Kentucky – the beautiful state known for it’s Bluegrass, Horse-Racing, and best of all BOURBON – where the kegs outnumber the population! I was originally introduced to this amazing area during my trip last year when I visited DecoArt corporate office and toured their factory. You can read about my previous adventures in my Trip of Unfortunate Events Part 2 post. While my final destination was again work related in Ohio, filming for Make It Artsy Season 4 with Powertex, I chiseled out some play time for me and a dear friend, Mary Ruth, to experience part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! Mary Ruth and I became close friends from the many times I taught at her store, Dorothy’s Stamps N Scraps (which is now unfortunately closed).
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of visiting 10 legendary distilleries, learning some of the secrets to great Bourbon and its distillery process. Due to time constraints, as well as my fight with the worst cold EVER(though I was sure Bourbon helped me get through it), we only got to visit 3 distilleries on this trip – Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, and Jim Beam. Nevertheless, I do plan to go back and complete my KY Bourbon Trail Passport!
We set up Glinda at Camp on the Kentucky, which was a nice quiet campground and fairly central to the distilleries in the area between Lexington and Louisville. We even enjoyed driving around and looking at the barns and I was able to get some great close-up photos to use in digital backgrounds!
Our first stop on the KY Bourbon Trail was Wild Turkey. Upon our arrival, we discovered that if we were a week earlier, we could have met the legendary Matthew McConaughey. Did you know he is the Creative Director for Wild Turkey? Even more surprising, was that Jimmy Russell, the Master Distiller, was just walking out as we were walking in. I’d say they had the most beautiful Bourbon tasting room and the staff there were very friendly and knowledgable about the area and the Bourbon. This is where we first learned that every Bourbon is a whisky, but not every whisky is a bourbon. There are a few laws to make Bourbon. For example, to be considered Bourbon, it must be made in United States, must contain at least 51% corn, has to be distilled in brand new charred white-oak barrels, and only water can be added in the distillery process. There are probably a few more, but these are the ones we found most discussed. Apparently, WATER is the most important ingredient which is why so many distilleries are in Kentucky, where they have access to the clean limestone filtered water from the Kentucky River. While it was interesting to taste the different bourbons, my favorite, Honey Sting, from Wild Turkey would not specifically be considered a bourbon due to it’s addition of honey and ghost peppers.
My favorite distillery and Bourbon was Maker’s Mark. The grounds there were absolutely stunning and to top it off, there was a Chihuly Glass exhibit currently on display. You know I love to find art on my trips! This was a very special surprise. We also got to dip our own bottle in the infamous Maker’s Mark red wax. The wax is a symbol of elegance and sets Maker’s Mark apart from the other distilleries. Did you know that EVERY bottle is hand-dipped and unique? Each bottle label is also hand-cut. The attention to detail was everywhere on site and again the customer service was the best. I also learned that I prefer this Bourbon because they use red wheat instead of rye – it still has at least 51% corn, but they use wheat and malted barley in the mash instead of rye and malted barley. Due to the amazing personality of our tour guide, I’ve decided I want to be one at Maker’s Mark when I grow up.
Our last tour was at the Jim Beam distillery – one of the best known brands in the country. I think the elevator that looks like a humongous still was probably the coolest thing there. Here we had the opportunity to bottle our own Jim Beam Knob Creek, which was a really cool experience. We were given pre-loaded cards to choose which liquor we wanted to sample from computer operated machines, which in my opinion, lacked the intimate and personable touches compared to our other tours.
At all of these distilleries, we learned how to properly TASTE bourbon. Really, it doesn’t matter whether it is in a rock glass or a tulip glass, but first, SMELL your bourbon with your nose and with your mouth open. Second, take a tiny sip and swirl it around your mouth. This might burn a little and is called the Kentucky Chew. This opens up your sinuses and activates your salivary glands. Then take another tiny sip. This is called a Kentucky Hug. It will be a little warm going down and a bit smoother. The third sip is the Kentucky Sweater and just warms you right up while being much smoother. Now you should really start tasting the different caramel type notes from the charred oak or more peppery rye. Try the three sip tasting before you start drinking it to really taste the difference. I found that while I prefer my bourbon ‘neat’ (just pour in a glass), I have discovered a few great cocktails as well. The most famous cocktails are an Old Fashioned or a Mint Julep, but you can substitute bourbon in many recipes calling for gin, tequila, or any whiskey. Here is one cocktail recipe I recently tried and enjoyed – A Cranberry Old Fashioned Cocktail from All Recipes by Southern Living.
I am so glad I got to do this with a great friend (thank you for going with me, Mary Ruth). Even though I was fighting a cold and not feeling really great, we laughed and had such a great girl trip. Even better, I learned a lot about the bourbon distillery process, saw some beautiful scenery, drank some of the best Bourbon in my life and even got to see priceless art! That is what I mean about Living The Art Life™.