Bourbon Trail

In Kentucky, they make two things well: bourbon and thoroughbred racehorses.  I got a little living history lesson yesterday when I took a roadtrip to just past Lexington in Woodford County, near Versailles.  One of the more high-end bourbons, Woodford Reserve, is made there, and I took a tour of the beautiful facilities.

They had all kinds of neat trivia to share with us — like the fact that there’s a several million-gallon pond out back that is rigged to pump water inside the buildings if they catch on fire and pump the burning alcohol back into the pond.  Prit.tee. cool.

Anyway, Woodford is a small-batch distillery, so they make only a fraction of what the big time bourbon companies churn out (like Wild Turkey).  But that’s one of the things that makes it a really interesting place to visit.  It’s small enough for them to take you through their operations and allow you to see every part of the process.

One thing I didn’t know is that Kentucky has great limestone water that is perfect for making whiskey.  Apparently the water makes it taste fabulous.  Surface water — not so much, so they go underground for the good stuff.  They use corn, barley, and rye to make as their ingredients at Woodford.  Kind of funny to think those innocuous ingredients turn into bourbon over the course of roughly 7 years.  The fermentation process begins in these massive vats.

The fermentation process begins in these massive vats.
They boil and bubble.  Any witch would be happy to have them.
Then they are put into these massive copper vats and turned into something suitable for being barreled.
Then the fermented concoction is put into these massive copper vats and turned into something suitable for being barreled.
The limestone building where all of this takes place is gorgeous.
The limestone building where all of this takes place is gorgeous.

Once the alcohol is ready, it’s put into charred oak barrels.  They even have a fun little barrel roll that comes out of the limestone building and goes into the building where the storage building.  The barrels weigh about 100 pounds empty and about 525 pounds when full.

So I guess a little train track type thing is helpful for getting these things to the next building….

Rolling down to be stored for about 7 long years.
Rolling down to be stored for about 7 long years.
The building where the bourbon is stored looks like an old jail -- bars on the windows and all...
The building where the bourbon is stored looks like an old jail — bars on the windows and all…
These windows are amazing.
These windows are amazing.
What a gorgeous sight...
What a gorgeous sight…

Once the bourbon goes inside the barrels, it’s stored for anywhere from 6 years on up… roughly around 7 years at Woodford.  They likened  the vintages to wine — where you keep it stored at different times to make different flavors.  A lot of it evaporates each year from inside the barrel.

The barrels are stacked high...
The barrels are stacked high…
Each barrel has its vintage marked on it
Each barrel has its vintage marked on it

They have to take extra care in Kentucky because of the fault line they sit on… the building where the barrels sit is supposed to crumble around them if a disaster-size earthquake ever hits Versailles.  Another cool piece of trivia.

All of this learning obviously makes people rather thirsty, so they round up the tour with a shot of Woodford near the gift shop.  For $7, I can’t think of a better way to kill an hour in Central Kentucky.

And you can grab a passport for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to have stamped each time you go to a distillery in the Commonwealth (you do know Kentucky is a Commonwealth and not a state, right?).

At the end of the tour, we saw this well-worn cat, whom the tour guide did not acknowledge…

A trip to the groomer is probably not a bad idea for Woodford cat, and maybe something to drink besides whiskey
A trip to the groomer is probably not a bad idea for Woodford cat, and maybe something to drink besides whiskey

Regardless, I dubbed him Woodford Cat.

It was a great little day trip for people in my neck of the woods.  People who brew small-batch anything are always very proud of what they do, so anytime you have the chance to witness something like that, take advantage.

What’s your favorite bourbon drink?  Mint julep?  Manhattan?  

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4 thoughts on “Bourbon Trail

  1. We made a trip to the Jim Beam Distillery a while back and really enjoyed it. So far, it is the only one we’ve been to, but eventually we’d like to visit some of the others. The tour was very interesting. Did they mention that the alcohol that evaporates is called the “Angel’s share” and the whiskey remaining in the wood after the barrel has been dumped is called the “Devil’s cut”? I thought that was a cool little fact.

  2. This very entertaining post makes me wish I still had a taste for bourbon! When I did drink it, I used to like it mixed with 7-Up, a rather ghastly concoction when I think of that now. My dad was a Manhattan man (living in San Francisco) so I drank quite a few of those in my youth when he’d oversee Sunday Happy Hour. I greatly enjoy wine tours and I’ve noticed that the rooms where the wine is being aged in the barrels smell wonderful. What was the smell like in the rooms where the bourbon was aging?

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