separated from the grain, the better it would be for me. What this essentially means is that I need to stick to expensive bourbon ;)  Poor Tom.  I have never had trouble with bourbon so did participate in the actual tastings which was great.   He included their bourbon cream which he had us taste by itself, then taste and sample with chocolate, then taste and mix with some of their root-beer.  Needless to say, it was delicious!  We also tried Eagle Rare (which we love), Buffalo Trace (of course!), and their own Vodka which was surprisingly smooth.

During the tour he showed us the bottling shoppe and told us about Blanton's Bottles.  There are 8 different stoppers which you can collect, each with a horse in a different stage of racing.  He gave us one to take home and gave me the one ("O" how appropriate) with the whip because he said I was clearly the driver in the relationship, ha!  Everyone got a laugh out of that one.  Tom got the "S" so now we only have 6 more to go.

We had such a blast there that we said if we went home then and there, we would walk away from the trip happy.  Lucky for us, there was more to look forward too!

We hit Four Roses next which had beautiful grounds but oddly more of a Spanish Architecture thing happening.  I could see from the area it would be amazing to visit in the warmer months as it was a beautify property. The tour was closed due to the weather, but we still enjoyed hearing about the history of Four Roses and sampling three different products.

It was named Four Roses after the original owner's wife.  When he proposed to her, she didn't give him an answer right away.  She simply said he would know if her answer was yes if she showed up to a dance with a flower corsage.  He was obviously elated when she arrived guessed it: a corsage made of four roses.  He decided to name his distillery after that memory.

We also found out that it was once the most popular bourbon in the country but when Seagram's bought it, they made it an export only distillery meaning you could no longer buy their bourbon in the US.  Unfortunately, Seagram's slapped their Four Roses label on cheap bourbon and ruined their brand.  When Seagram's went bankrupt, they were able to bring their bourbon back to the US and are now steadily rectifying the situation.  They are celebrating their 125th year anniversary and we toasted to that which was fun.   Because of the weather, the shop gave us our own 125th anniversary tasting cup as a parting gift.  I loved the rose design at the bottom.  It pays to show up in bad weather!

Finally, we hit Woodford Reserve which we were super excited about.  It's one of our favorite bourbons and the actual distillery is a historical landmark.  The drive there was stunning and worth the trip in and of itself. It takes you through "horse country" and lots of windy roads.   I wish I had snapped some pics. I made up for it once on the property :)

We decided to hit their tour because we knew that Wild Turkey was completely closed and had time to kill.  Allison warned us that it was bit more "corporate" than the others.   I can definitely see what she means.  They used headsets on the tour (it's loud so they want you to be able to clearly hear the guide) and loaded us onto buses.  They even called out numbers over a mic and had us line up in this gated area which made me feel a bit like cattle.  It was a very efficient way to do a tour but wasn't very personal or interactive.  It was informative though.  I found the lobby waiting area somewhat crowded but apparently they are in the process of building it out.  Despite this, I would recommend it if only to view the property.    When we come back, we might try a historical or ghost tour here as well.

The tasting was delicious (it is Woodford after all) and included the famous Kentucky Bourbon Balls.  They had us taste the bourbon without ice, with ice and with the chocolate to pick up the differences in taste.  So yummy.  I'm definitely a bourbon on the rocks kind of girl.

Barrel Runs - still in use today!

Days after prohibition, the government showed up and demanded that they let them live on the property.   They complied....but not before ripping out the bathroom in the guest house :)

I love the storage houses. They smell amazing due to the "Angel's Share" (the bourbon that evaporates from the barrels). Woodford keeps their storage rooms at consistent temperatures so they always get a consistent product.  It also keeps them from having to rotate the barrels (higher barrels getting hotter).  They also triple distill their product which separates them from other distilleries in the area.   The guide also told us that for 8-10k you could work with the Master Distiller to blend your own Whiskey and have your own barrel.   Hmmmm....might have to get some friends on board for that one!

Once we were done tasting for the day, we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and to recharge.  Later, we grabbed dinner at local restaurant called Mussels & Burgers and then finally saw Catching Fire (Loved it! Even better than The Hunger Games).   

A perfect end to a perfect day:  Sipping Double Barreled Woodford on the rocks while watching FSU win and securing their place in the National Championship!  Go Noles!

The next day was nice but a little frustrating.  We thought we would try to hit Maker's Mark before catching our flight back to Chicago.  We called, checked their website, and even the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website to see if there were any cancellations.  Thinking it was fine, we drove over an hour to the property in not ideal conditions only to find a crude sign on the door saying they were closed.   Bummer!   The property itself was awesome though so we will definitely be back

We decided to make the most of our last hours there, so I found a great farm to table restaurant through Yelp called "Harvest".  We decided to grab brunch and made sure to have some of their "Kentucky Wake Up" (coffee spiked with Bourbon and Chocolate Liquor I believe) to end the trip. Another wise choice.

We can't wait to go back in Spring or Summer to see even more and also hit the horse tracks!


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