Got Bourbon? There are over 20,000 barrels @ 50 gallons each in the warehouse. That's over a million gallons in one warehouse!!
We headed on to Bardstown just a few miles up the road from New Haven to continue on with the Bourbon Trail. One distillery down and five to go. Over the next few days we toured the rest of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail: Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Woodfords Reserve. The remaining five distilleries all proved to be very different from one another and the tours themselves were also very different from each. My head is swimming with facts and information. I should have taken notes!
Each distillery offered different information and as the tours progressed I understood how each distillery is very unique, much like the wineries in California. All of the tours were free except our final tour at Woodfords Reserve, but that tour was only a minimal charge. The last time I went wine tasting in California there was a substantial charge for the tasting which took part of the fun out of the experience and the intimacy of wine tasting was missing, but even the paid tour at Woodfords Reserve was good.
Heaven Hill, located in Bardstown, was our next stop. It is the only family owned and family run distillery on the Bourbon Trail. The other distilleries are owned by parent companies. Eight generations have continued the traditions of Haven Hill. The Heaven Hill distillery is physically located in Louisville but the bourbons are aged in barrels at the warehouses in Bardstown bottled at the Heaven Hill plant. Heaven Hill also bottled other beverages on site. It's a huge operation and continues to expand.
The temperature reaches over 100 degrees during the summer on the top floor and much lower on the bottom floors. The liquid in the barrels expand with the heat and soaks into the barrel. As the temperature turns cooler the liquid contracts and pulls out the color and flavor of the barrel. The barrels on the top floor usually have more flavor and color due to the extreme fluctuation of temperature in the summer and winter and usually more alcohol content due to slightly more water evaporation. This sequence continues for as much as 12 years.
We were given the opportunity to taste several tastings including tasting the single barrel Elijah Craig and William Evans. The Elijah Craig was my very favorite, but a little out of my price range at over $50.00 a bottle.
Our next stop was at the Jim Beam distillery. The Jim Beam is the #1 selling bourbon in the country and has been crafted since the late 1700's. The distillery was closed down for the summer and we toured the grounds and had a bourbon tasting. Our tour was not as impressive at the other tours, but the tasting was good.
The Angel's Share on one of the Jim Beam warehouse was very evident. It is also one of the oldest warehouses of this type.
The black coloring is the Angle's Share. Jim Beam houses its aging bourbons in one of the oldest remaining warehouses from the prohibition era.
Jim Beam bottles single barrel as well as small batch. The master distiller picks out a single barrel for processing and bourbon is bottled from that one barrel yielding about 250 bottles. Each bottle has a special label indicating the barrel number and date. A small batch bottling is when several barrels are mingled together and bottled and labeled.
Sunday morning we had plans to hit the road early and stop for breakfast somewhere along the road towards Lexington. As we were filling up the fresh water tanks and checking the monitors we discovered our propane tank was almost empty...really empty which explains somewhat why the refrigerator hadn't been working all that well. Oops. I guess the extreme hot weather and high humidity has made the refrigerator work harder. Anyway, after spending time researching propane pumping facilities in the area (there are not many) we decided not to worry about it and headed over to Four Roses distillery. I'm surprised there is not an IPhone App for propane..it would sure come in handy!
Four Roses is a small distillery and their distillery was shut down for cleaning and servicing. Some of the distilleries close down for the summer but Four Roses hadn't completely shut down yet. It is an old facility and the architecture reminds me much of the wineries in California. They do have room for RV parking and it looks like RVs can park overnight, although I forgot to ask. The visitor center wasn't open when we arrived( they don't open until 12:00 on Sundays) so we fixed our Sunday breakfast while we were waiting in the in the parking lot. Gotta love this life!
The Four Roses distillery building is on the register of historic buildings.
The Wild Turkey distillery was only a few miles down the from the Four Roses so we headed over there next. It was very busy as the company family picnic was going on...Quite a contrast with the quiet grounds of Four Roses.
We continued on the bourbon trail to the Lexington Moose Lodge. Joel had called the lodge to see if there was RV parking available and was told they could probably squeeze us in behind the lodge. "Squeeze" was the operative word. The Lexington and Bardstown lodges did not indicate RV parking on their websites, but we have found by calling ahead most lodges will allow to dry camp and welcome us. We set up up the Big House and also attached the auxiliary propane tank to enable the refrigerator to work and allow cooking, deciding we would search out propane on Monday.
On Monday, we continued our search for propane (it our search proved unsuccessful, at least locally), which gave us an opportunity to explore the area, and then we headed over to the Woodfords Reserve Distillery. We had been told this was one of the better tours as well as the oldest and smallest continuing distillery, distilling since 1812 and through prohibition. It was also the only distillery that charged for their tour...$5.00. The tour turned out to be one of the nicer and more informative tours. Woodfords Reserve label is also the bourbon of choice for the Kentucky Derby and is a fairly new label. Super Premium Bourbon is distilled at Woodfords Reserve. Super Premium means its aged longer, triple distilled, and has a higher alcohol content.
The new white oak barrels are toasted first before charring and Woodfords Reserve uses a light charring and a heaving charring. Note the differences in the barrel colors from untreated to heavily charred. .
The warehouse is the only standing stone warehouse left and in use. The rick system is a stand alone system and is not attached to the stone walls inside the the walls.
On the our guide is using what is called whiskey thief to siphon some aged bourbon for testing. The Master Distiller will smell and taste the bourbon to determine if it is ready for filtering and bottling. No, Joel did not get to taste this sample, nor did our guide. He had to throw it out.
After tasting the Woodfords Reserve bourbon we headed back to Lexington on the back roads, which were incredible. The back country if full of rolling hills and beautiful horse farms. Joel missed a road turn and we stumbled on this old abandoned distillery. I bet there are lots of stories just waiting to be told. The Old Taylor Distillery used to be part of the Jim Beam family and is now for sale. Apparently some of the warehouses are still being used by Jim Beam..
Along the tour I asked the guides why such rapid expansion and growth which was evident at all of the distilleries. I was told that young people are drinking more bourbon, also with the economy the way its is more people are drinking...well they may be drinking more but I don't know how they afford $50.00 bottles of 10 year old bourbon. Also, bourbon is the unique drink of the US and only made in the U.S. with 95% made in Kentucky. There has been very high demand for bourbon abroad and much of the bourbon is shipped abroad and demand has been growing there.
Next we will back track slightly to Louisville, and plan on staying a day or so before continuing farther north. I don't think we will be visiting any more distilleries though. Oh, and we have to find propane.