Nick and I haven't been in Louisville long, but so far we love it. We're trying to jump right in with both feet and experience all this fine town has to offer. We're planning on heading over to Churchill Downs to watch the ponies run this weekend. We'll probably take advantage of the multitude of free music and festivals Louisville is offering this summer. And we've already begun to eat our way across the city (review to come).
But first things first right? I mean, the first thing you do when you visit a new place is to experience something that the town is known for...WELL known for. So for us, the first thing to do was hit the bourbon trail (naturally!). We hit it pretty hard and realized we didn't even put a dent in it yet. So here's the best and worst of our first run at the distillery tours. To all of you distillers out there get ready...the Bantas are in town and they're thirsty.
My favorite distillery tour - Buffalo Trace
We got to the distillery early and hopped right into the second tour of the day. The location of this distillery is nothing short of lovely so right off the bat we were happy with the place. It's right on the river in a beautiful valley surrounded by limestone rock walls.
The tour was extremely informative. Our guide explained what it takes to actually call your liquor bourbon (at least 51% corn, no added colors or flavors, aged in a charred oak barrel, etc.). Then she started to explain the differences in mash and flavor. Basically she covered what adding things like rye and barley can do to the flavor of a bourbon.
Fun fact...did you know that the Buffalo Trace distillery is the oldest continually operated bourbon distillery in the states because they were allowed to stay open during prohibition to produce bourbon for "medicinal" purposes? You can be sure that I would have had my doctor on speed dial during prohibition.
Next she took us into the warehouse where the bourbon ages. When Nick and I buy a home I'm thinking of decorating it "bourbon chic". This place was awesome. Floor after floor, row after row of bourbon. Beautiful. The guide explained how a key part in aging bourbon is letting it be affected by the changing temperatures of the 4 seasons. The only time they do any climate control is if it gets really, really cold, like during a blizzard. Cool huh? (no pun intended)
Fun fact...did you know that the hole in the barrel that holds the cork is called the "bung"? I laughed for a good 20 minutes over that one.
Finally she took us over the cute little railroad tracks (that are used to transport bourbon...my kind of transportation) and into the packaging room. That is where I saw the greatest curio cabinet of all time. It was jam packed full of bourbon. So, so, so many types of bourbon, and they make them all.....Blanton's, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee (of which Nick is enjoying presently) and the list goes on.
Fun fact...did you know that every one of Blanton's caps is marked with a letter in the Blanton's name? If you collect one of each you can spell out BLANTONS in caps. You can also buy the caps individually, without the bottle of booze attached to it, but where's the fun in that!??!
P.S. You may want to pass on tasting their "White Dog" liquor at the end. White Dog is what bourbon is before it's aged...right out of the still. It smells like caramel corn and tastes like Drain-o...stick with the bourbons.
My second favorite distillery tour - Maker's Mark
Maker's Mark distillery is located in the middle of nowhere. I'm not exaggerating. It really is out there. But it's worth the trip. I promise.
The tour begins in just about the cutest country home you've ever seen. There is complimentary lemonade in the kitchen, cute household relics from back in the day to stare at and nice bathrooms to relieve yourself in. It may sound trivial, but these distilleries take some driving to get to, so a nice bathroom is a plus.
The Maker's Mark grounds are lovely. They're manicured to perfection and everything is trimmed in the signature Maker's Mark red.
Fun fact...Did you know that Maker's Mark really owes most of it's success to the packaging? The brewer's wife knew their bourbon was good, but also knew it needed that little something extra, so she designed the "mark" and the idea to dip all the bottles in wax. What do they say..."behind every good man...".
My favorite part of this tour was the fermentation room. Check this out...they actually let you stick your grubby little hands in the mash to taste it. Don't worry though folks. Whether or not Nick washed his hands before dipping them in this tub is debatable, but one thing is for sure, nothing can survive the distilling process. So please continue to enjoy your Maker's Mark without fear.
Fun fact...This cute little building is called the "Quart House". Back in the day folks were bring their own quart size jars to be filled with bourbon and this is where it happened.
The thing that impressed me most about the Maker's Mark distillery is that it's a household name in the bourbon world, and they got there by making only ONE bourbon. That's right, they only produce Maker's Mark. I guess if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
My least favorite "tour" (I'll explain the quotes in a minute) - Jim Bean
After a long day of driving we ended up at the Jim Beam facility. I was pretty excited about this one. Jim Beam is an "ok" bourbon, but they also make Knob Creek, Booker's Basil Hayden and Baker's. That's quite a lineup of good bourbon if you ask me.
We arrived just in time for the last "tour" and they hurried us into an old farm house to watch a film. We grabbed our "I tasted Jim Beam" stickers and hurried on our way. When the film was over they escorted us back to the gift shop, gave us a sample or two and told us to have a nice day. That was the "tour". Really? Jim Beam is THE best selling bourbon worldwide and THAT is their tour? Pissed of were we!
On our way home I read some of the literature I picked up on the Bourbon Trail and realized that we had only scratched the surface. We simply MUST visit the Bulleit distillery (I love, love, love this bourbon) and so many more.
So I suppose this is just act 1 of the distillery show. We won't rest until we've visited every single bourbon distillery in Kentucky...and I'll be happy to bring y'all along for the ride.