Friday, March 18, 2011

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Part Three

The second full day on the Bourbon Trail...

Woodford Reserve
7855 McCracken Pike
Versailles, Kentucky

Woodford Reserve is the oldest and smallest distillery in Kentucky.  The grounds are well-manicured with pretty limestone buildings, including one of the oldest stone aging warehouses for barrels.

Woodford Reserve is special as the only bourbon distillery using a triple distillation process in copper pot stills.

It is also the only bourbon company to craft its own barrels.

Interestingly, their rickhouse, or barrel warehouse is heated with steam to control the temperature and their claim is that it adds a "fifth season."  That is, it creates another period of temperature fluctuation to expand and contract the barrels, and perhaps speed up the aging of the bourbon.

All distilling, barreling, aging, and bottling for this premium bourbon is done on the same grounds.

Another unique point...Woodford was the only distillery to charge a fee for the tour and tasting - you pay $5 at the door.  We both really like Woodford Reserve and we thought the grounds were lovely, but we didn't feel it was a selling point to give us a plastic souvenir shot glass and "tasting notes" to take home for our $5.

Besides the excellent Woodford Reserve, the distillery also has a Master's Collection of super premium bottles in which the master distiller changes the process to create something different.  We picked up two of these limited quantity bottles on our trip.

One is the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Seasoned Oak Finish.  To explain what makes this special, you need to understand a bit about barrel-making or coopering.  Quality bourbon barrels are made of wood slats that have a degree of seasoning prior to coopering.  Seasoning is the natural drying process that changes the wood by reducing tannins (that can taste astringent) and creating new flavor compounds.  Typically, the wood for barrel staves or slats is left outside for three to five months to be weathered and mature.  By comparison, wood used for barrels of the Seasoned Oak Finish bottles was seasoned between 3 1/2 and 5 years.

The other bottle is Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Maple Wood Finish.  This is not technically a bourbon, but is instead classified by the Federal government as a specialty bourbon.  The reason for this classification is that the spirit was finish-aged in maple wood barrels.  If you recall the guidelines from the bourbon primer, bourbon is aged only in charred oak barrels.  This drink was first aged in charred oak barrels and then transferred for additional aging to toasted maplewood barrels.

Wild Turkey
1525 Tyrone Road
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

Perched on the banks of the Kentucky River, the Wild Turkey distillery has a dramatic location.  You see it up on a hill as you wind a narrow road and cross the river.  Unfortunately, not the safest place to stop and take a picture, so you have to settle for this model.

This tour was a bit of a bust.  They've recently built a brand new building and new stills, but it was not yet open to visitors; and the old still was no longer available for viewing.  So, we only got to see some barrel storage.  However, the staff were very friendly and welcoming.  In fact, one of the tour guides even made a couple of King Cakes to share with guests as our visit fell on Fat Tuesday.

Wild Turkey is distilled and barreled and eventually dumped (poured out of barrels in preparation for bottling) in this location, but the company has about 20 rickhouses throughout the area, and bottling takes place in yet another location.  Because of that, the aged bourbon is dumped into tanker trucks and shipped to the bottling warehouse.

At each stop, we sought out bottles that are available only at the distillery or are in some way a limited edition.  Wild Turkey offers an opportunity to have a personalized label on a bottle of Rare Breed, their barrel strength (no water added) small batch bourbon to commemorate your visit.

Heaven Hill
1311 Gilkey Run Road
Bardstown, Kentucky

Heaven Hill Distillery is the country's largest independent and family-owned producer of bourbon.  Beginning in the late 1980s the company began expanding beyond bourbon and it now has some 40 brands including gin, vodka, liqueurs, tequila, rum, brandy, and other spirits.

In 1996, Heaven Hill suffered a devastating fire that consumed nearly the entire inventory of bourbon aging in its barrel warehouses.  The fire jumped from rickhouse to rickhouse until they were all almost gone.  They have recovered and the company now possesses the second largest inventory of aging Kentucky whiskey with over 800, 000 barrels.

Our visit didn't really have a tour of the distilling or bottling facilities - we were not able to get our reservations nailed down in advance.  Instead, we walked through their museum of bourbon history with a very knowledgeable tour guide, and finished with a sample of premium bourbons (Elijah Craig 12 year and 18 year) in a bourbon barrel shaped tasting room.  Delicious.

Their gift shop has a number of signed and limited edition bottles, including Parker's Heritage Collection from Master Distiller Parker Beam.  (Yes, that's right, the Beam family is involved in a number of bourbon distilleries throughout Kentucky.)  We picked up a bottle of 27-year-old bourbon.  It was aged in the bottom level of one of the distiller's favorite rickhouses.  This created more consistency in temperature and resulted in less loss to evaporation.  In other words, the barrels still had something in them by the end of 27 years.  This bourbon does not taste like any I've had before, and I understand why it was named the North American Whiskey of the Year when it was released in 2008.

Brown Hotel Bar
335 W. Broadway
Louisville, Kentucky

We also spent an evening out in downtown Louisville.  And the Brown Hotel Bar was the first stop I wanted to make.  I think this is a beautiful hotel and I've always had friendly service.  Plus, I wanted my husband to have a famous (and delicious) Hot Brown.  As the story goes, the Hot Brown was invented by the chef of the hotel in the 1920s to feed the late-night dance crowd who tired of ham and eggs.  The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich with turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and a creamy Mornay sauce.  I love it.  And it goes very well with bourbon based cocktails.  I ordered a Manhattan from their bar menu that included St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur.  Very intriguing...You can choose to order the sandwich in the hotel's restaurant or bar, where I have found it is a few bucks cheaper.

Old Seelbach Bar
Seelbach Hilton Hotel
500 S. 4th Street
Louisville, Kentucky

We moved towards the river a couple of blocks for our next round of drinks.  Set in the hotel that is rumored to have served as inspiration to F. Scott Fitzgerald for The Great Gatsby, the Seelbach was named one of the 50 best bars in the world by London's The Independent.  I don't know that we would rank it as one of the 50 best bars, but they are worth the stop when you are in Louisville.  I recommend you stick with bourbon - you have more than 50 to choose from.  I enjoyed the signature cocktail, but frankly, I enjoy almost anything with sparkling wine.

Seelbach Cocktail
Makes 1 drink

1 oz bourbon
1/2 oz Cointreau (or triple sec)
4 or 5 dashes Angostura bitters
4 or 5 dashes Peychaud's bitters
champagne (or sparkling wine)

Pour bourbon, Cointreau, and bitters into champagne flute.  Top with champagne.

Jailer's Inn
111 W. Stephen Foster Avenue
Bardstown, Kentucky

And, of course, we did eventually rest that day and we spent the night in jail.  Built around 1820, the Old Nelson County Jail held prisoners until 1987 when the county sold it and it was developed into a bed and breakfast.  It has undergone extensive renovations, but the 30-inch stone walls remind you of the history, and one guest room is a modified jail cell.  A tour by the charming owner of the historic facility is included in your stay.

It is located right in front of the Pioneer Cemetery that was used from 1785 to 1856.  Legends have it that both locations are haunted.

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