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Bourbon, Moonshine, and Lobster on a Trip to Kentucky (Slideshow)

Bourbon, Moonshine, and Lobster on a Trip to Kentucky (Slideshow)

There's a lot more to the Bluegrass State than many people realize


About 95 percent of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky. What makes it so good is that Kentucky is blessed with limestone-rich aquifers that deliver the product’s most essential ingredient: extraordinary water. If you haven’t noticed, bourbon is back in a big way. And its resurgence has led to expansion by both the big boys and a growing cadre of craft distilleries. You can see many of them in action on what is called the Bourbon Trail. Guided tours take visitors through the production process and culminate in fun, educational tastings.



About 95 percent of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky. You can see many of them in action on what is called the Bourbon Trail. Guided tours take visitors through the production process and culminate in fun, educational tastings.

Make Your Own


If you’ve ever had aspirations to make your own whiskey, here’s your chance. At Moonshine University, you can learn how to become an expert distiller in five days’ time. What you'll do with your newly acquired knowledge is left purposely ambiguous;federal law prohibits non-licensed persons to distill their own spirits.

Speaking of Moonshine

It’s back, and it’s not your father’s “shine.” The term "moonshine" may still conjure up images of illegal backwoods rotgut, but times have changed; moonshine has gone mainstream. You can see for yourself by visiting a micro-distillery for a tour and tasting. If you can get your hands on the brand called Kentucky Sugar Shine, both their jalapeño and strawberry flavors would make killer cocktails. So would their sweet Moon Pie Moonshine in chocolate, vanilla, or banana flavor. As they say, “Like a Moonpie with kick!”

Over A Barrel

Tour the Brown-Forman cooperage facility to get a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the true craft that goes into making the oak barrels that will soon to be holding over 50 gallons of bourbon while infusing the spirit with its unique flavor. Watch up close as skilled coopers build each barrel from about 100 pounds of American white oak, with the help of mid-20th-century machinery. Catch this proudly American production before it goes the eventual way of automation.

The Dining Game

Get your game on at a Louisville restaurant called Game. Exactly the type of place you’d expect to see on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, they have an ambitious menu and the talent in the kitchen to pull it off. Their bone marrow with Parmesan, poblano, and rosemary is a beast, a huge and exceptionally luscious hunk of meat jelly that you spread on toasted bread. You can then proceed to meatballs or burgers made with many kinds of animal, from bison, boar, and antelope to elk, duck, and kangaroo. (Also available are beef, lamb, salmon, and veggie varieties.) The kangaroo burger with Cheddar and tomato jam on a pretzel bun ($14) was tasty, but the fun part is assembling your own with extras such as foie gras, pork belly, or soft shell crab and sauces like roasted habanero ranch, sesame wasabi ketchup, and smoked truffle mayo. The duck fat fries will not hurt you either.

Ship Yourself Some Lobster


Wait, what does lobster have to do with Kentucky? It turns out that the state’s borders are within 600 miles of over 65 percent of the nation’s population and manufacturing facilities, making it the distribution capital of the U.S. That’s why UPS is headquartered here, as well as Clear Water Fine Foods, a shipper of lobster flown in daily from Nova Scotia and then sent back out to some of the finest steakhouses and seafood restaurants in the land.

The Distillery That Brought Bourbon Back to Bourbon County, Kentucky

Andrew Buchanan keeps a special bottle of whiskey in the tasting room at Hartfield & Co., the craft distillery he founded in downtown Paris, Kentucky, in 2014. The pint-sized bottle bears a handwritten label and its contents aren’t for sale. It isn’t even completely full, and Buchanan admits that the liquid inside isn’t the best. But, as the first grain-based spirit he ever distilled, it represents a significant accomplishment. “That’s all of the alcohol that I got out of a 25-gallon batch. That’s not the best yield in the world, but it’s still exciting, because it worked,” Buchanan says.

That batch is also significant as the first whiskey legally produced in Bourbon County, of which Paris is the county seat, since 1919, the year before federal Prohibition went into effect. Named after the French Royal House of Bourbon, Bourbon County was originally a part of Virginia and covered a much larger swath of what is today central Kentucky. Its borders shrunk significantly in 1792 when Kentucky became a state, but the broader area was still known as Old Bourbon County. Dozens of distilleries in the area shipped barrels downriver to New Orleans and other ports labeled with the “Old Bourbon County” moniker. Over time, that fine corn-based, barrel-aged Kentucky whiskey became known simply as bourbon and, as demand grew, prominent Bourbon County distillers likewise expanded their operations. There were twenty-six distilleries operating in Bourbon County in 1919, and then there were none.

“If you drive around town, you still see the names of these people,” says Buchanan, a Bourbon County native. “Jacob Spears is a big one.” The house where Spears and his family once lived is still occupied, Buchanan says, and features a side window with an old cash box underneath where people could drive up in horse and buggy and buy bourbon. “It’s almost like movie characters, but these people really existed and it’s all still right here,” he says.

