Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kentucky: the bourbon state.

The first weekend of February, Zach and I took a roadtrip to Lexington, Kentucky, to visit Steph. Rather, we took a roadtrip to visit Steph and four bourbon distilleries on our quest to complete our bourbon trail passports and achieve the coveted t-shirt status. Steph lives in Lexington as she completes her undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky, and through her time there, I have fallen in love with the state. I love the elaborate horse farms, the gorgeous rolling hills, and lately, the bourbon distilleries.

We arrived late Friday and hung out with Steph and her boyfriend, PJ, played Skip-Bo, and met PJ's rats. After the five-hour drive from Ohio, a resting day was what we needed.

On Saturday, we braved unplowed roads, the cold temperatures, and Kentucky's inexperience with snow to trek to the farther distilleries. First up, Maker's Mark in Loretto, Kentucky.

Maker's Mark had the prettiest setting - it reminded me of an 1800s settlement, except no one actually lived here and they just made bourbon. Fun fact - Maker's Mark is the oldest operating bourbon whisky distillery. So maybe it is actually an 1800s village. I hate when I think of questions after the tour.

We toured the facilities, which was largely the same as every other distillery. You learn about the requirements of bourbon (made in America, made of at least 51% corn, aged in a new charred barrel) and how the distillery separates itself from the others. Every distillery had a different combination of corn and grains to make the bourbon, a different amount of time in the barrel, and even a different style of charring the barrel. We tasted three of their bourbons, and it's amazing how different small fluctuations in the grain mix can affect the taste. Don't I sound fancy?

Maker's Mark bottles have the unique wax seal, too. Zach took the opportunity to dip his own bottle.

Then we skipped off to our next stop: Heaven Hill. They were only offering the indoor tour and it can be summed up as womp, womp. The tour consisted of a ten-minute video reminiscent of my elementary history lessons and a walk down a timeline of Heaven Hill's history. We didn't see any stills, we didn't see any barrels, and we tasted one bourbon. We were all disappointed. I wonder if the outdoor tour would have been more interesting. Aren't the barrel houses impressive, though? Each of those has hundreds of barrels of bourbon aging.

Next up: Jim Beam. I always thought it was Jim Bean, so I was learning as soon as we pulled into the parking lot.

The tour here was very interactive, which was cool because we all had our hand in making bourbon. Zach used his brute strength to hammer the plus into a barrel after filling it with bourbon and I used bourbon to clean the inside of a bourbon bottle before setting up the bottling line. Another fun fact - they use bourbon of the bottling batch to clean the bottles before the official bottling so that they don't mess up the proof of the alcohol.

Again, then we tasted, only this time we had vouchers and were allowed to taste any Jim Beam product we desired. I had this cinnamon spice flavor and it was awesome. I think it was from their Red Stag line, but now I'm seeing that I failed to take a picture of the room and a picture of my choice.

That wrapped up Saturday. Our distillery touring didn't stop there, though. On Sunday, Steph took us to a new stop on the bourbon trail, Town Branch. It's in downtown Lexington and started as a brewery, making an ale that's soaked in the bourbon barrels. They moved into distilling their own bourbon a few years ago, and decidedly do so in the prettiest building.

They also had this wonderful after-dinner drink, a Kentucky sunset, that was bourbon, boiling water, and heavy cream. I could have drank they entire bottle.

Now, I just have one more distillery before the I get the t-shirt. Zach has three more, so I guess that means we'll be back to Kentucky. I love strategically leaving reasons to return, as Steph's graduation is really going to throw a wrench in my vacation planning. 

And just for good measure, an obligatory picture as a wildcat.

I imagine wildcats to be of the lurky cat variety, and our laser eyes only add to our fierceness. Tyra would be proud.


  1. We did the bourbon trail in Kentucky last December!! I thought Makers Mark was so pretty! Looks like y'all had fun!

    1. Maker's Mark was the most gorgeous, I think. I have one more stop on the tour before I get my free tee-shirt!


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