Friday, August 8, 2014
ON THE BOURBON TRAIL
Oh! What I didn’t know about Kentucky! What I didn’t know about Bourbon!
Annually, my wife and I get together with another couple intent upon exploring some area of the country we’ve never visited. This year it was to be Kentucky. “The Bourbon Trail is down that way,” said my buddy’s spouse, “and I know how much you guys like your whiskey.”
“Yeah,” I thought to myself, “but the south in the summer simply swelters, and no amount of hootch…”
The origins of Bourbon predate the 18th amendment and the results survived it. Unlike what I’d been told, Bourbon is not a product exclusive to the state, but it must contain a predetermined amount of a specific grain and must be aged for a predetermined minimum amount of time. The grain is corn. The time is four years. But, the longer the aging, the more enchanting the result.
Now, my dad’s favorite Bourbon was Jim Beam. He’d pedal home from the post office and pour a shot or two over ice and add an equal amount of Seven-Up. In homage to Dad, we visited the James Beam American Stillhouse. There, we rediscovered something we probably already knew: Distillers create many labels each made distinctive by the grain involved, the distillation process of which there are many, the charring of the barrel’s insides and amount of time in the barrel. My go to, Knob Creek, is a Beam product. So are some of the better brands I’ve squirreled away to mate with the appropriate cigar: Bookers, Bakers and Basil Hayden.
Owned by the multi-national Suntory LTD and based in Clermont, the grounds are lovely; the facility, massive; the tasting, mechanized; but the product is engaging. Take notes.
We home-based in Bardstown, KY. Nearby is the Willett Distillery, a much smaller operation that Mr. Beam’s. A one-hour tour is conducted by an individual who has worked pretty much all aspects of the process, except for horsing full kegs from the distillery to the rickhouse. Full, they weigh just a bit too much for her to push around.
Willett employs about forty folks full-time and the overriding impression one gets is that these individual are all part of a family. Production is a fraction of that of area competitors but the tour convinces one of the hand-made, craftsman-like efforts taken in order to ensure a unique and savory product.
Again, Willett produces several labels including Willett Rye, a bottle of which I have in the cabinet, and Old Bardstown, a copy of which I bought when I realized we’d be home-basing in that town.
High end (for me) and exquisite is their Pot Still Reserve. Packaged in a French manufactured bottle shaped like the old pot still we’d toured past, this Bourbon is aged in charred barrels to citrus and honey noted perfection. A shard of ice releases a rainbow of aromas and flavors. Upon return to California, I hunted one down and have locked it away.
Bardstown was recently voted the most beautiful small town in all of American. Perhaps by Bardstownians? But an argument can be made that this little berg is hard to beat. Bardstown boasts a quaint downtown mixing taverns and tourist shops with those day-to-day essential stores that keep the locals from straying too far for commerce.
Dinner at the Rickhouse proved to be the best meal on the weeklong trip and two nights at the Beautiful Dreamer Bed and Breakfast could only have been improved upon had there been four nights. Best accommodation we’ve enjoyed in years. Across the street, at the Old Kentucky Home State Park, check out the live, open-air theatre production of Stephen Foster’s life and legacy.
Just as the fruit growing areas of Placer County, CA has its farm trail, and the wine growing regions of California, their wine trails, over the past five or six years, the whiskieteers of Kentucky’s nectar (or their marketers) have devised a route that passes travelers through hollows and pastures, over limestone enriched cricks and to distilleries both historic and modern. Each has a pleasant setting. Each invites pause and tasting. Each raises Kentucky from my unjustified and negatively predisposed position of well-it's-just-the-south to a new and positive damn-this-is-good!
I have resolved to examine my other negative predispositions – of which I have many – thanks to Kentucky.
Bourbon Trail Details: http://kybourbontrail.com/ This site may be more marketing than substance – and, once in the area, be sure to check out those distilleries not listed. This site does provide a nice overview of the history and process.
James Beam website: http://www.americanstillhouse.com/
Willett Distillery Website: http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/whiskeys.html
Bardstown Tourist Info: http://www.visitbardstown.com/
The Rickhouse Restaurant: http://therickhouse-bardstown.com/ Be sure to engage in a flight of whiskeys as part of your experience!
Beautiful Dreamer Bed and Breakfast: http://bdreamerbb.com/ The breakfasts provided by Dan and Lynell are beyond description. Stay here!
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