Buchanan has personal ties to Kentucky’s bourbon history, as well. Shortly after founding his distillery under a different name, he discovered that the Hartfield side of his family operated a commercial distillery in the mid-1800s. Buchanan embraced the connection and rebranded as Hartfield & Co., which remains the first and only distillery to open in Bourbon County since Prohibition. Buchanan taught himself how to distill—mainly by reading books and through podcasts and videos, he says—and arrived at a recipe and method he feels more closely resembles the softer, grain-forward flavor of early bourbon. In addition to corn and rye, he includes a higher percentage of malted barley than most, which “starts to add flavors like smoke and tobacco notes to our bourbon,” he says.

Buchanan also brings the whiskey off of the still at a relatively low proof, which helps to retain more of the grains’ flavor, he says. Hartfield & Co.’s main bourbon is aged at the distillery in 6.3-gallon barrels for 8 to 10 months and blended to taste before bottling, which can result in variation from one batch to the next.

“If people come here to taste Buffalo Trace or Maker’s Mark, they’ve driven an hour too far,” Buchanan says. “What we’re trying to say is something totally different. We’re trying to put a new idea out into the world of what bourbon could be or what it tasted like a long time ago.”

On the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Did you know I’m not a drinker? I’m not. Not really. I’m no good at it, and I tend not to want to do things I am no good at. That rules out drinking. It’s not that I am against it, or a prude or anything, I just don’t really care for it. However, plop me down on the white sand with an All-Inclusive bar and I’ll out drink you in Pina Coladas. Put me on a plane to Atlantic City and I’ll bet you good money I can out drink you in Fuzzy Navels 2 to 1. But as for kicking back with a glass of wine or cocktail after a rough day? Not my thing.

So, you may find it odd I wanted to tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® this past weekend.

Don’t. In case you haven’t noticed, Bourbon is HOT right now. Cooking with Bourbon is on the rise and shows no sign of stopping. I am in on that trend in a big way, and have been privileged to work with Jim Beam on several tailgating recipes. It was this relationship that led me to Kentucky.

That, and Jon is really good at drinking, and I thought the trip would be a nice birthday gift.

Instead of step by stepping through the entire weekend, I know several of you are interested in simply knowing what the Bourbon Trail is all about. Let me clear that up for you. There are six distilleries on the Official Trail. There used to be eight, but for whatever reason, there are now six. Some are huge, some are quaint and very charming. But, no matter which you are visiting – that company is proud. Proud of their heritage, of their staff, of their product. Each has it’s own way of doing things, and discovering the subtleties is a fun part of the ride. At your first stop, be sure to pick up the official Passport of the Bourbon Trail. You will be able to get a stamp at each of the distilleries, and when you have all six stamps, you’ll be able to mail in your passport and collect a free tee shirt for your efforts. Just recently, the 10,000th passport was rewarded, and I am thrilled to be counted among these few. I think you will be, too. Click here for more information, including a helpful map and guide, from the Official Kentucky Bourbon Trail®.

First things first, you ought to know what Bourbon really IS. I had no clue. You’ll learn along each stop the ins and outs of the distilling process, but by and large, there are a few rules (laws, even) about what constitutes a true Bourbon.

One – bourbon must be at least 51% corn. Distilleries choose how much they use, along with ryes, wheats, and other grains, but they MUST use at least 51% corn. Most use at least 70%. Once distilled, the “white dog” or grain alcohol (or moonshine, if you will) must be aged in unused, charred, white oak barrels. The bourbon must be aged a minimum of 2 years, but most are aged at least 4. If the bourbon is less than four years old, the company must put the age on the label. One thing I really didn’t know was that all Bourbon MUST come from the United States. The largest percentage of all bourbon comes from Kentucky, as the water in this particular area of the country is heavy in limestone, and limestone is a natural purifier of iron. Iron will ruin a good bourbon, so, the waters here are treasured. Each distillery has their own method, their own perfect proof, their own recipe. None, however, are allowed to add ANYTHING to their bourbon before bottling, except for distilled water. The end. Nothing else. If they do, it becomes a liqueur, not bourbon. Just so you are aware. And each one thinks what they make is the best. It really is charming – and to my knowledge, there seemed to be little jealousy from place to place. They all seemed to be so supportive of each other, and I was glad to see it. They did, however, all seem to have a distaste for Jack Daniels, and his Tennessee Whiskey, distilled from the same limestone waters that they all love. Cross state rivalry? Alive and well in Ol’ Kentucky.

