We started our journey on the eastern side of Kentucky's Bourbon Trail. March is not the prettiest time of year in Kentucky, but it is still lovely country with horse farms and rolling hills, and of course, bourbon distilleries.
Four Roses Distillery
1224 Bonds Mill Road
Our first stop on the Trail was Four Roses, a nice-looking distillery with a Spanish Mission style architecture.
Four Roses was the best-selling bourbon in the country from the 1930s to the 1950s, but after purchase by Seagram, it became unavailable for sale in the U.S. A Canadian company, Seagram decided to focus its business on blended whiskies. It has been owned by the Kirin Brewing Company since 2002 and the bourbon is now widely available in the U.S. again.
Limestone filtered water is one of reasons Kentucky was so supportive of the creation of bourbon. It is free of iron and is supposed to have nutrients that support yeast. The spring-fed Salt River is the water source for Four Roses bourbon.
This distillery has used the same grain source for nearly 50 years, and inspect every delivery.
They use a higher percentage of rye than most other bourbons. The spicy rye flavor is probably why this brand is a favorite of both my husband and I.
The master distiller works with a combination of 2 mash bills (one with 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley and another with 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley) and 5 proprietary yeast strains for 10 different bourbon recipes. Each product has a unique formula of certain bourbon flavors at specific proportions.
Four Roses uses a columnar still for its first distillation.
The doubler used for the second distillation is a copper pot still.
The alcohol vapor for each distillation is condensed here.
The try box for gauging the proof of the distillate before it is barreled.
The bourbon is barreled, stored, and bottled in another location, so the new-make bourbon is transported in tanker trunks.
It is the only distillery to use single-story rick houses. The belief is that it minimizes temperature variances and provides even maturation.
All 10 recipes are married together (bourbon is married, not blended) to create Four Roses Yellow. Four of the recipes are married for Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. Only one is hand selected for Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.
Typically once a year, the Master Distiller selects one exceptional barrel or marries a few especially good recipes to created a limited release. These are usually released in the spring in time for the Kentucky Derby. They are difficult to find outside of Kentucky, unfortunately.
On our tour, we were able to sample each of the offerings except for a Master Distiller's bottle. Perhaps next time...
113 Great Buffalo Trace
Buffalo Trace is not technically on the Bourbon Trail anymore, and they've withdrawn from membership in the Kentucky Distillers' Association - deciding to go off on their own. We wanted to see Buffalo Trace, though, because it holds the title of oldest continually operating distillery in the United States.
They've been in business for 200 years, even during Prohibition, but under different operators. It was one of a handful of distillers licensed to make alcohol for medicinal purposes. They had a prescription on display.
Each of the Kentucky distilleries has its own personality and culture. Currently owned by the Sazerac Company, Buffalo Trace felt a bit more corporate to us than some of the others. It is set on over 130 acres so you can only see a small part of it on the tour. For instance, we were only able to see the huge column still from a distance.
We saw barrel rickhouses made of both metal and brick.
We were able to see the inside of one of the aging warehouses in the picture above.
Buffalo Trace is unusual in that they still employ leak hunters to search its barrel warehouses and look for leaks and they patch with a neutral wood that cannot influence the flavor of the spirit. Take a look at the narrow space between the barrels...
And, we were able to watch a batch of one of their premium bourbons, Blanton's, being hand-bottled by a surprising small staff.
Sazerac Company has 5 whiskey recipes and one vodka recipe for 15 labels. Most of the differences between bourbons are influenced by aging and barrel storage. Unfortunately, we were only able to have two samples each and not all the labels were available for tasting. I found the Eagle Rare to be especially delicious.
If you are a collector, the gift shop sells bottles signed by the Master Distiller and special bottles of Buffalo Trace that have are decorated with a buffalo nickel.
Another tip, Frankfort is Kentucky's capital city, and we found it worth the very short drive from Buffalo Trace to take a look at the capitol grounds.
Tony's BBQ Barn
1435 North 127 Bypass
Food is a must on the Bourbon Trail. We stopped for lunch in the community of Lawrenceburg for pulled pork sandwiches and bowls of burgoo. It was a huge place with tables that could accommodate big groups or booths for smaller parties. The staff were very friendly, but don't count on big-city speed.
Burgoo is a stew-like dish native to Kentucky. Every restaurant and family seems to have their own recipe, but it has a mixture of meats and vegetables in a spicy tomato base. Tony's burgoo included some smoked pulled pork. Yum.
Alltech Brewing and Distilling Company
401 Cross Street
In downtown Lexington, this micro brewery and distillery is owned by company that makes animal feed supplements, Alltech. This may not make sense upon first reflection, but the company is a major supplier of yeast. Their knowledge and experience with yeast is quite helpful in brewing tasty beer.
Their cramped facility not only brews and bottles beer, but now distills Kentucky's first malt whiskey since 1919, Pearse Lyons Reserve (double distilled) and a bourbon coffee drink called Bluegrass Sundown. We were able to try all their beers (Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Light, and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale) and the coffee drink tasted like Irish coffee. The bourbon barrel ale is aged in used Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.
A separate facility for the distillery, which will be known as Lyons Distillery, is still under construction.
270 Montgomery Avenue
We needed our rest on this bourbon adventure and we spend two nights at this well maintained bed and breakfast just outside of Lexington. The innkeeper, Pam, and her family were very friendly and accommodating.
Wow! Their sign is not lying when it says "Every boubon under heaven." We were awed by the beer, wine, and liquor selection in this place. Make it a stop on your visit to bring back some local beverages and food stuff.