Kentucky Week continues here at My Wine Education. Today, a quick spin down the Bourbon Trail. Tomorrow, details on the Northern Kentucky Wine Festival.
Every year we go to the Maker’s Mark Ambassador’s weekend, which involves a day at Keeneland, and the following day at the Maker’s Mark Distillery outside of Bardstown. This year, we only made it to the distillery and skipped the race track. The weather didn’t cooperate with us this particular Saturday, but we still had fun. For all of our photos from this year’s rainy trip, view the Flickr set.
Bourbon country is an easy day trip, although it would be an excellent weekend excursion as well. Drive 90 minutes south of Cincinnati down I-71 and head east on the Bluegrass Parkway at Lexington. As you’re heading down the parkway, you’ll pass Keeneland, a castle, and then you’ll start seeing signs for distilleries.
On a whim, we decided to stop at Woodford Reserve on our way to Maker’s Mark. Woodford Reserve is right outside of Versailles. For those of you not familiar, Versailles is where many of the famous race horses are born. The drive to get to Woodford Reserve, through the picturesque main street of Versailles and past countless horse farms, is beautiful, even in the rain.
It was just chilly and wet enough that we passed on taking the tour of Woodford. From the porch of the large guest house, we could see the white buildings filled with bourbon barrels. I am a particular fan of Woodford Reserve, as I think it captures the right amount of sweetness and oak and still manages to be smooth. We were able to try a sample of Woodford. I was impressed with the little cafe and gift shop (where I did spend a small amount of money). Woodford also has two horses – Angelshare, who actually wins races, and Distill My Heart, who just had a foal.
We left Woodford, hoping to return on a nicer, warmer day. As we continued down the Bluegrass Parkway, we passed signs for Wild Turkey and Four Roses distilleries. I wish we had the time to stop. We continued on to Bardstown and followed backroads into Loretto, the postage stamp-sized town where you can find Maker’s Mark. I love to visit Maker’s Mark. You’re surrounded by lush green farmland and rolling hills. As you come out from behind one of those hills, you’re presented with Maker’s Mark, which is filled with dark wooden buildings and red doors and shutters.
Because it was a Maker’s Mark Ambassador celebration, we were allowed to dip our own commemorative bottles on the actual manufacturing line. On a regular day, you can dip a bottle, but the dipping station is located in the gift shop. It’s neat to put on the heavy apron, gloves, and safety glasses and escort your own bottle down the line and into the wax. At the celebration, we were also given tastes of a 1-yr old and 5-yr old bourbon, straight from the barrel. The difference in the smoothness and flavors was amazing. The 1-yr old cut straight through you, and I’m pretty sure it cleared up my sinuses for a moment. The 5-yr old had begun to take on a lot of the flavors in the barrel, including vanilla and oak.
As we left Maker’s Mark that afternoon, we passed Heaven Hill Distillery. Heaven Hill, makers of Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, has recently opened the Bourbon Heritage Center. This is another place where we’ll return when the weather is nicer. We skipped the tour again, and headed straight for the barrel-shaped tasting room where we tried two different types of bourbon. This was a fantastic tasting, similar to a wine tasting or a beer tasting in a professional environment. We were given scents to identify within the bourbon, and taught how to hold the bourbon in our mouths to identify different flavors.
On our way home, we had dinner at a little restaurant across the street from Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home, which is lovely. Then we headed out, passing the Jim Beam Distillery & Education Center on our way. We headed home through Louisville and not 2 hours later we reached our front door.
As you can tell, by the number of distilleries we passed in our 10 hour day, the Bourbon Trail is close enough that you could spend a weekend bouncing slowly from distillery to distillery, enjoying each tour and learning the differences in how each distillery treats Kentucky’s favorite spirit. Even if you don’t enjoy bourbon, the distilleries are generally incredibly photogenic, and the surrounding landscapes are unique to Kentucky. Bed & breakfasts, particularly in Versailles, Springfield, and Bardstown, dot the tree-lined towns with Victorian houses. It’s a lovely picture and a trip I look forward to taking.
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