One of the largest distillers is Wild Turkey, a brand that is well known and especially loved here at home in Hokie Country (The Turkey is all it takes). Jon is a big fan of their Rare Breed, which is of course, a little more expensive then the regular Turkey. But they bottle several varieties here, including American Honey. Since I am not a fan of strong liquor, this one is by far one of my favorite discoveries. The bourbon is given a dose of honey prior to bottling, which sweetens it considerably (and thus, making it a liqueur). I can’t wait to cook with it – I think the sweetness will really add a unique flavor to several of my recipes. What I really enjoyed about the Wild Turkey distillery was the bar set up just in back of the gift shop. Manned by two knowledgeable young tenders, six varieties of bourbon were lined up for sampling. They took the effort to explain to us the differences between brands, and you could tell they loved their jobs. If you don’t care to take the half hour tour, you can simply opt to sample the bourbons, however, I recommend taking a tour of at least one large facility and one small. This way you get to see both sides of the process, in case you only have a short weekend to accomplish the entire trail.

Another very large facility is Heaven Hill, easily accessible from Bardstown. Heaven Hill isn’t actually well known for Heaven Hill (although they do make it), but instead they are known for their Elijah Craig and Evan Williams. However, they are huge. They bottle not only bourbon, but Whiskeys, Rums, Vodkas, wines – you name it. They operate the Bourbon Heritage Museum, and if you pay a little and opt for an exclusive tour, you’ll be treated to a sampling in their barrel shaped tasting room. If you opt for the free tour – worry not, you still get to sample the 18 year old Elijah Craig and the slightly younger Evan Williams with a tasting lesson you aren’t soon to forget. You can also opt to take the 30 minute trolley ride to Historic Bardstown from Heaven Hill, well worth the measly $3 for this tour.

One of our favorite tours was at Maker’s Mark. Outside of Bardstown, this distillery is beyond picturesque. The history is rich here, from burning family recipes to “drive through” on horseback liquor stores on site. The buildings are similar to Busch Gardens – charming and shuttered (the Maker’s Mark bottle is cut into each and every shutter). You get to see the corn mill, and dip your finger in the vats of sour mash for a quick taste. You learn about the bottling process, and that every bottle is hand labeled – all 900,000 per year, by 2 women. You are filled in on the Ambassador program (of which I am), and how you can have your name engraved onto a plaque on a specific barrel of bourbon. Then when your barrel has been properly aged, you are given the opportunity to buy the first 2 liters from the barrel. Isn’t that a fun thing to do? Of course, the coolest part is being able to “slam dunk” your own bottle of Maker’s into the signature red wax at the end of the tour. You get to sample the customary Maker’s, as well as the brand new 46, which is aged a further 2 months with French Oak slats, a process that completely changes the flavor of this quality bourbon. If I only had time to tour one small distillery, this would be it.

My second choice would be the beautiful Woodford Reserve, located near Lexington. There is no doubt you are in Thoroughbred Country– you’ll pass through some of the most gorgeous horse farms and barns you have ever seen on the way to this property. Woodford has brick rickhouses, a term you’ll become quite familiar with on your tours. Rickhouses are the tall buildings where the barrels are left to age for 4 to 20 or more years. Each company does things their own way, but all of them involve rickhouses and barrels. Some rotate their stock, some instead combine their stock. And each is proud of the way they do things. Woodford also has a gorgeous gift shop and tasting area. If you opt not to pay the $5 fee for a tour here (they are the only distillery with a fee), you can still get a complimentary tasting pass. Woodford is, as a standard probably the most expensive label you will try, as they do not offer anything but their best effort, making it a bit unique in that regard. Definitely worth the drive.

Nearby is the small Four Roses Distillery. Be warned, you cannot sample here without taking the tour, unless you can sneak in at the end of another group tour. This is a lovely property, and is a lot more European than the others. It is quite new, in terms of bourbon, as it was built in 1910. Many of the other bourbons go all the way back to the late 1700’s…so, quite a difference. This was the smallest of the distilleries, but worth the effort, and it is quite close to both Wild Turkey and Woodford, so you could easily combine those three stops in one day.

Last, but certainly not least, is the largest Bourbon producer in the world – yes, world – Jim Beam. Sorry to cut you off here, folks, but Jim Beam deserves their own post, so I will get to that in a day or two. Until then, I want to give you what I think would be the perfect itinerary for a weekend trip to the Bourbon Trail.

Friday: Arrive in the evening and check into a B&B in Bardstown, or, if you are looking for nightlife, try a nice hotel like The Brown Hotel in Louisville. Both area have their good points – Bardstown is a little more central, it’s historic, and just plain cute. Louisville has amazing bars and restaurants at every turn, most within walking distance. Both would be great jumping off points.

Saturday: Be sure to eat a little breakfast, to get something on that stomach. You have a lot of drinking to do.

Visit the three distilleries closer to Lexington, beginning with Four Roses, as it opens at 9am. From here, head over to Wild Turkey for the 10:30am tour, and then on to Woodford tour at noon or 1pm. If you time it out right, you’ll have plenty of time for a quick late lunch in Bardstown, before hitting Jim Beam. The last tour here starts at 3:30.

