Friday, July 15, 2016

Richmond Kentucky - The Bourbon Trail

Today, we planned to trek the Bourbon Trail. But before that, we hit the hot breakfast buffet provided by the hotel. I had biscuits and gravy, sausage patties, apple juice and coffee. It hit the spot and the price was right.

I haven't mentioned the heat down here. OK, it was had been very hot and somewhat humid since we got here and this morning was no different. We were set to depart at 8:00 AM, so I had the car running at 7:50 to begin cooling it down. At 8:00 AM sharp, we were looking for Bass Man who was staying off-site. A few minutes later, he rolled in and we rolled out.

Getting ready to set out

The locals are ready

Cargo models the latest in cool biker attire

Our first stop was going to be the legendary Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. While no longer part of the official Bourbon Trail, it still offers a memorable visitor experience. Buffalo Trace is the home of some legendary marques, including the extremely rare and expensive Pappy Van Winkel 23.

Cargo led us north on I-75 and then west on I-64 to Frankfort, where we exited and followed the GPS to the distillery. After parking in the visitor lot, we walked the short distance to the Visitor Center and signed up for a tasting session. The grounds were extremely picturesque and the ambiance smacked of Disney World.

Approaching Frankfort Kentucky

Good looking group

The famous water tower

Buffalo Trace oozes ambiance

As our appointed tasting time approached, we worked our way upstairs. Poor Caleb was given a non-alcoholic treat and exiled to a corner to watch the grownups sample the goods. Our host, Jeff, put a series of bottles on the bar and said he could only give us two samples per person. He suggested we could pair up with someone who chose two other products and be able to get four different tastes.

One interesting new product was Kentucky vodka. I'm not a vodka drinker so I skipped that, but did find a bourbon called Eagle Rare that stroked my palate. We did learn that when smelling bourbon, we should keep our mouths open to allow the vapour to play along our tongues. The alcohol samples were underscored with Rebecca Ruth bourbon candies.

Jeff explained that bourbon was more corn than anything else. Moonshine, on the other hand, was usually ALL corn.

There was a bottle of Pappy 23 in the display case behind Jeff. I asked if he could take it out so I could take a picture of him holding it. He said he couldn't because they wouldn't give him a key to that cabinet. A 750 ml bottle of Pappy 23 is going for at least several thousand dollars according to current Google searches, while Old Rip Van Winkle 23 Year Old is in the $10,000 range. I remember us trying to win an LCBO lottery to get Heather's boss a bottle of Old Rip 10 year old.

Caleb watching the shenanigans

Jeff explaining how to taste bourbon

Bourbon is aged in barrels

The next stop on our path of discovery was Woodford Reserve in Versailles (pronounced VerSALES). To get there, we had to follow a road out through some prime horse farm country. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is quartered near here. Someone pointed out that the water in Kentucky, imbued with calcium due to the underlying limestone strata, is why they have such excellent horses as well as such fine bourbon.

Riding through horse country

Arriving at Woodford Reserve Distillery

The Woodford reserve tour was highly recommended so we booked ourselves in for the next available group. That turned out to be the very next group, departing shortly. Although there has been a distillery on this spot since 1780 and the buildings are the oldest of their kind in Kentucky, production was mothballed in 1971 and was only refurbished by new owners in 1993. Woodford Reserve is now the "Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby".

It wasn't long before a bus came for our group and our guide. It was a short drive down the hill to the production area where we debarked and started through the stone buildings which were almost 200 years old.

First we looked at the feed stocks they use. Corn was the major component, mixed with lesser quantities of rye and, the last 10%, hops. Then we moved on to the wooden fermentation vessels, the copper stills and barreling. Next, we walked to another building where barrels were stacked to the ceiling for aging. The inside of the oak barrels are charred to impart flavour to the bourbon they contain. At the appropriate time, they are moved to yet another building where the proof is adjusted and the product is bottled. The bottling line was shut down when we were there as they scrapped a batch of off-spec bottles.

Visitor Center - Woodford Reserve Distillery

Cargo waiting for our tour to begin

Educational decorations

Wooden fermentation vessels

Makes me think of a pressure cooker

Copper stills



Scale House

The Tax Man's House

After we finished in bottling, we got back on the bus and went back up the hill to the Visitor Center. We were escorted into a different door where each place at the table had two samples of the product. Unlike the wide variety at Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve has a much narrower product line. Our guide took us through the tasting, again augmented by Rebecca Ruth bourbon candies.

Samples laid out for tasting

Caleb, Phillip and Jaime

Caleb feeling pugnacious

The tour completed, we headed back to Frankfort for lunch a Buffalo Wild Wings where Latoya took our orders. Sandy and I both started with Caesar salads after which I had a cheeseburger and Sandy had a pulled pork sandwich.

Leaving Woodford Reserve

What's wrong with this picture?

Another fancy horse farm

One table at Buffalo Wild Wings

Latoya taking Bass Man's order

Sandy is looking cheerful

The last visit of the day was to the Wild Turkey Distillery near Lawrenceburg. On the way in, we could see an impressive bungee jumping operation off a railway bridge adjacent to the road.

Young's High Bridge

283 feet is a long drop

The last distillery of the day

Bus tours stop here too

Once again, we just signed up for tasting. Our session started soon after in a room at the far end of the Visitor Center and, as expected, we each got two samples. There is a strong family component at Wild Turkey and the young lady who guided us through the tasting was a relative. The one flavour that stood out for Sandy and I was American Honey Sting.

Bourbon on the bar

Bass Man appears to be enjoying himself

Our route back to Richmond consisted of taking US 127 south to Danville and then going east to Hyattsville on Kentucky 52 and then on through Kirksville on 1295. This last stretch of road was fast enough and yet twisty enough that I couldn't keep up with the bikes. The fact that I was tired might have also contributed to this. We arrived back at the hotel, after a stop at Walmart for water, at 5:00 PM and found still more people had arrived.

Southbound on US 127

Bass Man greets Cheap B and Big Dawg

The group decided to go to Hooters for supper. It was still within walking distance but we had to cross the main road. There was a short wait while they cleared out their back room for us. Spirits were high as we got settled and ordered.

Why did the riders cross the road?

To get to Hooters, of course

We had to wait a short while for them to clear out the back room for us, but spirits were high while we got seated and placed our orders. The food was good and the servers were pretty.

Beating the rain back to the hotel

Back at the hotel, we moved back into the breakfast room for socializing and secondary bourbon tasting before heading off to bed.

Today's Route (153 Equinox miles):

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