Tagged: Bourbon Trail

We Did the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! Where Are Our Gifts?

Heaven Hill

It took over two years, but Sarah and I diligently visited eight distilleries that are (or were) participants of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We started in May 2008 at Buffalo Trace, outside of Lexington, and finished last November at Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, and there were several more distilleries in between.

The eight distilleries were:

  1. Buffalo Trace (no longer a participant in the passport program)
  2. Maker’s Mark
  3. Woodford Reserve
  4. Tom Moore (no longer a participant in the passport program)
  5. Heaven Hill
  6. Jim Bean
  7. Wild Turkey
  8. Four Roses

The tours ranged from very short primers to extended tours lasting hours. For example, the tours at Jim Beam and Wild Turkey were very short, consisting of a brief explanation of how they make bourbon followed by a couple of free samples. Heaven Hill’s was even shorter. We just file into a barrel-shaped tasting room to taste a few of their offerings.

On the other hand, the tour at Tom Moore lasted nearly four hours on a very ugly functionally designed factory with no tasting. Woodford Reserve, although also a very long tour, was on a beautiful piece of land and was a much better experience. We gladly paid for the five-dollar Corn to Cork tour there, and it was a treat, especially since you get to see the whole process and sample along the way.

In either case, part of the appeal of going to all of these distilleries is the passport program. Once you get your passport stamped from all of the participating distilleries, you get a free gift (a t-shirt, if I recall). After finishing our last tour at Four Roses in November 2010, we dispatched our passports to the processing office for our free gifts. We thought it would take a month or two, but it is now August, and there’s still no sign of our gifts.

I just thought about this today, so I’m going to write them a letter and ask them nicely to send our gifts.

In the meantime, I’d like everyone to see that we did indeed go to all of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, even ones that have left the program.

Bourbon Trailblazing

Sarah and I took another extended trip to Bourbon country as part of the annual “fake Thanksgiving” trip. On this trip, we hit up three different distilleries: Tom Moore, Heaven Hill, and Jim Bean. Each of these distilleries seem to make more than half of the bourbon in Kentucky, but they also represent a significant consolidation among all the distilleries in the area.

Tom Moore

Tom Moore Distillery

The Tom Moore distillery was enormous, and it just recently started letting tour groups come visit the area. This tour was my least favorite of the three distilleries we saw. First, the tour was extraordinarily long: it was three hours in length. Second, the facilities were pretty ugly. Yes, I understand that this is a booze factory, but there really was no attempt to make it look nice. Maybe I should be giving them credit for keeping it authentic, but as you can tell by the photos I took, there wasn’t a whole lot worth snapping a photo. Perhaps the best representation of the state of the distillery is the hybrid school bus and military truck that had been made on the premises. Finally, there was no tastings at the conclusion of the tour. It’s one thing to see an ugly place for three hours where bourbon (and a lot of other spirits, including brandy) is made, but please let me taste some of the stuff. Anyway, the spirits giant Sazerac took over the plant over the summer so any attempt at the folksy tradition of bourbon making seems to be gone.

Heaven Hill

Heaven Hill

This was a much different tour to visit despite the proximity. Heaven Hill produces a lot of brands of bourbon, including Evan Williams, and the tour was very different. We made it there just before closing time, and our tour consisted of wandering around the gift shop and being summoned to enter this barrell-shaped room. Unlike the Tom Moore tour, there was no long-winded tour… just two half-ounce tastings of bourbon. The Evan Williams Single Barrel but the Elijah Craig Single Barrel had aged 18 years, which took too much flavor from the barrel. Anyway, it was still a treat after touring distilleries for nearly four full hours.

Jim Beam

Jim Beam

In the category of short and sweet, this tour consisted of a seven-minute video, detailing the long tradition of bourbon making under the Beam name, and a short tour through a restored guest house. Then we went on to the bourbon tasting. At this tasting, we had some Booker’s Single Barrel (can you detect a pattern here?) and a curiously strange berry flavored bourbon, Red Stagg. I definitely preferred the former to the latter, especially since it has that oaky flavor you really drink bourbon for. But the flavored stuff wasn’t too offensive. In fact, I kind of liked it, but I fear what will happen to bourbon if they go the way of the vodkas.