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The Bourbon Trek

So after having tried many bottles of bourbon and rye I decided it was time to actually visit where this magic juice comes from, Kentucky. The land of 95% of the world's bourbon. Since I'm from the Cleveland Ohio area the trip via car wouldn't be too much of a big deal despite the ridiculous and out of control gas prices. Our trip would be 403 miles and around 5.5 hours at a considerably brisk pace.

A 3 night trip booked at the Hampton in Bardstown, the bourbon capital of the world, and we were off.

Being a big Lux Row fan this was really the only official tour that I booked and there was an underlying reason for this, the release of the nearly impossible to get, Lux Row 12 Year Double Barrel. This release is only available at the visitor center and this year they only release 42 bottles per week on Tuesdays. They sell out within a few days in March and I believe these odds get worse as the season gets along. So getting a bottle of this stuff is not easy to say the least. Even with connections set up, something like a delivery delay to the visitor center can throw a wrench into the availability.

Bardstown / People / Vibe

Putting some 413 miles into just driving around KY made me feel like I kinda know Kentucky a little better now. Rolling hills, cows, deep valleys, twisting roads....it's all very beautiful and it makes me wish I came here in the fall. Going about in towns and talking to the local people you seem to stick out a bit the moment you open your mouth as the Ohioan neutral accent gives you away leading to the next question of, "so where y'all from?"

Aside from the big geographical differences KY has from Ohio there were some other regional types too. In the Bardstown area and really within one of hour in any direction of it there is an ever present smell of whiskey mash in the air. From pumping gas to getting out of your hotel room, there it is. The smell is hard to explain but it's this bready, yeasty, food-like smell that is pleasant and kinda makes you hungry. When at a distillery, this smell is ten fold greater.

Another thing that I noticed was while at a Walgreen's to pick up some miscellaneous goodies for the hotel, there was a pretty decent selection of high proof liquor available to purchase behind the counter.....at a Walgreens. Cracked me up. Another thing was when I purchased an Elijah Craig Single Barrel, Barrel Strength store pick from Toddy's Liquors, the woman behind the counter asked me if I'd like to sample some first. Nothing like sampling 131 proof bourbon at a liquor store at 10.00am. So funny and awesome. Another place that we stopped at was Keystone Liquors where I found a bottle of Old Forester Rye which has become pretty hard to come by in Ohio.

 

"Now I'm not sure what the deal is with Google maps but holy sh!t. Dialing up MM's location, we were led on the most bizarre, backwoods, Deliverance inspired path ever."

 

 

Non-Tour Tours

Tricky thing that we ran into was that many of the distilleries are not open Sunday and Monday which limited some of our, what I call, non-tour tours. Most of these large distilleries are within around 1 hour from Bardstown.

Despite the absolute non-stop monsoon that was happening we stopped by Heaven Hill and poked around there for a bit picking up some tee shirts, glasses and some Elijah Craig maple syrup. Also nabbed a bottle of bourbon that cannot be found in Ohio, Fighting Cock. A surprisingly tasty and higher proof bourbon for cheap. I know that there was lot more to see here but this was a simple visit this time around.

On another day, we ran out to Four Roses as well just before they closed for the day. Opening the door of the car in the parking lot was met with a heavy duty blast of whiskey mash aromas. Pretty intense and unmistakable & in a way kinda makes you want to lick your chops. Looking around the facility it definitely has a hacienda plantation type vibe. Very cool and old world-esque with stream & vapors waffling through the facility. Their brand new visitor center is large and regal with obvious room for more growth. A pretty awesome covered outside front deck that could accommodate many people if needed. While I do like Four Roses Single Barrel there just wasn’t anything there though that made me want to drop some coin on. However we did buy some shirts and I think a little Glencairn glass. My wife especially liked it here.

Buffalo Trace - this is probably the biggest distillery out there. Incredible mash smell everywhere. This place is busy with activity and they keep tourists well in their places. There is so much to see here but if you are not on an official tour you can't really see much. I did manage to go out a back door to get some shots and then found out I could not get back in because the door locked me out. The most industrialized distillery compared to all the others. Perched up right against the Kentucky River in Frankfort. I did manage to get some aerial shots of the plant when I launched my drone from a riverside park a ways down and flew up near the distillery. I was not impressed with their very weak showing of only one bourbon for purchase of which there was a limit of 1, Buffalo Trace....big whoop. A very impressive, huge old industrial facility but fell short for me on freedom of movement & booze selections.

Crazy road to Maker's Mark

This is something that I have to write about, the crazy road to Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto. Now I'm not sure what the deal is with Google maps but holy sh!t. Dialing up MM's location, we were led on the most bizarre, backwoods, Deliverance inspired path ever. I believe I actually heard banjo playing at one point & faint echoes of pigs squealing. This ill begotten path looked like the passageway to the location of a Sleestack home base. Viscous twists and turns with a lane that was barely one car wide, no stripes, nothing. Random dilapidated barns and single wide mobile homes every so often, steep grade inclines and trees crowding the one lane. Pretty sure I saw Ned Beatty run across the road once. Seemingly in middle of nowheresville with almost no cell tower connectivity. Eventually we made it through this 'road' and found our way to the distillery visitor center. Even though it was a wet and cold March day, Maker's Mark is a really cool place and easily the best one that we visited to do a non-tour tour. Lots of places and buildings to walk casually around. 


Tour / Lux Row / Process 

The only official tour that we booked was at Lux Row in Bardstown on Tuesday which was also the day we were also leaving to head back home. The facility opened at 9:30am and our tour was at 10:00. First thing I did was make a b-line for the nearest person to ask about the very limited Lux Row 12 Double Barrel. There is a bit of a backstory to this specific acquisition but if you know me, you know the story. Hands down the most beautiful whiskey bottle design that I've seen to date and it should be at 175.00 a pop. It's going to be slow going with this one. So we then started our 1 hour tour and had the nice treat to have the owner's wife present to give us her own story along with a nice introduction to the company. Such a fantastic tour of the bourbon making process from beginning to end. From the mash process, to the filtration, to the still, to the barrel, to the rickhouses. Their 6 going on 7 rickhouses are 6 stories tall and quite impressive. Inside one, you are immediately dwarfed by a staggering amount of perfectly stacked overhead bourbon barrels. Definitely one of the highlights of the tour. 

So that's about it. I recommend any bourbon aficionado or really anyone to give one of these tours a try if you are in bourbon country. Very fascinating and fun experience. Looking forward to revisiting these places again in the fall. Cheers!

 

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