by Jason Stone on December 09, 2013
Today I want to resume my post about the whiskey and bourbon trails and also tell you about the Kentucky part of my trip, dedicated to the Bourbon Trail.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour has been around for longer than the Tennessee Whiskey Trail: it was established in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and is, today, one of their registered trademarks. Although the official website suggests that 3 days are enough to see all of the 8 distilleries on the tour, I would recommend taking up to a week if you want to thoroughly enjoy the tours as well as the scenery, and not feel like you’re running a marathon. Unlike the TN Whiskey Trail, distilleries have to be members of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association in order to participate in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail so not all Bourbon distilleries in the state are part of the official tour.
It goes without saying that I also loved the Bourbon Trail and all the different beautiful copper whiskey stills I saw! Although I did know a thing or two about bourbon from before, it’s a lot more special to see the places and hear their history while actually being in Kentucky. Just like on the whiskey trail, the distilleries on the tour were very diverse: from the old and famous Jim Beam American Stillhouse to the very new Evan Williams Bourbon Experience to family owned and operated craft distilleries such as Limestone Branch.
Only just opened this month, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was described as a ‘multi-million dollar artisanal distillery’ which celebrates the legacy of Evan Williams, considered Kentucky’s First Commercial Distiller. It’s located in Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row” and across the street from the riverfront location where Evan Williams’ distillery stood in the late 18th century. I especially enjoyed the place because I got the opportunity to learn more about the famous Evan Williams and his jack-of-all-trades character: as politician, farmer, building contractor, harbormaster, businessman, inventor and distiller.
Once in the area, I took the tour guide’s advice and spent the night at The Louisville Marriott East – Kentucky’s bourbon themed hotel, where I got to meet a lot of interesting folks and spent the night enjoying good bourbon and talking about handcrafted copper whiskey stills and homemade moonshines and whiskeys.
The Jim Beam American Stillhouse is rightfully considered an Official Trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The sight is truly picturesque: the building itself is a replica of a 1940s stillhouse which actually contains the original staircase of the historic stillhouse, followed by the rack houses, limestone water wells, whiskey stills, bottling lines and bourbon tasting rooms. Their ‘stillevator’ is definitely a must-see! Aside from the great Beam taste, I love the fact that, although now a big commercial distillery, Jim Beam is still a family-run business, with several generations of members already having left their mark on the bourbon, in over 200 years of tradition.
Also with a rich history and tradition was the next stop on my trail: Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, where I went for the Behind the Scenes Tour which ended with a tasting in their awesome barrel-shaped tasting room. Then followed Maker’s Mark Distillery , where the highlight was getting to dip your own souvenir bottle in their signature red wax. Also, their copper stills are indeed as impressive as they look in their photos!
The Limestone Branch Distillery was actually one of my favorite stops. It’s a beautiful family owned and operated craft distillery. They use a 150-gallon hand-hammered copper whiskey pot still to produce small, one-barrel batches of a truly fine product. I also got try some of their homemade ‘Sugarshine’ which was so nice I’m thinking of trying to make some in my own copper whiskey still.
On my next stop, I found out that the Four Roses Distillery was named the “American Distillery of the Year” by Whisky Magazine four years in a row. Aside from the cheesy love story legend behind the name, the place is really beautiful: the distillery is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates from 1910 and is said to feature a unique Spanish Mission-Style architecture rarely seen in Kentucky. And there are indeed a lot of roses.
Last stops on the trail were Wild Turkey Distillery , where I unfortunately didn’t get to meet their famous Master Distiller Jimmy Russell; the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery and the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery . The Woodford Reserve Distillery is the oldest and smallest working bourbon distillery and a National Historic Landmark, unlike the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery which is a brand new distillery and most recent addition to the tour.
Given another chance, it would be hard to choose either the Whiskey Trail or the Bourbon one. They’re both great experiences in beautiful settings. I guess, all it comes down to, in the end, is whether you’d like to sample more Tennessee whiskey or more Kentucky bourbon. One thing I’m sure of now: I’ll definitely use my copper whiskey still for some new homemade recipes I got during the tour, but also for more bourbon, whose spiced smooth and mellow taste definitely grew on me during this trip.