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.
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….
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.
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…
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?