There is a war on. How is it you are headed west?
Well, we kinda face to the north and real sudden-like turn left.
It was with bourbon in our hearts and pizza in our bellies we headed north to Kentucky after work on a Thursday. A party of six piled into the Texas cadillac leaving little room for luggage, extra bags were stuffed in coolers and riding on the hitch rack. We may have only been setting off for the weekend but this crew can't travel without a large cast iron skillet and a sous vide, we’re not animals. Much like Hawkeye before us, we traveled through the night seeking our destiny … only to find out we’d booked the wrong days in our AirBnB house and had to wake up the owner at 3am to let us in. A good start.
My impression was that “The Bourbon Trail” was just what people said to talk about the big distilleries in Kentucky. Turns out it's actually a tourism organization and there are nine official stops on said trail. They’ve also created a “craft trail” to get in on the hipster small batch bourbon craze. Despite only being in Kentucky for three days (based out of Louisville) we made an impressive number of tours, seven to be exact. After touring seven distilleries you get a pretty good idea as to how to give a tour of a bourbon distillery. Turns out, just like anything else, it's all made in relatively the same manner and since you can't just sit around drinking their products for an hour (law requires they don't give you more than 1.5 oz or something, after three tours I was still completely sober), they just walk around and tell you how bourbon is made as if you’d never heard it before. So let me save you the trouble.
- There are requirements for what makes something a bourbon, at least fifty one percent corn in the mash, barrels made of virgin white oak, made in America and some other minutiae they are both very exacting about and very proud of.
- Everybody uses a number 4 char on their barrels, the highest level allowed by law (those bourbon police are serious). They pretend that they are the only ones reaching for this high standard of excellence.
- They have a specific way that they age the barrels and it's the best way and the way everyone else does it is wrong. Everyone says this about a different method, they rotate the barrels or they don't, they regulate the temperature or they don't, they age ham in their warehouse or they don't. . Turns out it all comes out pretty delicious one way or the other.
So there you go, now you are free to just go to your favorite distilleries and give the tour if your tour guide doesnt show up. I’m kidding, we were all very glad we hit every place we did but by the end we were pretty done with the tours. One thing we did notice however was how all the distilleries fit pretty well with their stereotype so here is a quick overview of the places we hit.
Buffalo Trace - The Ranch
Woodford Reserve - The Country Club
Four Roses - The Frat House
Bulleit - The Hipster Bar
Jim Beam - The Budweiser Distillery
Willett - The Retreat
Maker's Mark - The Cabin