Sunday: Have a nice brunch, as the distilleries don’t open early. Consider a Hot Brown, but be warned, it is carbohydrate heavy and you will immediately feel the effects. Sleepy time comes on in a big way.

First stop on Sunday is Maker’s Mark. Prepare to start your tour at 1:30, and expect to take an hour here. It’s an interesting tour, but can be a little slow, depending on the size of the group. Stay focused! You have another tour to hit, and it’s about 25 minutes down the road at Heaven Hill. The Trolley is at 3pm, so, you can opt to take the trolley instead of the tour, and then sneak on in for a tasting at the end of the ride. Or, you can skip the trolley and take the tour. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do both, unless – and this is a BIG unless – you skip Jim Beam on Saturday and do the trolley AND tour at Heaven Hill on Saturday. Then you can tour Jim Beam on Sunday. The one drawback to this scenario is – no tastings on Sundays at Jim Beam. So, pick your poison.

Hopefully this info has helped you a little, or, at least opened your eyes to a product that is truly ALL AMERICAN, and something we should be proud of. I know by taking the tours, I am impressed with the dedication and history of these bourbon families – and believe me, it IS a family business. If you have any questions for me, bourbon wise, travel wise, recommendations wise – let me know…I’d be happy to help if I can!

Tomorrow – Derby Pie is on the docket. Except, I can’t call it that. It’s trademarked. Yes, really – a PIE is trademarked. So, Seven has since dubbed it Dirty Pie, and that kind of fits, too. Kentucky Dirty Bourbon Pie, right here, tomorrow. It’s beyond good. It’s…dirrrrty.

Luke Skywalker's Behavior as a..

My wife and I take a trip down the Bourbon Trail about once a year, visiting a distillery or two. Our first stop this year was at Copper & Kings, a Louisville Kentucky outfit that I don’t think is technically part of the Bourbon Trail, since they don’t actually make bourbon, or whiskey of any kind! Copper & Kings is primarily a brandy maker, though they also make brandy from apples, as well as a variety of absinthes. Oh, and the very occasional tiny batch of gin.

Located in the Butchertown section of Louisville, C&K is located opposite a working slaughterhouse, a fact which announced itself to our noses rather dramatically after a brief rain. No distilling was going on, as this is August in Kentucky, but I can only imagine the war of aromas on a hot May morning….

Aside from the high quality of their basic brandy, I knew literally nothing about Copper & Kings before arriving at the facility. One look at the striking and beautiful facility placed the company in my mental category of “highly capitalized 21st century startups”. This is a category that produces some of the best, as well as some of the most over-rated and over-priced, products I’ve explored since discovering that I’m a cocktail geek. I was eager to find out where C&K would settle across its product line.

The distillery is worth at least a brief trip, even if you have zero interest in booze, but just like architecture. The main facility is an ancient brick warehouse, with a modern steel addition to the side. The entrance to the grounds is formed by a very neat building formed by three former shipping containers. The container to your right as you come in is a shop where you can sign up for tours, buy product, and do a little tasting if you haven’t time for a full tour. The one to your left is a waiting area where you can relax in air conditioned comfort while you wait for your tour. A third container bridges the gap overhead between the two and seems to contain the HVAC for the two containers. I love the use of cargo containers as human habitations. As recycling goes, it is about as efficient an example as you can find. (The idea can be take way too far, of course.) The installation here is one of the more creatively laid out and designed examples that I’ve ever seen.

Once you pass through the entrance, there is a huge patio/party space in front of the main building, with a huge moat to keep morons visitors from just walking up to the big copper stills and burning themselves.

The patio, with it’s well-equipped bar, firepits, and modern seating, is surrounded by lush wildflower beds, designed to attract butterflies and otherwise provide a little natural habitat in this industrial area of town.

The three glorious copper stills sit in a line at the front of the main floor, small, medium, and large. Behind them is the bottling line, and cage for finished product where they hope to place a fourth still one day. The smallest, Sarah, is so small it it raised up a few stairs. They use it for running experimental batches at an affordable scale, as well as making their intermittently-produced, micro-batch gin. The medium still is used to produce Absinthe, and the largest, Magdalena, is used exclusively for producing their core product line of aged grape wine brandies. All three stills are Kentucky made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. The bottling line significantly automated and high-speed enough to attest to the reasonably high capacity of the distillery.

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By this time, I’ve seen so many distilleries, large and small alike, that there is usually only a few new things to be learned with each tour. (This is a tragic side-effect of having too much fun on the Bourbon Trail and elsewhere.) It also means I obsess over each new detail that I do learn. The big takeaway from Copper & Kings has to do with aging brandy. To reach the rickhouse, we had to descend to the basement. I immediately was puzzled by this. Enough trips to whiskey distilleries and you get used to the huge wooden houses designed to maximize temperature swings that will push and pull the whiskey in and out of the barrel wood. Brandy does not respond well to this treatment and becomes over-wooded well before it is properly aged. The basement protects the brandy from these swings.

