Friday, April 18, 2014

Bourbon Country

If you ever get the chance to visit the area around Frankfort Kentucky, visiting some of the local bourbon distilleries is very much worth it.  To give you some perspective, these are just some of the distilleries that exist between Louisville and Lexington - Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and Heaven Hill.

Buffalo Trace:

Since we were based out of Frankfort today we first targeted Buffalo Trace, which is right there in town.  The history of this distillery is pretty interesting.  I had no idea that these guys bottled so many brands, including Pappy Van Winkle.  Some interesting facts about Buffalo Trace:

1. Distillation has been going on in this site since at least 1773.
2. The distillery remained open during the prohibition era, as a legal distillery.
3. The existing iteration of the business is responsible for such labels as Blanton's, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg, Van Winkle, and others.
4. The roof was taken off one of the warehouses by a tornado a few years ago.  No barrels were lost.  Those barrels were later bottled as a special edition tornado bourbon.

We took the Trace Tour (there are others you can take), which gives you an overview of the distillery process, warehousing, and bottling.  At the tasting we got to sample Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon, Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream, and some of the Vodka that they've been making.  All very excellent.  I can see a big future for the Bourbon Cream in my liquor cabinet.

Here are some shots from around Buffalo Trace:

First, the building that got hit by the tornado is on the right:

Each time these guys roll out a new x-millionth barrel, they place it in this tiny rickhouse:

With barrels weighing 500 pounds when full, they obviously aren't easily moved around.  Here's the rail system that these guys use to roll barrels between different rickhouses (ricks are what they call the wood rails that the barrels are kept on in the houses - thus rickhouse).

Four Roses:

Later in the day, we took a quick drive down to Four Roses.  This is much more of a pure production site.  We didn't bother with the tour and moved on down the road to Woodford.

Woodford Reserve:

Next stop was Woodford Reserve, home of Distillers Select and Double Oaked.  We took a similar tour to the one at Buffalo Trace; however, got to see some of the fermentation process as well.  Here's our budding bourbon aficionado beside a bubbling mixture of corn, rye, barley, water and yeast:

Again, similar setup of rickhouses and rails for moving barrels around.  The fermentation house is on the left here:

Inside the rickhouse that you see above:

The post tour tasting.  Carol scoring an A by beating most of the class to the bottom of her samples:

Overall Impressions:

I really enjoyed Buffalo Trace.  The place has a great vibe, friendly people, and most of all seems to be a very innovative distillery.  These guys are constantly playing around with different aging tactics, formulations, etc.  As bourbons age in their barrels, they're carefully matching different barrels to the flavor profiles of their brands and reacting accordingly.

When you go to Woodford or Four Roses, they're much more production line type facilities.  Four Roses makes 3 bourbons, Woodford 2.  Four Roses actually distill 10 different mashbills; however, they all get blended to create their 3 different labels.

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