Monday, September 26 – We set off today to do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Kentucky Bourbon is America's only native spirit. To be called a bourbon the spirit must contain at least 51% corn, be aged in NEW charred oak barrels, be distilled to no more than 160 proof, and be placed in the barrel at no more than 125 proof. It must be made in the United States, but not necessarily Kentucky. Did you know that 95% of all bourbon is made in this small area, about a 75 mile area around Louisville?
Why Kentucky? Kentucky spring water, purified as it flows over limestone rock formations, is perfect for Bourbon distilling because it is free of minerals that affect taste. This iron-free limestone water is part of what makes Kentucky Bourbon world-renowned. The other reason why it is so good…the weather, especially the amount of humidity.
There is so much bourbon coming out of Kentucky right now, that the number of barrels storing the stuff--4.7 million to be exact--surpasses the states population of 4.3 million people.
There are six distilleries that make-up the Trail. If you visit all six and get your passbook stamped at each stop, you earn a free Bourbon Trail T-Shirt. Since you get several tastes at each stop, each tour takes anywhere from 60-90 minutes, and the distilleries are spread out miles apart, it is recommended to try not to make all six stops in one afternoon.
We started out at the closest distillery to Louisville and our campground, the Jim Beam Distillery…Come as a Friend, Leave as Family.
Just 20 miles south of Louisville, Jim Beam is the #1 selling Bourbon in the world and the largest bourbon distillery in the world. The distillery employs more than 300 people. We first toured the historic T. Jeremiah Beam home.
The smallest working still in the world is located here. It is solid bronze and was handmade in 1959 for the World's Fair. It's licensed and registered with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and is just like the three story still the family uses to make Jim Beam bourbon.
The Beams would keep bourbon on site, and people would bring their own containers to buy it. The container was weighed after it was filled to determine the cost (50¢ per quart, 75¢ per quart for aged bourbon).
One of the interesting tidbits we learned on this first tour is the “black tree event.” During the aging process, while aging in the oak barrels, about 3-4% of the bourbon evaporates off into the air. This vapor then settles on surrounding building, bushes, and trees where a mold forms turning black.
It doesn't harm the trees or buildings but it gave away the distillery location to federal agents during Prohibition. This black mold is easily observed on the rick houses (the warehouses where the bourbon is aged) and the surrounding trees.
We walked through one rick houses. More than 60,000 barrels of bourbon are aged in the 27 rick houses on the distillery grounds. Approximately 90 million bottles of spirits are bottled here annually and shipped to more than 200 countries worldwide. Jim Beam rotates their barrels, and uses barrels from different zones to create certain brands.
Another interesting side note: The portion of Bourbon that evaporates off is known as “the Angel's Share.” Cute!
Of course, there is the Bourbon tasting at the conclusion of the tour.
We didn't sample the ordinary stuff; they gave us top shelf brands. We got to try a Knob Creek single barrel (which was super smooth) and Basil Hayden Small Batch (which was also fantastic)
Very interesting at 9:30 in the morning....LOL.
Our second stop on the tour was Evan Williams Bourbon, Heaven Hill Distillery.
Located in historic Bardstown, KY, is America's largest independent family-owned and operated producer of Bourbon. Heaven Hill has grown to be the second largest holder of bourbon Whiskey in the work with approximately 19% of the world's inventory of aging American Whiskey. We were welcomed at the modern Bourbon Heritage Center where we began our tour.
The Bourbon Heritage Center is a museum-like visitor center detailing bourbon and how it is made.
There were displays that allowed you to smell moonshine, bourbon that had been aged for 7 years, and bourbon that had been aged for 12 years. Pretty cool.
We walked through a working rick house, where we observed 1000's of oak filled aging Bourbon worth millions of dollars. It's amazing to see the money tied up in these rick houses for anywhere from 2 – 10 years or more while aging. Some Bourbon is even aged for more than 20 years. We saw a barrel date 1971, the year the rick house was built. Now that's going to be some expensive Bourbon when it is bottled.
More tasting….you bet! They have a unique barrel-shaped tasting room.They were already for us.
We thoroughly enjoyed both of these tours. We HIGHLY recommend them to all.
We actually visited a third distillery, but we will keep that for Part 2.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see ya'll back real soon. Have a great day!