But what is more interesting is the fact that loud music blares twenty-four hours a day down there. This is actually a part of their aging process. The heavy vibrations act on all the barrels to increase contact with the wood and deepen flavor. Is this trick for real? Heck if I know. They aren’t the only distiller using this method, but it isn’t widespread. Regardless, it is kind of fun, and if you want to listen to the same music your future brandy is rocking out to, just drop by the front page of the website and check out today’s Spotify list. Don’t listen as loud as the barrels do. It’ll hurt your ears.

Besides the patio outside, there are several other spaces in the distillery designated for entertainment space. Directly over the stills is a large room (lavishly decorated in the distillery’s signature orange) that is used for large tours, seminars, and wedding receptions. You know it is directly over the stills, since the absinthe aromatic basket is located here, and uses steam from the still right beneath it.

Out tour guide Ian poses with the “Weapon of Mass Creation”

The products are, for the most part, very, very good. The brandies are delicious, and completely distinct from the stickily sweet American brandy you may imagine. But they remain distinctly not cognac. The absinthes are interesting. I particularly liked the ginger infusion. The young spirits are… young spirits. The white brandy is Pisco-like. And the white apple brandy… needs time in the basement with the Beastie Boys.

When visiting Louisville, I heartily recommend a visit to Copper & Kings. It is a visual treat (and olfactory adventure). The products are tasty, interesting and unique. The tour is well-scripted, and the staff is friendly. You can reserve tickets here.

It’s said that F. Scott Fitzgerald first started writing his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, on cocktail napkins at the Old Seelbach Bar at the historic Seelbach Hilton. Whether or not that’s true, the place has still seen many celebrities, Grammy-winning artists, gangsters, and even presidents in the years since it opened back in 1905. Try the signature Seelbach cocktail (Old Forester bourbon, triple sec, Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, and Champagne, served in a fluted glass adorned with fresh orange), which was created in 1917, disappeared during Prohibition, and was rediscovered by a hotel manager in 1995. Located off the hotel lobby, the turn-of-the-century bar also offers more than 70 bourbons and a comforting, warm bourbon chocolate pecan pie. The bar food menu features a variety of Kentucky-accented dishes like Kentucky bison sliders with Kenny’s horseradish Cheddar and mini brioche buns, “cheese fries” (beer-battered fries with chorizo, sriracha, and warm Cheddar sauce), and funnel cake fries with powdered sugar and bourbon caramel.

Against the Grain Brewing Company took its popular 35K stout and doubled it. The result was — you guessed it — the 70k. Double the roasted deliciousness, double the creaminess, this imperial milk stout has scored the elusive 100 on RateBeer.

On and off Kentucky’s beaten Bourbon Trail

Local food and culture, chased by drams of American whiskey.

“Looks like something out of Oliver Twist, doesn’t it?” Mark Brown remarked, the sentiment heightened by his English accent. “You may be the first to take photos up here,” he said, referring to the top room of the Dry House at the historic Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, where he has been president for 20 years. The Dickensian machine, the “Ro-Ball”, was literally chugging along, vigorously shaking a mash that is the by-product of distillation. Its purpose is to separate out the liquid from the solid, which will then be recycled and sold to cereal companies.

Elsewhere in the distillery, the mash is just beginning its life – starting with a mix of milled grains and limestone water that is first fermented to become beer and then distilled down into whiskey.

Buffalo Trace offers one of the best distillery tours in Kentucky, even though it is not technically part of the Bourbon Trail. Though not an actual route, the Bourbon Trail was created in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to promote bourbon tourism in Kentucky. It is a collection of six historic commercial distilleries scattered on either side of the Blue Grass Parkway: Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark. Along the way are less travelled paths tempting visitors who are thirsty for Kentucky spirits and culture.

Bourbon was likely born in the 1770s when present-day Kentucky was first settled by Europeans. These settlers would have learned from the indigenous tribes how quickly and easily corn grew there, and then (since distillation was already a widespread practice) used any crop surpluses to make whiskey. When farmers later transported this unaged corn whiskey, or moonshine, across the Ohio River for commerce, the spirit would age in its oak barrel containers, becoming infused with dark colour and complex flavour. Since Bourbon County was one of Kentucky’s first counties, the resulting beverage came to be known as Bourbon whiskey. It was not until 1964, however, that the American government established bourbon as a distinctive product of the United States. A product of its history, today’s bourbon must be made from a mash of more than half corn, aged in an unused, charred oak barrel, and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol.

