A Barrel of Fun in Kentucky’s Bourbon Country

California has its wonderful wine, Mexico its Tequila, and Kentucky has the bourbon.  Like fine horses, bourbon has been written into a chapter of the History of Kentucky.  Those fine horses and bourbon have one thing in common that make Kentucky unique – its limestone-rich soil.  The bluegrass that grows in this soil provides lush pastures for the thoroughbred horses, and the same soil is prime for growing the excellent corn used to produce the finest bourbon in the world.

Corn Farms

Miles and miles of corn fill the countryside

I mentioned in my previous post that Steve and I are not bourbon drinkers, but that did not deter us from checking out a couple of the popular places on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We limited our excursions to just two distilleries, so we could at least learn how bourbon is made and do a little tasting.  We chose to visit the Buffalo Trace Distillery while in the capital city of Frankfort, and Maker’s Mark when we were near its distillery in Loretto, KY.

Right off the bat we learned that all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. And 95% of the world’s bourbon is made right here in Kentucky.  This is an all-American drink that was officially declared “Americas Native Spirit” by an act of Congress in 1964.

Makers Mark

A copper still reflects the excited tourists

Sour Mash Makers Mark

We were encouraged to dip fingers into the sour mash for a taste

Makers Mark Distillery

Giant cypress tubs full of sour mash at various stages of distillation

We learned from both distilleries that while they follow the same time-honored process, what makes them distinctive from each other is their individual recipes and production techniques.  However, to allow their product be called bourbon, by law they have to adhere to the following standards:

  • Must be made of at least 51% corn.
  • Must be stored in a brand-new, charred white oak barrel.  This charring imparts the amber color and unique flavors into the bourbon.
  • Must  be aged at least two years in order to be designated “straight” bourbon whiskey.
  • Nothing can be added to bourbon in the distillation process except water.
  • Must be distilled at less than 160 proof.
Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace storage warehouse

 

When we entered the storage warehouse, we immediately inhaled the bourbon aroma that filled the air, also known as the “angel’s share.”  That’s what the evaporated part of the bourbon is called as it “sleeps” in the barrel for at least two years as required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Maker’s Mark, we couldn’t pass up the “photo op” of dipping our own bottle into the classic red wax.  Now we can someday share a bottle of bourbon and an interesting story with our friends.

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Safety gear is required when dipping your bottle into 350-degree wax!

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The final product – who wants to share it with us?

Here are a few more pictures from both distilleries:

Makers Mark Distillery

The grounds were beautifully landscaped at Maker’s Mark, can you make out the distinctive whiskey-bottle cutouts on the window shutters?

Mark;s Maker Distillery

Art depicting the bourbon process — displayed in the tasting room

Buffalo Trace Distillery

At Buffalo Trace Distillery, the bourbon was aged in thick brick warehouses

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery sits along the great buffalo trace, a trail that migrating buffalo and early pioneers once trod.  The life-size sculpture pays homage to millions of buffaloes that once lived in Kentucky

 

Tasting bourbon, learning the rules and getting up close to how it’s made was a fun experience.

Buffalo Trace Distillery

My reaction to “White Dog”, the liquid just after distillation and before it goes into the barrel.  How do people drink this stuff?

Bourbon Tasting

Looks like I’m seeing double after a few tastings!

The official trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is at Bardstown.  This town has the distinction of being the Bourbon Capital of the World, and The Most Beautiful Small Town in America.  We stopped here first to fill our tummies with some food before heading on to Maker’s Mark.  It is centrally located on the Bourbon Trail and boasts a variety of unique and diverse attractions, restaurants and shops.  There were several restaurants to choose from, but we picked a local hole-in-the-wall – Mammy’s Kitchen – where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Bardstown, KY

The main drag in Bardstown – Smalltown USA

So the question is: did we have a barrel of fun?  Oh yeah!

Cheers!

 

Next up:  Caves, Corvettes and more!