Back to Kentucky
A weekend to complete our Bourbon Trail passport!
(missed the first episode?)
When we stop and think about it, it’s incredible how this all started, almost by chance. Someone would say “serendipity”. Roy Aquavitae centered one of his vPubs around this concept, telling the story of how he stumbled upon whisky (scotch in his case) at some point in his life, almost by chance. We are no different.
Back in August 2016, we had picked up the Bourbon Trail Passport at Heaven Hill, the first whisky distillery we ever visited. At the time, to complete the passport, there were only 9 distilleries to visit. Just to give you an idea on how quickly things are changing in the world of whisk(e)y, now there are 18 (and, on top of that, there is also an alternative Craft Bourbon Trail). Had there been that many at the time, we probably wouldn’t have completed it. However, with only 6 to go after our roadtrip in the South, we thought it was doable in a weekend, so there we go!
March 2017, Teresa was back in Illinois to visit. We were coming out of a quite cold winter, at least for our standards – earlier in January the temperature wouldn’t have gone above -10C for an entire week, with peaks (well, drops) at around -23C. One Friday, we rented a car and drove straight to Louisville, where we had our hotel booked.
The Saturday was particularly challenging, with four distilleries visits planned. This is still the maximum number of distilleries we visited in a single day, and to be honest, we wouldn’t do that again, but rather take an extra day. The driver of the day was Gianluigi, and that meant he only took a sniff from the samples and a few tiny sips, planning to fully enjoy the stuff later at the hotel.
First off, Maker’s Mark, joining the first tour of the day. The distillery is in a very nice location, with rolling green hills (like many places in Kentucky), wood, and black and red buildings.
As for Jim Beam earlier in August, in the tasting at the end of the tour we appreciated the range of flavours a single distillery could produce, and although their flagship product was not our favourite, some of the other drams were truly excellent (we wish we could remember what they were…).
After we were done with the Maker’s Mark and their very generous tasting, we headed North-East towards Woodford Reserve. There, we only did a tasting, a couple of drams paired with chocolate for about 10 dollars.
As the previous distillery, it looked quite nicely immersed in the rural landscape. A bit of a change would have come later, at Wild Turkey. Compared to the other ones, the Campari-owned distillery looked more like an industrial plant (or maybe the other ones are just better at hiding this, considering they all produce a huge amount of spirit). This not to say we did not like it, on the contrary we loved it! Also, the tasting room was in a very scenic spot, overlooking an old rail bridge. Here they gave us four drams, including a delicious Rye whiskey and a less so honey liquor (some things you just can’t unlearn…definitely not a drink for us). The other stuff was great however, and Wild Turkey is now one of our “never without at least a bottle in the cabinet” (at the moment: the 101 and the Rare Breed).
We moved on to the last distillery of the day: Town Branch. Located in downtown Lexington, it marked the move from the rural landscape of the early part of the day, to a nice and vibrant urban atmosphere. We picked the distillery tour only, skipping the brewery part, which brought us into the whiskey making plant. Particularly notable was the still room with the two long-necked copper stills, and a big window overlooking the landscape.
We enjoyed the view while enjoying the tasting at the end of the tour. We drove back to Louisville for dinner, which we had at the Feast BBQ…guess what we had? We’ll just say that the beef brisket was spectacular.
Sunday started slowly, taking advantage of the hotel’s facilities, including a (first) light breakfast. We drove towards downtown Louisville to have a (second) bigger breakfast, which we had in a local restaurant called Wild Eggs: holy molly that quesadilla (yes, Gianluigi does still remember…)! We then moved to the first of the two distilleries of the day: the Evan Williams experience, in the middle of the city. Although the main Evan Williams production is at Jim Beam’s, here they have a little experimental distillery with a capacity of one barrel per week. We chose the tasting experience, which was organised as a tour in a speak-easy bar, with the guide dressed as a bartender of the 1920s-30s. The drams here were pretty awesome, we still fondly remember a 12y/o (which we hugely regret not buying…what newbies!) and a 22y/o bourbon that blowed our socks off! Unfortunately for Teresa, she was the designated driver for the day, but she eagerly packeted the samples for later.
We proceeded to the last distillery of the trip where we’d have (finally!) our Bourbon Trail Passport completed: Bulleit!
To this day this is still one of our favourite bourbons, probably also because of the high rye content of the mashbill. Their Rye whiskey is also a favourite of ours, and we’re not the only ones: months later the bottle of Bulleit Rye that Gianluigi had gifted to his parents evaporated in mysterious circumstances (a dinner party, apparently…or maybe angel share?).
Our trip was over, and we finally headed back to Illinois, tired but happy to have done something special (including the fact that in all tours we were the only non-Americans). Thinking back to this experience today, it seems like ages ago. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic, or maybe the years have really gone by, or maybe it’s just that so many ‘whisk(e)y things’ have happend afterwards.
Today whysk(e)y is not just our hobby, it’s our gateway to a world of flavour and experiences. Visiting distilleries is by far our favourite holiday-type, we love getting to know whisk(e)y and the people making it. Every distillery has its own story and is embedded in its own unique atmosphere, which cannot be replicated anywhere else. We are never tired of learning, and with 50 and counting distilleries visited now, we still feel there is not enough time to learn and see all the things we would like to! And all started with a “why not”….serendipity?
Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries – Links
[Again, no summary box. We visited these distilleries 5 years ago, our feedback would be too out of date!]