A few weeks ago, Michelle and I had a chance to have a bourbon-inspired dinner by Woodford Reserve’s chef David Larson. He offered a tasting demo at the Party Source and we were treated to
Course 1: Woodford Reserve with Gravlax
Course 2: Woodford Reserve Lemonade with Tomato Watermelon Salad
Course 3: Woodford Reserve Corn Pudding and the Best Roast Chicken
Course 4: Cold Lemon Souffle and Bourbon Flavored Coffee
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.
Ah, Irish Whiskey. The 1/4 of me that is fully Irish demanded that I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style, so Michelle and I headed over to Party Source to trade in green beer for an Irish Whiskey Tasting. The tasting was led by the EQ center’s Jay Erisman. We recently came across a Forbes.com article on the Top 10 Irish
whiskey’s and were pleased to learn we had tried 5 of them in this
On the list:
Ireland has 3 current distillers, Bushmill’s (Northern), Midleton (South), and Cooley in
the central area. These three account for all current Irish Whiskey
production. This consolidation occurred in the mid 1900’s and there
were only two distillers until 1995 when Cooley came back onto the
When we arrived, we were given a dram of Bunratty Potcheen. Potcheen (or Poitin) is
probably best compared with good old Kentucky Moonshine. Potcheen, up
until recently, was for export only and was illegal to sell in Ireland.
That has changed over the last few years, but it’s always nice to see a
bottle marked For Export Only in bright green lettering. The smell was
reminiscent of bubble gum, mostly Bazooka Joe. The flavor was fresh and
minty. The overall impression was of sweetness. I thought this was a
nice way to start, Michelle created a new smiley for this :-0, meaning she was overwhelmed by the alcohol and burning.
As a note, after the first taste on many of these, I added a drop of water to the whiskey. Michelle added a drop of water to all of them to help her, as she’s not a big spirits drinker to begin with.
Review and notes after the jump
We have a lot of bourbon in our house. After all, Kentucky does pride itself on inventing bourbon.
We picked up two new bottles Saturday night on the recommendation of
our new friend Michael at Cork and Bottle. I’m not one for drinking my whiskey
straight, but Kevin can handle it. Therefore, he is officially the beer & spirits guy here at My Wine Education. That said, I turn
this post over to my ever capable husband.
I was looking through our bar area and noticed a large number of different
bourbons. I decided to take advantage of the situation and this past weekend I
had Michelle prepare a 5-bourbon blind tasting. Michelle poured roughly a shot of each bourbon into 5
different glasses sitting on top of daily calendar pages for
the 5th through the the 9th of March. I then sampled each drink
without knowing the contents.
For tasting criteria, I took into account that Michelle likes bourbon mixed with
Diet Cola, while I look for enjoyable drinks that stand on their own.
With that in mind, I rated my drinks on the following criteria:
With those criteria in mind, I present the following tasting notes after the jump.
Ah, the Islay malt. It’s a different beast than my usual Highland single malt and a very different drink. This was my first foray away from the Highlands in some time and I found it to be a very refreshing change.
The Laphroaig distillery has added the Friends of Laphroaig program
to their multi-lingual website in order to allow people who enjoy the complex flavor
a place to meet others with at least one thing in common. The hook for
their Friends program is the ability to be granted a lease on a 1 foot
by 1 foot plot of land in the Laphroaig estate. In the interest of full
disclosure, I happily submitted my information and received my Deed in
the mail just a few weeks later.
Laphroaig is also a distiller who freely admits that every bottle will be a slightly different experience. Not necessarily a huge shift, but they strive for quality over consistency. I find that a nice switch from some of the homogenized aspects of what I have come to expect from the places that serve the same thing billions of times without any variation. I also appreciate their honesty in saying that not everyone will like what they provide. They make what they make and hope you enjoy it, but if not I get the feeling they would like to part friends and hopefully meet again in the future. Once again, it is nice to find a group that is willing to stick with what they do instead of trying to please everyone.
The first thing to notice about this malt is the initial aroma of what can best be described as fresh mulch. The peaty, almost boggy, smell is enough to discourage Michelle from venturing any further, but the reward is on the complex flavor that defies the words used to describe the wines that are usually reviewed on this site. In the flavor, a smoky taste comes forward and mixes with an oily texture and the still present peat is covered by a slight seaweed flavor to provide a very enjoyable drink that warmed me on the recent cold nights. I usually drank it with just a touch of cool fresh water.
A Scotch lovers drink. This is not one that is accessible or easy to
enjoy, but for those of us who truly love the taste and terroir of
Scotch, this is a fine example of what the small island of Islay brings
to the table. Hopefully I will be able to contrast with the 10 year Ardbeg I received as a gift a little while ago.
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