Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The US is proud of its whiskey: Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey and American Rye. But only Bourbon has been declared as a native spirit of America by the US Congress in 1964. Kentucky is the birthplace of Bourbon and creates 95 percent of the world’s supply. And today, you can visit eleven signature and fourteen craft distilleries as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, plus several more distilleries that are promoting on their own.

Over the weekend, I was with Purdue and MIT PhD students on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! We visited two signature distilleries: Wild Turkey and Maker's Mark, and a craft distillery called Willett. The fourth one, Buffalo Trace, is one of the few distilleries not part the organization but very much worth a visit.

Our first stop was the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, owned by the Sazerac Company. The historic distillery is in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark under its old name, George T. Stagg Distillery. The tour and bourbon tasting is free. But you have to get tickets at a booth in front of the visitors' center.

We learned the differences in whiskeys depend on the composition of the mash mix (corn, wheat, rye, barley). To be called Bourbon, the mash should be at least 51 percent corn and aged in new charred oak barrels. Therefore barrels can only be used once if it is to be called Bourbon.

At the end of the tour, we got to taste two Bourbons from three choices (White Dog Mash #1Buffalo Trace, and Eagle Rare) and Bourbon Cream.

We then drove to Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The Wild Turkey Distilling Co. is a division of Campari Group. We should have booked a tour online since the From Barrel to Bottle tour (US$11) was fully-booked until the afternoon. So we went for the pricier exclusive tour (US$20) which brought us to the warehouses.

At the end of the tour, we were given five Bourbons to taste (Longbranch, Decades, Rare Breed, 101 Rye, and American Honey Sting).

Our third stop was the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. We are very familiar with this brand because of the distinctively squarish bottles sealed with red wax. We purchased tickets to the distillery tour and tasting (US$12).

We were shown the actual mash that was fermenting and got to taste it as well!

Like all tours, you get to see the warehouses where the barrels are stored.

And we also got to see the bottling line and watch the staff dip the sealed bottles in the distinctive red wax Maker's Mark is known for. You can dip your own bottle in wax if you buy one at the gift shop.

For the Bourbon tasting, we were given five as well (Maker's White, Maker's Mark, Maker's 46, Cask Strength, and Private Select.

Our last stop for the day was a craft distillery called Willett Distillery (Kentucky Bourbon Distillers) in Bardstown, Kentucky, a private family-operated company that produces various brands of bourbon and rye whiskey.

We were too late for the tours (US$15 with glass), but made it to the last tasting session (US$5 with glass), where you get to try the Willett Pot Still Reserve, and another Bourbon of your choice. Two thumbs up for the Willett Pot Still Reserve!

Here is a map of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail if you want to check out the other distilleries.

We spent the night in a cabin at Kamp Kessa in Cedar Fire Farm. Highly-recommended!

Cedar Fire Farm is located between the Thoroughbred Capital of the World (Lexington) and the Saddle Bred Capital of the World (Shelbyville).

The group enjoyed some Bourbon and cigars around a nice bonfire accompanied by fireflies, and a fun card game before calling it a night.

Now for the food! Here is what we got to try.

For breakfast along the way, we stopped at a good old American diner called Huddle House. I had the Applewood Smoked Bacon Southern Smothered Biscuit Platter, which is three slices of bacon, crispy hash browns, country sausage gravy, and cheddar cheese on a fluffy open-faced biscuit (US$9.49). They have quite a number of branches.

We had late lunch at Down Home Bar-B-Q in Bardstown, Kentucky, which serves great baby back ribs and sandwiches. I had the Pulled Pork Sandwich with fried potatoes and slaw on the side (US$6.75).

I loved the corn pancakes they served for starters. And outside, you can see the smoker doing its work.

For brunch the next day, we went to highly-recommended Butchertown Grocery in Louisville, Kentucky. And we were not disappointed!

The best item on the menu should be their take on Chicken and Waffles, flavored with chiles, fried rosemary and leeks, mint, and syrup (US$25).

I had the Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich (US$17), served in a croissant with candied pecans, heirloom tomatoes, and chips.

There was also good feedback on the Butchertown Eggs Benedict, served with a bacon slab (pork belly), English muffin, and truffle bearnaise (US$15).

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