Saturday, September 24, 2016

Kentucky - A Bourbon State Of Mind

This Houston Airport promotion wants me to get into A Bourbon State Of Mind.
During the last 25 years we have visited relatives in Versailles, Kentucky and tasted at many of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Out of the nine Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries we’ve been to Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and Woodford Reserve.
Gail Scheef & Devon Scheef celebrating Gail's 90th Birthday in August
One of our favorites to visit (and close to Versailles) is the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

We enjoyed tasting a nice trio of Four Roses bourbons from an entertaining bourbon expert.

  • Yellow Label 80 Proof
  • Small Batch 90 Proof
  • Single Barrel 100 Proof
I liked the Small Batch best; and lately I've been buying the Yellow Label for making Manhattans. 
Can you see it? It's a Bourbon Taste - must be one ounce!
Wild Turkey Distillery Warehouse in Lawrenceburg
Wild Turkey Distillery
Woodford Reserve is in Woodford County on McCracken Pike in Versailles and is owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.  Although they still use "Labrot & Graham" on the bottle, Leopold Labrot and James Graham made bourbon way back in 1838 and only owned the current distillery until the 1940s. It's the oldest bourbon distillery in Kentucky.
After Labrot & Graham, Brown Forman owned the distillery for a few decades, then sold it, and then repurchased it in the 1990s. Since then they have been making the small batch bourbon  from a mixture of pot still spirits distilled at the distillery in Woodford County and column still spirits from the Brown Forman Distillery in Shively (near Louisville), Kentucky.
Woodford Reserve warehouses

Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve - a lot of it!

Woodford Reserve is one of my favorite sipping bourbons.

Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
The twice-barreled bourbon process creates the rich and colorful flavor. Matured in separate, charred oak barrels – the second barrel deeply toasted before a light charring – extracts additional amounts of soft, sweet oak character.

If you do visit Woodford Reserve, I recommend avoiding weekends. We were there on a Saturday and were lucky to find a parking spot in the overflow area. It's a bit like Disneyland.


This year on a trip to Louisville we had a chance to explore the Urban Bourbon Trail along historic "Whiskey Row" and other locations downtown.  The trail has thirty-five bourbon bars that serve fifty or more different bourbons and their bartenders are very good at explaining the nuances of bourbon and tasting notes. Most of the bars and restaurants serve great food as well. The establishments vary from historic hotels to trendy bars. 

Over a few days I managed to taste ten different bourbons while visiting six establishments on the trail (and got the t-shirt).
  • Bristol Bar & Grille – Downtown
  • Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
  • Dish on Market (Breakfast) 
  • Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar (Dinner)
  • Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
  • Proof on Main (Dinner)
Bristol Bar & Grille – Downtown

Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
Brown Hotel Lobby Bar Menu
The Hopped Up Preacher was calling to me. I really like Elijah Craig and West 6th makes a great IPA! Maybe next time...
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
All of the bars we visited had knowledgeable people to serve and explain their bourbon, but we enjoyed talking with the bartenders at Bristol Bar, Brown Hotel and Down One the best.
I knew a little about bourbon when I started (you always hear that “bourbon is made from 51% or more corn”), but I never realized that there were three basic variations of the grain bill.

Traditional Bourbon is made with more than 50% corn, plus equal amounts of rye and barley.

Wheated Bourbon is made with more than 50% corn, plus wheat (instead of rye) and barley. The wheat results in sweeter tasting bourbon because it is not as rich as rye and it allows more of the corn sweetness and vanilla through.

High-Rye Bourbon is made with more than 50% corn and it has more rye than barley. Rye gives bourbon the flavorful bite that it is known for, plus spice notes of pepper, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.

The bourbons that I tasted were mostly traditional style, but I liked the other two styles just as well.

Traditional Bourbon
Blade and Bow
Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old Small Batch
Jefferson’s Reserve
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
Michter’s Small Batch US*1 Bourbon
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon

Wheated Bourbon
W.L. Weller Special Reserve
Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year

High-Rye Bourbon
Basil Hayden’s

Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
Blade and Bow
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon
W.L. Weller Special Reserve
Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year

Basil Hayden’s
Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
Urban Bourbon Trail Tasting - I didn't have a bourbon that I didn't like!
Other High-Rye Bourbons that I frequently enjoy are Four Roses Yellow Label (80 Proof), Bulleit (90 Proof) and Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select (90.4 Proof). 
Don't worry, bourbon tasting is easy to do, the only thing you have to know is whether or not you want to taste it "Neat" or  on the "Rocks." If you're not sure, you can always start with neat, and then if that's too flaming hot, then you can add some ice and/or water to open up the flavor.

