Bourbon whiskey is native to Kentucky, and reigns as king there. Many bourbon lovers will refuse to drink a bourbon made outside of Kentucky, on principle. They swear it isn't as good. As a non-bourbon drinker, I have a hard time telling the difference. However, I have to recommend the tours of the distilleries on The Bourbon Trail, even for non bourbon lovers!
Town Branch Distillery | Horse Lover's Rating **** | Non-Equine Rating **** | Cost: $7 per person (Make sure to ask about the military discount! We ended up getting free tours for military members, not sure if that was just because it was Veteran's Day Weekend.) | Time Spent: 2 hours
|While all the distilleries were very pretty. The distillery room at Town Branch was especially eye-catching.|
The tour starts off with a little video explaining how Alltech got its start in grain and feed production, and turned that start into a side hobby crafting alcohol. That part was probably the only boring part of the tour. I wish they'd let the guides talk about the history instead. Our guide was fabulous, and I'm sure he could have been more entertaining than the video.
|The gorgeous horse-head of the Alltech logo is always a welcome sight!|
|Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout -- My new favorite!|
After the whole explanation was done, we got on with the whiskey tasting. Here is where Town Branch really blew me away. In addition to their whiskey offerings, they have a coffee liqueur made from their whiskey. It's similar to Baileys Irish Cream, but without the cream. The tour guide made a cocktail with this delicious liqueur by adding hot water and floating cold heavy cream on top.
|Toasting to a successful afternoon at the distillery with a "Bluegrass Sundown"|
|Like most places in Lexington, the Town Branch Distillery has a painted horse decorating their distillery room. A horse with a hop flower painted on its head. I approve!|
Woodford Reserve | Horse Lover's Rating **** | Non-Equine Rating **** | Cost $10 per person (Military discount was substantial here, too. And valid in the gift shop.) | Time Spent: 2 hours
Woodford is a bit more corporate than Town Branch, which you notice from the moment you walk into their visitor center. Still, everything is polished and gorgeous. They really have their eye set on making visitors feel welcome and important. We browsed their gift shop (full of some unique things!) and signed up for a tour.
Their tours fill up quickly, so you might have to wait for yours to start. We ordered lunch from their patio café to pass the time. Unfortunately, we might have overestimated the amount of time it would take to get our food, eat it and get to the tour. You can picture me hilariously slurping down soup in a hurry in order to make it. Only water bottles are allowed on the tour, so we were trying our best to finish everything up before heading out!
The tour here puts you on a bus to go up and down the hill of the property, and you are given individual headsets to hear your guide. The tours are only about 20 people, and kids are allowed on them. The distillery is rather loud in places, and a bit bigger than Town Branch, so the headsets were appreciated.
|A glimpse into the beauty that is Woodford Reserve's property. Their iconic wooden barrels, gorgeous old buildings, and unique triple copper still really stand out as you tour the property.|
The guide at Woodford did a great job explaining Woodford's unique take on bourbon distillation, namely how they tweak the process to bring out certain flavors. That part is pretty cool. As a person who has made her own liqueurs, I know that the process of leaching flavors into alcohol is pretty complex. Woodford takes that complexity to a completely different level. They are meticulous about their process and their aging. They do not age for a certain time, but instead a certain taste. This way they ensure that all their bottles have the same distinctive flavor profile. Complicated!!
The one major component the guide discussed was water. He mentioned how the limestone rock in the Lexington area creates a special water table. The water has no iron content, which can make water taste metallic. Instead, it is high in calcium and magnesium, which tastes sweet. He mentioned that this is why so many thoroughbred breeders are located in Kentucky. They take advantage of the calcium rich grass to help give their baby racehorses the edge. I have to say, the bottle of Woodford Reserve well water I had was pretty delicious!
|The grain mash at Woodford. This is where the yeast creates the alcohol that is later distilled to a higher proof in the copper stills. Looks like something out of the Middle Ages, right?|
Once through with the tour, we were bussed back up to the visitor center and ushered into their special tasting room. This was set up gorgeously just for us. Each place setting was meticulously poured and arranged.
|My tasting place setting. This gorgeous set up was accompanied by a copper ice bucket, which I used quite a bit to water down my whiskey. Sorry bourbon fans!|
The verdict? Get thee to a distillery! These two trips were real highlights for us. If we had more time, we would have tried to make it to Buffalo Trace, another stop on the Bourbon Trail. Even with only two stops, I'm happy we went!
Have any of you been on the Bourbon Trail? Do you like bourbon? Is bourbon quintessentially linked to horses in your mind too?