Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Bourbon Trail

Recent I traveled through Kentucky and I was quite impressed with the parts of the state that I visited. I had an uninformed opinion about Kentucky being kind of a hillbilly state without much to see or do. While I didn't see the entire state, the parts that I did see, especially around Lexington where the horse farms are concentrated, seem to be very beautiful.

When I arrived in Kentucky I must admit that I didn't know much about Bourbon. Bourbon whiskey is made with at least 51% corn and is a uniquely American product. Today the vast majority of all bourbon is made in Kentucky.

Like Napa Valley, Kentucky is trying to make this an experience and created the "Bourbon Tour" which allows you to visit the different distilleries that make bourbon throughout the state. There were seven main distilleries on my map, with the ones I recognized immediately being Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, and some smaller brands.

Kind of at random we picked the Wild Turkey brand. We drove through a few little towns and came upon a small visitors center in Lawrenceburg and the large buildings where they ferment the whiskey in aged barrels. The little visitor center was staffed with two nice older ladies who used to work in the plant until their work was outsourced to Arkansas but then the plant called them back and asked them to staff this location, which is helpful because they knew everything about bourbon (or at least a lot more than I did).
Wild Turkey recently celebrated the sale of 1 million cases. I guess a case is 8 million bottles so that is a lot of whiskey. The whiskey is aged in these large buildings located near the visitor center (I think that there are 22) and there was a tour but it was cold and I think I had a decent idea of what whiskey in a barrel looks like. A kind of funny note is that my father visited one of these visitor centers years ago and was unable to buy any sample whiskey to take home because it was election day and they were not allowed to sell alcohol! I don't think there would ever be any elections in Chicago with that rule but it made me laugh.

Wild Turkey is owned by Pernod the international spirits company and per the visitors' center the largest maker of bourbon in Kentucky is Jim Bean (which is owned by Fortune brands). While my general perceptions of Kentucky were wrong I think they are a bit behind when it comes to the Internet - the site for the bourbon trail . com has been taken by some one-off.

Back to the rest of Kentucky - I was extremely impressed by the farms around Lexington and the immense horse breeding / racing industry. The farms were immaculate and you can drive through some scenic routes that are well maintained that take you right through the countryside. This photo doesn't do it justice because it was overcast during the day and we were driving through but I highly recommend a visit to Lexington and taking some time to explore the area.

Frankfort is the state capital located near Lexington. I tried to navigate the city but it was kind of difficult and we took a road from the top of a hill and shot down a little lane and all the sudden we came upon the capitol building at the bottom of a hill. I would call it "capitol in a hole" but it was very scenic down there.
All in all I highly recommend a visit to Kentucky... the only boring parts are the drives getting there are a bit of a snore (sorry Gerry).


Dan from Madison said...

I assume you are talking about I-65 through Indiana, yes that is a brutal drive.

Carl from Chicago said...

Being from Illinois we can't taunt Indiana for being boring, the drive from Chicago to Champaign to see the Illini is just as bad. Illinois and Indiana sure don't have much to see...

Dan from Madison said...

Agreed - at least when you are driving through Wisco there are trees and hills. I have to admit Wisco is quite a scenic state.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Kentucky is where I went to pick up my bird dog, Speck. It was outside Lexington. Nice drive too.

Sure, Flyover country is boring. Add Kansas, Nebraska and even eastern Colorado to the list.

Valpo is on the western edge of the 'Valparaiso Moraine' which is a geological formation left over from glaciers and stretches east into Michigan. Around here is looks a lot like Wisco with hills and woods. Kind of like Wisco's Kettle Moraine.

And Illinois has Shaunee National Forrest. There are scenic places in both states that interstates prevent many form experiencing.

Carl, if you want an outstanding Bourbon try Bookers. A recipe from the late Booker Noe, master distiller at Jim Beam. Sippin' good booze.

Mundylion said...

a case is 8 million bottles? I think maybe you were sampling some of the product while writing the story.

A standard case measure is usually 9 liters, while actual cases vary depending on size:

12 700ml = 8.4 liters
12 1 liter = 12 liters
6 1.75 liter = 9 liters

Carl from Chicago said...

You are correct what I meant is that a case is usually 8 bottles so 1 million cases = 8 million bottles. But I will go with your case "math" because I don't really know what I am talking about so it could be somewhere between 6 and 12 million bottles... let's say 9 million and split the difference