I decided to make a new tradition of sorts and make my birthday weekend a staycation weekend. Last year we visited Harrodsburg and Shaker Village and I had such a good time that I couldn’t wait for a repeat. The bourbon industry has been exploding over the past few years and with the weather forecasted as clear sunny skies it made the decision super easy. We pass by signs for the distilleries all the time and this was the day to satiate my curiosity and gawk at the beautiful early summer bluegrass country.
We started the day at Four Roses’ distilling location. They were undergoing construction to double their output capacity so we didn’t get to go inside the distillery itself, but we did get a good video and talk with Paige about the process of making bourbon and the Four Roses history. Four Roses looks a little funny for it’s location… It’s a traditional Spanish mission architecture style. The founder spent some time out west and loved it so much that he brought it back with him. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places, and as a result the expansion must continue the mission style. While they are proud of their architectural history, they’re really all about the bourbon.
In order to be called a bourbon, the liquor must be distilled in the US, and made of at least 51% corn mash. The liquor must be stored in a white oak barrel, and that barrel can only be used once to make bourbon. The bluegrass gets an additional boost because it’s vast bedrock of limestone strips iron from the water, leaving a much smoother taste to the bourbon. Four Roses uses 2 different mash recipes and 5 different yeasts aged in single story warehouses to then meld the flavors. They sell 3 major bottles in the US and we got to taste all 3 and take home our tasting glass! I preferred the Yellow Label, but Jeff goes for the Single Barrel. It’s actually one of his favorite bourbons across the board.
Another bourbon we’ve tried recently was a bottle of Russell’s. Turns out it’s made by Wild Turkey and where we made our second stop. It was a pretty stark difference from Four Roses. The grounds were cleared, mowed, and the distilling was a very large and commercial process. They take pride in being the cleanest facility and the entire distilling process is monitored by two men in a control room. They are also the largest facility (under one roof) by volume output. The corn that lasts Wild Turkey a week would take four months for Four Roses to process. Russel’s is one of several bottles Wild Turkey produces as is named for their master distiller Jimmy Russell who has been on the job over 62 years.
Their Russell’s lines aren’t my favorite and most of their stuff is too spicy for me. The extra boldness comes from the high amount of rye they use for their mash, higher than most anywhere. After making it through their 4 most popular, my favorite was their American Honey. It’s much much much sweeter and while I struggle to enjoy bourbon straight, this one makes it super easy.
Another super easy sip was the dessert bourbon from Woodford Reserve. It’s especially good when paired with some dark chocolate, which came in the form of a bourbon ball for the tour. Woodford was the prettiest distillery we visited and the most traditional as far as appearances. Nestled in the hills of Woodford County, the county has more bourbon barrels and horses than residents. Despite having such a large inventory the operation staff of each of the distilleries was remarkably small, families of 200 or so employees with the tour support groups being by far the largest departments.
After spending such a perfect day on the trail it’s no wonder the bourbon industry is booming in Kentucky. Be sure to come down and experience it yourself! Many will shut down during the summer due to the heat (and notorious humidity) but early summer and spring are great for lush foliage, fall is great for the changing foliage, and even winter is beautiful because the lack of foliage lets you see a bit more scenery. I’d be happy to host anyone any time of year! Come see us soon!