On and off Kentucky’s beaten Bourbon Trail
While on the tour, you will learn about the Experimental Collection, a series of whiskies made with non-traditional ingredients and/or processes. You may get lucky enough to taste one of these straight off the still as well. The newborn rice whiskey, for instance, is delicious -- light, fresh and reminiscent of sugarcane (which bodes well for its future aged release). The hard hat tour ends with a tasting of bourbons and bourbon cream liqueur.
To the south of Buffalo Trace in Versailles is Woodford Reserve, a small-batch boutique distillery and one of the stops on the official Bourbon Trail. The drive out to Woodford is picturesque, with rolling green hills and horse farms adorning the countryside. The distillery’s grounds are just as lovely, marked by old stone buildings and luscious greenery. The distillery tour details how Woodford’s bourbon is made, with a rye-heavy grain mixture and finishing by maturing in charred white oak barrels. The tour concludes with a taste of the bourbon and a bourbon ball (a truffle-like confections of chocolate and bourbon) to boot.
Enjoy a scenic drive from Versailles to Lawrenceburg, home to Wild Turkey, which was founded as the Ripy Family Distillery in 1869 by brothers John and James Ripy. It was bought in 1939 by the Austin, Nichols company, which still owns it today, under the Campari Group. According to the distillery, Wild Turkey got its name when executive Thomas McCarthy brought some company hooch along on a turkey hunting trip. When his hunting buddies later asked about the “wild turkey whiskey”, the name stuck. Despite its low price point, Wild Turkey makes some of the world’s best bourbon, highly regarded by professional whiskey tasters.
After touring the Wild Turkey facility, you may be lucky enough to taste Wild Turkey Rare Breed, a blend of six-year, eight-year and 12-year batches that is barrel proof (read: bottled without any addition of water) at 54.2% alcohol. It is robust and bold with a silky texture and the aroma of honey.
After a day of distillery hopping, head to Louisville for a nightcap. It is about an hour’s drive from any of the distilleries mentioned above, so you should probably stop off for a bite on the way. Opt for Ken-Tex Bar-B-Q in the town of Shelbyville, where Kentucky imports a bit of Texas for some hearty slow-cooked pork.
With the many tours and samples behind you, it is time to sit back, relax and sip a real glass of the good stuff. Dimly lit and laden in comfortable dark wood, Bourbons Bistro is an inviting den for tipple tasting in lively Louisville. Try the Van Winkle 12 Year, or, if they have it and you feel like spending a little extra, the Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year. Both very rare, the 12 Year is soft and buttery yet somehow refreshing and the Pappy 20 Year is deep and complex, washing over the palate with a bit of spiciness and traces of sherry and molasses.
If you have some time in Kentucky, continue your respite in Louisville by indulging in the local food and music. Start with a leisurely breakfast/brunch at Toast on Market, where you will have to wait for a table – but you will be glad you did. The cooks here treat eggs with the delicacy they deserve, poaching them into snugly formed clouds with runny, sun-coloured centres. Try the restaurant’s namesake, the Toast and Eggs, served on homemade brioche bread.
Then wander over to one of the three Bluegrass Brewing Company pubs in town. The St Matthews location is a brewpub that hosts live local music in its beer garden on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The company’s infamous bourbon barrel stout is a rich, roasty, velvety dark beer that has been aged in barrels from Four Roses Distillery. The menu includes the Hot Brown, an open-faced baked sandwich of smoked turkey, bacon, cheese and Mornay sauce invented in Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1926, and the barbeque sandwich, a pulled-pork sandwich slathered in a sauce made with the company’s own Dark Star Porter.