Organ Pipe National Park

Organ Pipe National Park

About Me

I purchased "Sadie''s House On Wheels "in late 2007 and loved traveling in a motor home so much that I went on the road full time in late 2008. I started writing this blog to help me remember all the wonder places I have been and it allows me to share those places with my family and friends. Summer of 2013 I decided to hang up the keys for a while and moved back into my stick house. After nearly two years, I am on the road again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bourbon Trail Part II, June 11-13

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.  

 This is an old still in the heritage center. That is one of their warehouses in the background.
 Some of the labels Heaven Hill bottles.
The barrels are stacked on ricks in the warehouses.  Each warehouse holds about 20,000 barrels and each barrel weights about 500 pounds and initially holds 53 gallons of bourbon. During the aging process a barrel can lose as much as 30%.
The black stuff on the side is called "Angel's Share". As the barrels heat up water evaporates and the  black residue on the side of the building is called Angel's Share. Angels share can be found anywhere near the warehouses.

Note the timbers making up the ricks.  They are true cut and made of oak.
The barrels are labeled by date.  This one was filled on January 15, 2009.

An example of the heavy construction of the the warehouse looking up towards the top floor.   Some of the Distilleries like Makers Mark rotate their barrels from top to bottom.  Other like Heaven Hill "mingle the top, middle, and lower barrels before bottling.

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 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 D.S.P.K.Y. No. on the signs indicates the tax number of the distillery.  I was told for every $1.00 spent on bourbon  there is about $.60 tax.  That doesn't include the local sales tax were the bottle is sold. (Heaven Hill says they pay over a billion dollars in taxes per year)

The Four Roses distillery building is on the register of historic buildings.
I peeked in the windows and was able to take pictures of the distillery and some of the mash vats.

They use stainless steel vats for processing the mash.
The other difference at Four Roses is that age the bourbon in single story warehouses and  the barrels are not rotated. .  Different yeast strains are used with  different recipes and no wheat  is used but more rye is added to the recipes for spiciness. They have 10 different recipes they use and mingle aged barrels to make their distinct bourbons.  Because the mash room and distillery were closed down, the tour guide decided we could taste all four bourbons on the market which was a lot!  They also ship most of their bourbon abroad, their biggest customer being Japan.  Actually, the tastes added up to a total of 1/2 shot glass so that is not too much.  It was a treat to taste so many different bourbons in one place. The bourbon marketed to the Japanese is much sweeter and cannot be purchased in the U.S. yet.

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 took a short bus ride from the visitor center to the new distillery which opened in December.
The grains are stored in these silos.  The corn, rye, and barely stored in the silos last about a week.
Wild Turkey also uses stainless steel vats for the mash.
They mix the strain of yeast in a small tub to get it active before adding it to sour mash.
Their bourbon goes through a little different type of still and the high and low wine is tested from the two stations on the left. Wild turkey does not rotate barrels but  blends (mingles) 6,8, and 12 year old barrels to make their Rare Breed  and  they also make single barrel Kentucky Spirit.
A dona tub is a small tub that activates the yeast before it is mixed with a previous mash (sour mash) before adding it to the current mash.
Some of the barrels being processed at Wild Turkey.  We didn't go in their warehouses, but we did have a nice tasting at their gift shop which also included American Honey, which is a bourbon liquor.  Wild Turkey is targeting its market towards the younger crowd.

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 visitor center.
This is a new mixture of mash.  It has not started to ferment yet.  They let their mash ferment longer than the other distilleries, usually 3-5 days instead of the 2-4 days. Also Woodfords Reserve uses at least 60-70% corn which makes the bourbon sweeter and smoother.

They also use Cypress vats in keeping with the tradition of earlier distilleries.
The bourbon is triple distilled.
This is a barrel track, and the only one still working today.  Once the bourbon is put in the barrel is rolled by gravity to the warehouse.
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. . 

This is the spirit tester.  Each still funnels into the spirit tester and the liquid is tested from each still for quality.  The Master Distiller also physically tastes a smalls sample periodically.
Over view of the distillery room.
Woodfords Reserve is owned by Labrot and Graham Distillers.  Note the fill date on the barrel.  Because the Distillery is small they use a a calendar dating system rather than alphabetical like the other larger distilleries.
A few of the aging barrels.

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.
The filtered bourbon is bottled and readied for shipping.
This neat sculpture greeted us at the entrance to the Distillery.
Remember I said that this was the oldest continuing distillery even during prohibition.  Apparently, during the prohibition era if a doctor wrote a prescription using bourbon as medication it could be legally purchased.  (sound familiar) The patient could only purchase. enough to last 10 days. Well, the distillery was one of the few distilleries that could fill those prescriptions.

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..

It looks like an old castle.

I learned so much about bourbon and the passion and traditions that go into making it that I now have an appreciation of good bourbon, although I don't think my pallet is educated enough to really tell the difference between super premium bourbon and good bourbon.

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.

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