Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
To be a true Kentuckian, you need to love horses, root for UK basketball, use the word “y’all” correctly… and drink bourbon.
I’m working on that last one. But this weekend I made some giant steps.
I was among four couples who trekked to Louisville to check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail .
Now, you can visit these places on your own, but given the potential for bad weather plus my driving and navigational ability, we opted instead for a tour company.
We met our Mint Julep tour bus in downtown Louisville and headed out to our first stop: Maker’s Mark.
It should be noted at this point that I don’t drink bourbon (I can hear the whispers questioning my Commonwealth citizenship already).
But it didn’t matter. I was thoroughly interested in all our expert tour guide, Gary, shared about the bourbon industry.
Five million barrels of bourbon right now are aging in the state of Kentucky. To put it in perspective, that’s more barrels than people.
Bourbon has a federally protected recipe. It can only contain four ingredients: at least 51% corn, malted barley, either rye or wheat and limestone water. That’s it. And the barrel can only be used one time.
Any variation and you have a whiskey, not a bourbon.
All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons.
After the grains and water are distilled, the resulting clear liquid is called “white dog,” because it bites back. Some distillers actually describe a white dog based on the amount of time it burns your throat. The white dog is what goes in those five million barrels to age.
Enough with the facts. Let’s get to the good stuff.
Maker’s Mark’s distillery is about an hour and a half and several dozen winding roads from Louisville.
Our guide took us through the well-maintained grounds, by the sour mash tubs (which smell exactly how they sound), into the distilling room -- and described with great enthusiasm how bourbon is made from start to finish.
We saw the famous red wax in the bottling area then it was off to the tasting room where three snifters awaited us. One with the white dog, one with Maker’s Mark and one with Maker’s new offering: Maker’s 46.
In true theme park style, after you partake, you exit through the gift shop where Maker’s has dipped everything under the shining sun in that red wax.
As bourbons go, Maker’s is corporate. As corporate as a business with 80 total employees can be.
It was quite the contrast when we visited Willett Bourbon down the road.
Willett is the new kid on the block and pretty small. The grounds are quaint, the employees are passionate and the tour is fascinating.
Where Maker’s Mark has warehouse upon warehouse in several locations filled six stories high with bourbon barrels, Willett has but a few.
For some reason, this struck me: to move the barrels to the warehouses, where they will age for a given number of months or years, they literally roll out the barrel. They kick it down a sloped wooden track until it lands in the warehouse next door. It’s what you might call low-tech.
The tastings were a bit different here: they gave you the Willett Pot Still Reserve to try and then you could choose from any other bourbon in the place for your next tasting. Of course we tried the most expensive, a $200 Willett Family Reserve. When in Rome, you know.
But even with the differences between these two distilleries, there was one striking similarity: these people love bourbon. They love making it, drinking it, talking about it, living it.
And you will too.
To paraphrase, “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” I don’t drink bourbon, but when I do, I drink it on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
You’ll thank me for it.
From Today’s Show:
-Sign Me Up!: Prepare thyselves, children of the 80s and early 90s. The Package Tour is coming to town. New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men will perform at US Bank Arena on June 25 th. I am currently counting the days. There is no way I could exaggerate how excited I am about this. Perhaps I’ll dedicate an entire newsletter to this at some alter date. It’ll basically just be screams.
-All Star Game: The official announcement should come this afternoon, when MLB Commissioner Bud Selig mumbles his way through a news conference at Great American Ball Park this afternoon at 2:30.
Today’s Distracting Link:
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