I can recommend Louisville as a great place to taste bourbon in bars and places like the Evan Williams Experience, but I’m not sure about any other distillery or tasting room attractions.   
The Evan Williams Experience is billed as a tasting room, historical tour and artisanal distillery.
The Evan Williams Experience
A Great Sipping Bourbon! I didn't taste this until I got home and bought a bottle.
Other bourbons made by Heaven Hill Distilleries like Elijah Craig and Larceny were on display at the Evan Williams Experience.

Although I saw several distillery facilities (Brown-Forman, Heaven Hill Distilleries - Bernheim Facility and Michter’s) while driving around Louisville I didn’t stay in town long enough to discover the distilleries listed below. It looks like at least five of them were open at the time. I would have liked to take their tours or, more importantly, done their tastings.

The good news is that Brown-Forman and Michter's are planning to open up new facilities on Whiskey Row.
Can't miss this giant bottle of Old Forester on top of Brown-Forman Corp on Dixie Highway.
Founder George Garvin Brown created Old Forester. It was Brown-Forman's original brand and America's first bottled bourbon.
The new Michter’s Distillery is located in the historic and architecturally significant Fort Nelson Building on West Main Street.
The New Michter's Distillery
Until the new Micro-Distillery opens this reception area is the only photo op. They did give me a Michter's hat though!


The Holy Grail of Bourbon
Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year

My favorite bourbon was the wheated Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year. Of course I liked the one that’s rare and extremely expensive! 

The online description gives an idea of what it's like: Bottled at nearly barrel proof with Kentucky limestone water added after a decade of aging it’s rich and smooth, has a sweet vanilla nose with caramel, pecan and oak wood. Smooth, mellow flavor consisting of robust wheat, cherries and oak. Features a long, smoky wheat finish with hints of fruit, spice and oak tannins.

If you can find it in Kentucky it’s only a few hundred dollars a bottle, then prices seem to vary in the range of $300 to $700 elsewhere, with the Duke of Bourbon in Westlake Village selling it for an astronomical $899 a bottle.

Bourbon Bars & Restaurants
Although the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar had an excellent bartender and a wonderful selection of bourbons, the Bristol Bar & Grille had that plus a more comfortable setting. Not to mention that they had a little lower price on their Old Rip Van Winkle!

The breakfast at Dish on Market is the best I've ever had in Kentucky! Ever! And you can even order the Presidential Breakfast that includes a shot of Old Gran-Dad Bourbon with your breakfast, just like Harry Truman used to have regularly. I couldn't pass up the "Big Damn Breakfast" though.

Trendy Proof on Main pours great bourbons and serves up gourmet food at the bar. We had a casual dinner and the Proof Bison Burger was fantastic.


Trail Founders (2008)

  • The Bar at BLU
  • Bourbons Bistro
  • Brown Hotel Lobby Bar   
  • The Old Seelbach Bar
  • Proof on Main
Bars & Restaurants
Over the years, additional places have increased their bourbon knowledge and offerings to join the trail.

  • Asiatique
  • Bistro 301
  • Bourbon Raw
  • Bristol Bar & Grille – Downtown
  • Bristol Bar & Grille – Highlands   
  • Buck’s
  • Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen and Lounge
  • Derby Cafe: at the Kentucky Derby Museum
  • Dish on Market
  • Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar
  • Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
  • Harvest
  • Haymarket Whiskey Bar
  • Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar
  • Lilly’s
  • Manny & Merle
  • Marketplace Restaurant
  • Momma's Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
  • North End Cafe
  • O'Shea's Downtown
  • Ramsi’s Cafe on the World
  • Rye
  • Seviche, A Latin Restaurant
  • Sidebar at Whiskey Row
  • The Silver Dollar
  • Sway at the Hyatt Regency Louisville
  • Troll Pub Under the Bridge
  • Varanese
  • Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant
  • Volare Ristorante
Devon at Woodford Reserve
Horsing around at Brown-Forman wearing my new Michter's hat.

My first bourbon blog is in memory of Kelly Jo Curran Courtney, a very generous person and the first to ever give me a bottle of bourbon. And it wasn't just any bourbon! This 2015 Maker's 46 “Wax Museum” collector’s bottle honored legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolf Rupp with custom colored wax on top. It didn't go over well with her that I drank it all, but life is short and we should drink it while we can.

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