So our day begins collecting Kentucky Hugs – that warm feeling in the middle of your chest – visiting the distilleries in the Bardstown area.
BOURBON HERITAGE CENTER, HEAVEN HILL DISTILLERY, Bardstown, KY
Evans Williams & Elijah Craig
Located just down the street from our campsite is Heaven Hills Distillery Heritage Center where Evans Williams was distilled. The distiller here, Parker Beam, is a cousin to Frederick Booker Noe III of Jim Beam. In 1996, a fire destroyed a total of six rack houses and the distillery. Although the distillery is no longer at this facility, they built a multi-million dollar facility on this site.
EVAN WILLIAMS – A great US History Story:
In 1783, Evan Williams established the first commercial distillery in the present Commonwealth of Kentucky located in Louisville. Located on the banks of the Ohio River near Fort Nelson for protection against Indian raids. The shortage of money encouraged bartering with the whiskey and Evan Williams’ products were used as a standard of quality.
Father of Bourbon, Reverend Elijah Craig, is known for what he did to whiskey barrels in the distillery he built in 1789. Fleeing religious persecution in Virginia where they had been imprisoned for their beliefs, Elijah Craig and his brother Lewis led a congregation of several hundred into Kentucky in 1785. They came to be called the “Traveling Church” because the congregation traveled from Virginia to Kentucky.
The bourbon story is full of vignettes about the personalities involved in the distilling history.
However, no longer can you walk in to do a tasting. For $10 each however, you can listen to the spiel and have a tasting…..and, they would give you $20 off a bottle of Old Fitzgerald bringing the price down to $120 a bottle. NOT!!!! On all accounts!
BUFFALO TRACE….FREE TOUR!
Heading over to Buffalo Trace with entered Frankfort KY. What a beautiful city Frankfort is bisected by the Kentucky River. It is the capital of Kentucky. As you approach the city on US 127 you overlook the river valley descending into the town. It’s really very, very pretty
Buffalo Trace is owned by Sazerac the same company that owns Bartons Distillery among lots of other spirits companies.
Legend has it that the buffalos migrating across the west created trails the settlers used – buffalo traces, carving their way across the wilderness and crossing the Kentucky River just below the distillery.
Sazerac named it Buffalo Trace. It has won countless awards for the quality of bourbon. Unlike many other distilleries, Buffalo Trace remained opened during Prohibition obtaining a license for medicinal purposes.
The rick houses are brick with the exception of one aluminum rick house which houses the Blanton’s bourbon. Col Albert Blanton (1881-1959) distilled a single barrel bourbon for his own use in 1934.
In 1984, the world’s first single barrel bourbon to be marketed commercially was released under the label, “Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon.” The tiny horse and jockey on the bottle stoppers are a recognized trademark of the Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon representing the rich heritage and tradition of horses in Kentucky.
There is a collector’s edition set of eight different stoppers featuring a horse and jockey in different strides and poses. Each stopper is marked with a single letter that spells Blanton’s when the set is complete. Certainly a worthy goal to attain this set and enjoy the drink!
Pappy VanWinkle…….where are you???
Dave is still looking for Pappy VanWinkle and was told if he found it, it’ll cost $350 and to hide it! Pappy is aged 23 years so what you get today started 23 years ago. Also what starts out as 53 gallons after 23 years is only 10-12 gallons left so couple that with the increased demand for bourbon over the years, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Pappy Van Winkle anytime soon.
Old Weller, aged 7 or 12 years, is the same recipe just not aged as long. And on Tuesday afternoons if you time it right, you can get a bottle at ABC. Wednesday, you won’t!
Our tasting consisted of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and White Dog
Master Distiller: Jimmy Russell
The Wild Turkey Distillery, overlooking the Kentucky River, is located in Lawrenburg, KY 23 miles west of Lexington. Wild Turkey Bourbon is known by its signature Wild Turkey 101 and American Honey a smooth liqueur of bourbon and honey. Its history goes back to the Ripey Brothers who represented Kentucky at the 1893 World’s Fair. The distillery received its name in 1940 and Rare Breed, a premium barrel-proof was introduced in 1991. The Kentucky Spirit, 101 proof was released in 1995 and American Honey a blend of Kentucky Bourbon and American Honey was introduced in 2006. Jimmy Russell was the master distiller and it is now passed to his son Eddie Russell. To our surprise, Jimmy Russell was standing in the visitor’s center when we walked in.