The story of bourbon’s past may enhance bourbon’s present as you start your journey along the Bourbon Trail with Barrel House Distilling Company, a micro-distillery that most tourists have never heard of. Located in historic Lexington, Barrel House has tours every day except Sunday, offering visitors the chance to see its whiskey, rum and vodka being made. The tour ends with a taste of the Devil John Moonshine, named after a local Civil War soldier and moonshiner. After all, moonshine (unaged whiskey), is as native to the region as bourbon.

While in Lexington, visit the ArtsPlace Performance Hall to take in a live bluegrass show – an equally authentic Kentucky experience. The weekly taping of Red Barn Radio is performed in front of a live audience and features some of the best bluegrass musicians from Kentucky and around the world.

Just outside of Lexington, four major distilleries entice bourbon lovers. Buffalo Trace dates back to 1857 when it became the country’s first steam-powered distillery. Its history is littered with such behemoths as EH Taylor, George T Stagg, Albert Blanton and Elmer T Lee. If you recognize the names, it is because there have been bourbons named after each one.

Today, the operation is huge, manufacturing bourbon for brands including Old Rip Van Winkle (our personal favourite), Eagle Rare and Blanton’s, in addition to its own eponymous brand. The hard hat tour takes visitors through the distilling process and may include a taste of whiskey straight off the still. This moonshine is a far cry from what your grandpa made in his basement during Prohibition. It is refined -- a bit spicy, yet clean and smooth with the sweetness of corn throughout. It is so good, in fact, that the distillery started bottling it upon the suggestion of a tour goer, despite reservations that Brown, the president, had about selling unaged whiskey. Buffalo Trace’s White Dog (white dog, white lightning, moonshine – they all mean unaged whiskey) is now one of the company’s top-selling products.

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.

More live music can be found at Zeppelin Café. There, local acts range from blues to bluegrass to folk and Americana.

From Louisville, head south for more distillery action. If you are ambitious you can hit three official Bourbon Trail outfits on your way to a lesser known gem, Corsair. Jim Beam is 30 minutes outside of Louisville, Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark are farther south, and all three offer free tours and tastings.

Ninety minutes south of the Jim Beam Distillery, Corsair Artisan Distillery is making unique spirits on a very small scale. In bourbon country, this three-year-old operation amid a sea of old-timers is doing surprisingly well. “We don’t really feel the competition because we’re barely a blip on their radar,” said Clay Smith, the head distiller. The company caters to a niche market, focusing on making unique and experimental spirits from all-natural ingredients. “We have wanted to be known for our flavours, not necessarily for being the next bourbon maker,” he said. The distillery’s portfolio includes barrel aged gin, pumpkin spice moonshine, oatmeal stout whiskey and a more traditional (though fairly young) bourbon. The Triple Smoke is a tasty American single malt whiskey with a golden colour and a peaty butterscotch flavour. Tours and tastings are offered all day Friday and Saturday, but you can call ahead about stopping in on other days.

The 15 Best Summer Cocktails for a Warm Weather Buzz

Whatever your spirit of choice, these drinks will keep you cool through the hottest months.

A cocktail in the summertime has a singular purpose: It must make you feel cool. We mean cool in the literal sense of the word. Cool, like soft breezes, salty ocean spray, and the crisp air from AC units. Cool, like the hose water in that inflatable pool you may or may not have panic-purchased as you looked ahead to a summer spent in at least partial isolation. That's the kind of cool a strong Negroni brings to your evening, or a Julep with fresh mint. You'll find it in any number of rum drinks , particularly the frozen ones like a Piña Colada or Pain Killer. It's what makes those hot-weather tequila staples (oh yeah, it's Margarita season) so damn refreshing.

These classic summer cocktail recipes, which range from simple to more intensive concoctions, are ideal for hot weather drinking. Master a handful&mdasha Mojito is particularly impressive and almost too drinkable when it's good&mdashand you'll have yourself a happy hour cocktail menu stored in your brain. So log off, shut down, or hang up. Depart the home office for your kitchen, back deck, or front drive, where you can nurse the cocktail you just mixed. And, as always, stay cool.


&bull 2 oz. silver tequila
&bull 1 oz. Cointreau
&bull 1 oz. lime juice
&bull coarse salt

Chill a cocktail glass, and then rub its rim with lime juice and dip it in coarse salt. Add tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and ice together in a cocktail shaker. Shake and then strain into the glass over ice.


&bull 1 oz. London dry gin
&bull 1 oz. Campari
&bull 1 oz. vermouth rosso

Add the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Stir well with cracked ice. Strain into a glass over cubed ice. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.


&bull 1/2 oz. vodka
&bull 1/2 oz. gin
&bull 1/2 oz. white rum
&bull 1/2 oz. silver tequila
&bull 1/2 oz. Cointreau
&bull 3/4 oz. lemon juice
&bull 2 tsp. simple syrup
&bull 3/4 oz. Mexican Coke

Shake ingredients (except Mexican Coke), then strain into a Collins glass over crushed ice. Top with Coke and garnish with a lemon twist.


