Kentucky is Bourbon country. There are a ton of bourbon distilleries in the area. So much, in fact, that there are more bourbon barrels than there are people in the state. Some of the biggest names come from here. Why? Well it’s all thanks to the limestone water, hot summers and cold winters. The conditions are perfect for the creation of some of the best bourbon in the world. The Bourbon Trail will bring you to 7 different distilleries in the area, but there are a lot more. We were able to hit 6 of the 7 in two days. We could’ve made the 7 but we had no idea a new distillery had been added to the trail, so we didn’t get to schedule it in. Maybe next year.
Touring 7 distilleries might seem boring, after all, how different can the bourbon-making process be from one distillery to another? Well the overall process doesn’t vary too much and neither do the ingredients. Most distilleries use a combination of corn, rye and malt, with the exception of Maker’s Mark that uses wheat. The overall process of distillation, fermentation and aging is pretty much the same across the board. What makes the tours interesting, however, is the history behind each place and, of course, tasting the bourbon at the end. It doesn’t hurt that the tours are either free or cost less than $10. It’s tough work trying to fit in all the distilleries in two days but it is possible. You’ll just have to wake up early and plan out the tours to make sure you hit them all.
This was the first stop of our trail namely because it was the furthest away. The grounds are quite nice and you can choose a guided tour which costs $8, though there’s the option to do a free non-guided walking tour. I think you only get the bourbon if you do the guided tour, however. What did I learn? Jim Beam is the most popular bourbon around the world. This was also the first place that mentioned the “angel share”. Basically during the aging process the water from the bourbon evaporates a little bit every year, which increases the alcohol content of the liquid inside of the barrel. The longer bourbon stays in a barrel the more evaporates. This is what gives the warehouses that delicious bourbon smell, the evaporation.
Heaven Hill Distillery
Honestly, I didn’t spend a lot of time here, we just stopped by to get our book stamped. Why didn’t we walk around or do the tour? Frankly, I was too sick to my stomach. There was a little historical area in the guest center of Heaven Hill. What did I learn? Heaven Hill makes Elijah Craig.
This was one of the cooler stops on the trail because they really put a lot of effort into the guest center. The grounds are really nice as well. We were on the last tour of the day, so the tour guide didn’t really waste any time. She had us in and out in about 30 minutes. What did I learn? T. William “Bill” Samuels might have made the bourbon, but it was his wife that designed the bottle and even came up with the iconic dripping wax to close the bottle. Even today the bottles are all hand-dipped in wax.
We showed up a little late to this one, but we only missed a portion of the movie. Four roses has very distinctive Spanish style architecture, setting it apart from the other distilleries. While it’s quite industrial, it’s offset by all the roses on the grounds. I wasn’t really a big fan of the bourbon, but I enjoyed the different feel of the grounds. What did I learn? There is some dispute about the name of the company. Some say it was name after Rufus Mathewson Rose, company founder, his brother and two sons. There is a more romantic story however. According to stories, Rufus had asked a young woman to marry him, but she refused. Finally, he stated that he would only ask once more and that she should give him her answer at a ball by wearing a rose. When he saw her at the ball, she was wearing four roses.
This is probably the prettiest of all the distilleries from the buildings to the grounds. Woodford is located right in the heart of horse country, so the estate grounds have beautifully manicured lawns and a gorgeous view. The inside of each of the buildings have been designed to really blend in with the outward appearance of the buildings. You can tell the bourbon is crafted with care. It might be the smallest distillery, but Woodford Reserve takes their time with their product. What did I learn? It is the only bourbon that is triple distilled and uses a copper pot still. They also have a distillery cat.
By far the most industrial of all of the distilleries, Wild Turkey is designed to make a lot of bourbon. While the grounds are pretty bland, the guest center was nice and they even offered hot cider. Plus the best part? The tours are free! By this point, we had pretty much heard almost everything about Bourbon so there were no real surprises when we visited Wild Turkey. What did I learn? I actually quite like their honey bourbon.
Barton’s 1792 – Not Part of Bourbon Trail
While this wasn’t part of the Bourbon trail it was a nice little stopover. The tour didn’t last too long and the grounds weren’t super impressive. Aside from making bourbon, the company also bottles different types of liquor like Vodka and Gin. What did I learn? You’d think that because of it’s size that it was one of the smaller distilleries, however it is one of the largest full service distilleries in Kentucky. Many of the distilleries don’t actually bottle on site. Barton’s is one of the few that does. I was a little queasy during the tour and didn’t taste any of the bourbon or bourbon balls. Apparently the bourbon balls were delicious.