We visited Wild Turkey back in 2013 and the look of the place has changed.
It is owned by Campari in Italy and have removed their “Turkey” and “shack” as it was referred to by the attendant and replaced it with this very modern building.
Wild Turkey with Jimmy Russell and now his son is the only distillery of the big 7 that does not involve a Beam.
Tours were $10/each or if you just wanted to do a tasting it was $10/each – so we decided we’d done enough tours the previous four times we did the Bourbon Trail and for $20 we’d buy a bottle!
Dave was happy to have meant THE JIMMY RUSSELL so it made up for a lacking of tasting!
FOUR ROSES – A Love Story
1224 Bonds Mill Road, Lawrenceburg, KY (502) 839-3436
Our next stop was Four Roses located a few miles away from Wild Turkey Distillery. The Distillery, built in 1910, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has a unique Spanish Mission style architecture located on the limestone spring-fed Salt River. They have used the same grain source for 50 years. They have two mash bills containing more rye than other bourbons, five proprietary yeast strains with ten different bourbon recipes.
In the early 1800’s, Paul Jones Jr sent a proposal of marriage to a southern belle. She replied that if the answer was “yes”, she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown at the upcoming ball. That evening she wore a corsage of four red roses. He later named his bourbon “Four Roses” as a symbol of his love for his lovely belle.
During prohibition, he purchased Frankfort Distilling Company, one of six distilleries granted permission to operate through prohibition for medicinal purposes.
In 1943 Seagram purchased Frankfort Distilling Co. primarily to acquire Four Roses. It was the top selling bourbon in 1930’s, 40s, 50’s but Seagram, being a blended whiskey producer, discontinued the sale of Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the US market and sold exclusively to Europe and Asia.
It was purchased by Kurin, a Japanese Beer company who brought bourbon back to the US market. There is a very large bourbon market in Japan and only recently the Yellow Label, formerly sold only in Japan, is back in the US. 2015 was the first year that the US out consumed Japan in bourbon!
In case you’all were concerned about our drinking … a tasting is a thimble of bourbon – enough for the Kentucky Hug but not too much to incapacitate
Single story rick warehouse is Four Roses innovation theoretically to let the bourbon age gently inside the barrels in uniform fashion while remaining undisturbed throughout the years. The multistoried rick houses on the property are all leased to Wild Turkey.
Willet is a small batch distillery in Bardstown still run by the descendents of the original family. We visited Willet about 5 years ago when it first opened and were anxious to go back and see what changed!
During the 1970’s the brothers converted the distillery to produce alcohol for gasohol fuel and stopped making bourbon entirely. Things went from bad to worse and the distillery closed down.
In comes Evan Kulsveen, married to Willett’s daughter, who took over the distillery and started producing spirits again. The foreign market for American bourbon was beginning to boom, especially the Japanese markets. The old remaining Willett stock was bottled in classic looking packages and sold in Japan. There was not much interest in developing an American market.
Drew Kulsveen, his sister Britt Chavanne and her husband Hunter Chevanne along with Evan comprise the business today.
In January 2012 they starting cooking a batch of corn, rye and malted barley and started to formentation process. Some days later they fired up the copper pot still and on January 27th put the first few barrels into storage. That would be Thompson’s 103rd birthday. The family used the original mash bills that Thompson used when he was President of the Willett Distilling Company.
New Visitor’s Center has been built and entrance is to the back
Their bourbon is aged for 4 years. You can see the message on the barrel.
This one is a keeper – will probably never be opened.
Rowen’s Creek upon which the distillery sits, is a bourbon that can be purchased in the local ABC’s.
There are three spring-fed ponds on the property along with Rowen Creek.
Last time we were here, I purchased a bottle in a “pot still” and am savoring. Well found an idea for what to do with this unique bottle once the bourbon is gone
This is here and now vs there and then! In 2011 we visited Marker’s Mark, drove down under the trees because Billy was just a pup and slid into the back of a “free” tour and a great tasting.
Today there is a visitor’s center attached to a restored home on the heritage list and it’s $12/each for a tour or $5/each to wander.
This mosaic belongs in my house as well as many friends of mine!
We wandered on our own and then left to find a cooperage in Lebanon. On our way into town we saw “Limestone Distillery” and decided to tuck right in.