&bull 2 oz. white rum
&bull 1/2 oz. lime juice (squeezed fresh)
&bull 1 tsp. superfine sugar
&bull 3 mint leavesclub soda or seltzer

In a smallish Collins glass, muddle lime juice with 1/2 to 1 tsp. superfine sugar. Add the mint leaves, mushing them against the side of the glass. Fill glass 2/3 with cracked ice and pour in the rum. Pitch in the squeezed-out lime shell and top off with club soda or seltzer.


&bull 2 oz. dark rum
&bull 1 oz. lime juice
&bull 1/2 oz. orange curaçao
&bull 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup
&bull 1/8 oz. rock candy syrup

Shake ingredients with cracked ice in a chilled cocktail shaker. Pour unstrained into a large Collins glass (or tiki mug). Garnish with half a lime shell and a sprig of mint.


&bull 2 1/2 oz. rum
&bull 3 oz. pineapple juice
&bull 1 oz. coconut cream
&bull ice

Start with the rum. Then combine with unsweetened pineapple juice (you can sub in 3 ounces crushed or whole pineapple), and coconut cream in a blender. Blend on high with a cup or so of crushed ice, or 5 or 6 ice cubes. Pour into a tall glass. Garnish with whatever you've got.


&bull 3 oz. bourbon
&bull 5-6 mint leaves
&bull 1 tsp. sugar

Place mint leaves in the bottom of a pre-chilled, dry pewter cup. Add sugar and crush slightly with a muddler. Pack glass with finely cracked ice, then pour a generous 3 ounces of Kentucky bourbon over the ice. Stir briskly until the glass frosts. Add more ice and stir again before serving. Stick a few sprigs of mint into the ice to get the aroma.


&bull 3 oz. dark or gold rum
&bull 2 1/2 oz. pineapple juice
&bull 1 oz. orange juice
&bull 1 oz. coconut cream

Shake ingredients well with ice in cocktail shaker. Strain into a hurricane glass over fresh ice. Garnish with grated nutmeg.


&bull 1 bottle red table wine
&bull 1/2 c. brandy
&bull 1/2 c. orange juice
&bull 1/2 c. pomegranate juice
&bull 2 c. sparkling water
&bull 1/4 c. simple syrup
&bull orange slices
&bull apple slices
&bull blackberries
&bull pomegranate seeds

Stir all of the ingredients together in a pitcher. Put the pitcher in the refrigerator and let stand overnight. Pour sangria into glasses. Garnish with an orange wedge.


&bull 1 oz. light rum
&bull 1 oz. dark rum
&bull 1 oz. banana liqueur
&bull 1 oz. blackberry liqueur
&bull 1 oz. orange juice
&bull 1 oz. pineapple juice
&bull splash of grenadine

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass over fresh ice. Garnish with fresh fruit.


&bull 2 oz. white rum
&bull 1/2 tsp. superfine sugar
&bull 1/2 oz. lime juice

Squeeze the lime into your shaker, stir in the sugar, and then add the rum. Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


&bull 2 oz. tequila
&bull 1/2 oz. lime juice
&bull pinch of salt
&bull grapefruit soda

Combine the tequila (reposado, preferably), lime juice, and salt in a tall glass. Add ice, top off with grapefruit soda, and stir.


&bull 2 oz. dark rum
&bull 1 oz. passion fruit syrup
&bull 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
&bull orange slices
&bull maraschino cherries

Combine rum, passion fruit syrup, and lemon juice with ice in a shaker. Shake until frosty. Pour into a hurricane glass filled with more ice cubes. Garnish with orange slices and maraschino cherries.


&bull 2 oz. vodka
&bull 2-3 oz. cranberry juice cocktail
&bull 1/2 oz. lime juice
&bull club soda

Pour vodka, cranberry juice, and lime juice into a Collins glass over ice. Stir. Top with club soda, then garnish with a lime wedge.


&bull 3 oz. gin
&bull 3 lime wedges
&bull 4 oz. tonic water

Add the gin to a highball glass filled with ice. Squeeze in lime wedges to taste. Then add tonic water and stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Best Outside of Kentucky: Woodinville Whiskey

Beyond Kentucky, you can find distilleries making bourbon in nearly every state nowadays, from tiny craft operations to larger upstart facilities. One notable distillery is Woodinville Whiskey. Its flagship straight bourbon is aged for five years in central Washington warehouses after being distilled just outside of Seattle. The rich palate of buttery caramel, sweet vanilla and ripe fruits can compete with any bourbon made in Kentucky. It’s bottled at 90 proof, but if you’re looking for something stronger, there's a barrel-proof version offered at the distillery as well.

The bourbon confection varieties at the Maker’s Mark Distillery Gift Shop in Loretto are some of our most popular items. Chocolate is a great pairing with the vanilla and caramel notes in bourbon. If you try your hand at making our bourbon balls, you can taste what we mean.