This story is as sweet as the Willet Distillery story. The Limestone Distillery is a 7th generation Beam-owned distillery. It is the ONLY one on the Bourbon Trail that is owned and distilled by the Beam family member. Colonel Jim Beam was the first cousin to Minor Case Beam.
Minor Case Beam, 4th generation, started “Old Trump” (not related to our president). It did not survive the prohibition era. He died 120 days after prohibition ended never being able to reinstate his recipe!
The recipe was sold to the Dant Family. Guy Beam and something Dant were best friends and married the Burch sisters.
Guy had 10 kids, two of which were Jimmy and Walter Toddy Beam. Jimmy worked at Seagrams and Toddy was a marketeer so they set out to reestablish the distillery and get back their recipe from Dant that Minor Case Beam had developed.
Today Stephen and Paul own and run the distillery with Stephen as the master distiller. Their distillery is small and this gentlemen is an apprentice learning the art of distilling bourbon.
Their bottling area – a little bit smaller than the ones at Buffalo Trace! But the through-put is amazing.
The barrel room! A small storage shed behind the distillery with each barrel turned by hand as in even the largest distilleries.
Originally Yellowstone it was high in rye blend and had the picture of the falls at Yellowstone. When it was sold, the label changed and it became a wheat blend.
When Lymestone Distillery got their recipe back, they went back to the rye blend and changed the label back to the waterfall at Yellowstone and produced another called Revenge … a nod to the Prohibition that killed Minor Case Beam’s dream.
We also tasted and purchased their “Sugar-Shine” which are very interesting flavors added to the bourbon.
They did not adopt the “Old Trump” name which is probably a good idea! Six of the seven distilleries have a Beam involved but this is the only one left that is owned and distilled by a Beam. Wild Turkey is the only one not involving a Beam and it has Jimmy Russell.
We were lucky enough to be there when Stephen Beam came in with a delivery truck and was kind enough to sign our bottles! When I shook his hand and commented that he comes from a very rich history and it was a privilege to meet him, he dropped his head and seemed embarrassed. He’s just a regular guy doing what his family does best — distilling bourbon!
BARTON DISTILLERY 1792 RIDGEMONT
AKA The Tom Moore Distillery
The Barton Distillery is the world’s third largest distillery. It opened in 1876 by Mattingly Moore and Tom Moore took it over in 1879. Prohibition did a number on these distilleries and by 1934 the original distillery was torn down. In 1937-1944 Moore’s son and bank ran it but the son had no interest in the business. Oscar Getz purchased the distillery and named it Barton. There is a whiskey museum in Bardstown housing all of Getz’s memorabilia.
It was used as a “cash cow” for its next owners. In disrepair and at threat of closing, Sazerac Company ( also owners of Buffalo Trace) bought the distillery and poured money into the operation. Along with the manufacture of VOB and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, many of Sazerac’s other spirits are bottled here. It was a lifeline that saved 180 jobs and kept a distillery functioning in the Bourbon Capital.
This distillery primarily uses coal for heating and all the coal comes from Eastern Kentucky.
You can purchase your very own barrel for $5,000. They will bottle it up for you and send it to a distributor of your choice for pick up. You then can keep the barrel. A barrel yields about 210 bottles.
The grain trucks come in from Kansas and Indiana. Barton’s has used the same farmers for fifty years. The grain is sampled for impurities then loaded up into the silos where it is then made ready for the mashers. In addition to making fine bourbon whiskey, it is also a bottling plant for other Sazarac’s products.
We tasted the VOB and 1792 Ridgemont and Bourbon Ball. We walked out with Bourbon Ball!
So ends this year’s trip around the Bourbon Trail. Things have changed over the last two to four years. Distilleries have become destinations and reap the benefits of the bourbon touring. In my opinion, Buffalo Trace is still the best deal … great tours, beautiful grounds, good tasting and it’s free! Willet and Limestone are small batch distilleries so their story will be different from the big guys and they are owned and operated by their families. No matter how much it has changed and will change over the years, you can’t forget the Great American Story of the Western movement and the influences that were brought with it.
Bourbon is truly an American Story and I never get tired of learning about it. So now, we’re off to the farmlands of Ohio for a Westerheide family party this weekend.
Enjoy, partake, feel good!