Maker's Mark® Blondies

It's hard to beat a warm, gooey blondie recently out of the oven. These blondies are made all the better with a splash from your favorite redhead – Maker's Mark ® Bourbon, of course. The vanilla extract and brown sugar are a natural match for the caramel flavor found in Maker's®. Don't skip the extra step of preparing the blackberry topping, also made with Maker's ® , to pour over your blondies.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

It’s hard to improve on a good pecan pie recipe, but adding a splash of Maker’s Mark ® is definitely not going to hinder your efforts. Our version omits the oft-used dark corn syrup, so the lightly sweet, caramel profile of Maker’s ® serves as a tasty approximation of the syrup’s properties.

Holiday Cocktails for Bourbon Lovers

Entertaining tip #1: Welcome your guests with a distinctive cocktail that sets the tone for what&rsquos to come. One that refreshes and tantalizes the tastebuds, but not too strong because you want your guests still upright for dessert.

Leading off with a Bourbon Mai Tai presented by Chef Ouita Michel, Chef-in-Residence at Woodford Reserve, at a private luncheon and bourbon tasting during a visit to the Woodford Reserve Distillery &ndash my second trip with friends Gwen and Roger Pratesi of On The Road culinary adventures, and one that will live long in my memory!

The Bourbon Mai Tai is an exhilarating cocktail that is super simple to prepare and perfect for your holiday soiree or any time of year really.

Bourbon Mai Tai:

1 ounce Woodford Reserve bourbon

1 ounce each cranberry juice and orange juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker. Stir or shake to blend. Pour into a glass filled with ice and garnish with an orange slice.

Our group relaxed and sipped on this lovely cocktail while basking in the autumnal sunlight of a balmy Kentucky day drinking in the beauty surrounding us and digesting all the information and history laid before us by our terrific white-maned sage of a guide during our tour of the historic Woodford Reserve distillery and grounds.

One of Kentucky&rsquos oldest and smallest distilleries, the present day Woodford Reserve Distillery is built on history, sitting on Kentucky&rsquos oldest distilling site where Elijah Pepper began crafting whiskey in 1812.

Key takeaway from the tour &ndash the five essential sources of flavor in bourbon: Water &ndash the pure iron-free, limestone-filtered water of Kentucky is vital Grains &ndash known as the mash bill, bourbon must have a minimum of 51% corn, with the remainder being rye, wheat, malted barley, or some combination of these, Woodford Reserve&rsquos mash is 72% corn (sweet), 18% rye (spicy) and 10% barley (nutty) the Distillation process &ndash Woodford Reserve is crafted in copper pot stills

Fermentation &ndash traditional yeast fermenting for 6-7 days (twice as long as most brands) and the Maturation (aging) process &ndash Woodford Reserve is unique in that they craft, toast and char all their own barrels.

From this pre-Prohibition process comes America&rsquos native spirit which purists say can only be savored &ldquoneat&rdquo, but Michael Veach, Louisville, Kentucky&rsquos bourbon historian and author of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, believes there is no wrong way to drink bourbon. Dilute it with water, mix it with ginger ale, or stir in a liqueur or two and call it something fancy like &ldquoThe Revolver&rdquo. According to Veach, makers of America&rsquos native spirit are just as pleased to see their product served up with a maraschino cherry as they are watching it poured straight into a shot glass.

Following our tour of the distillery we convened to one of the many historical buildings on the Woodford Reserve estate to partake in a bourbon tasting and a fabulous lunch prepared by Bluegrass Horse Country native Chef Ouita Michel.

The Flavor Wheel consisted of classic and unexpected pairings (such as miso) to tantalize our tastebuds and expand our palate during the bourbon tasting.

Chef Ouita and her indispensable chef de cuisine prepared an inspired luncheon brimming with fresh local produce and a modern Southern flair:

1st Course: Smoked Lobster, Asian pear, shredded jicama and Napa cabbage, dried apricot, Woodford lime vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts.

Entrée: Stonecross Farm fresh pork belly Bulgogi-style &ndash marinated, slow cooked then pan seared, Soba noodles, broth and bok choy.

Dessert: Crepes filled with sweetened mascarpone with lemon and orange, sautéed in sorghum butter with fresh apples, flamed in Woodford Reserve bourbon.

Champagne cocktails are a classic holiday aperitif &ndash and for good reason. There is nothing that announces a celebration better than champagne, and the bold addition of bourbon makes this Bourbon Champagne Cocktail a star, and one that even the guys will love! It seems like an unlikely combination &ndash you just have to try it! The amazing bourbon-soaked cherries put maraschino cherries to shame and, trust me, you won&rsquot be able to resist nibbling on a few while you&rsquore mixing cocktails.

Watch the video: 3 Perfect Days: Best Of. On Location: Buffalo Trace (November 2021).