Fresh off the overnight flight from San Diego to Lexington through Atlanta, we arrived in the land of horses and bourbon. Statues of horses greeted us as we exited the airport, and we were drove past rolling hills, thoroughbred ranches and racetracks on our way to touring the bourbon distilleries. Our first stop was breakfast at Doughdaddy’s Doughnuts, the local go-to doughnut shop. I had a cream-filled, caramel-iced long john, which was kind of like a breakfast made of candy corn.
Buffalo Trace, north of Frankfort was the first distillery we visited on the trip. Our initial impression was of brick buildings, a well-kept garden, and the on-site playground – the seem very invested in keeping the history of the distillery alive.
Unlike some of the other distilleries, Buffalo Trace is in production throughout the summer, and workers were buzzing around on ATVs. We walked around the garden and historical buildings while waiting for the tour, with the help of a self-guided tour sheet from the visitors center.
Our tour guide told us stories about the history of Bourbon and the settling of Kentucky, when plots of land were offered to settlers of the frontier in exchange for an acre’s worth of corn, and the settlers found that distilling corn into whiskey was a convenient way to get the required amount back to Virginia.
We got our first musty-oaky-bourbon scented peek into a barrel warehouse on the tour as well. We learned how the flavor of the bourbon depends on the hot-cold cycles of the Kentucky seasons drawing the liquid in and out of the charred barrels, and that the position of the barrels in the warehouse affects the heat fluctuations the barrel experiences and therefore the final flavor of the bourbon.
We also got to watch the hand-bottling process for the Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, and earned a trip to the tasting room!
We got to try White Dog, the liquor that goes into the barrels and comes out years later as bourbon, as well as Buffalo Trace bourbon and one of their higher-proof reserve bourbons. Our first bourbon tour was a success!
After Buffalo Trace, we had lunch at White Castle, the famed mid-west chain of steamed mini-burgers and cult-like devotion (if the Food Network is to be believed).
We weren’t terribly impressed with the food, but now we at least know what we’re missing. The cheeseburger had a certain mushy-steamy appeal, but the “chicken ring” sandwich really didn’t. The sweet tea was pleasingly strong and sweet though.
Following lunch, we visited our second distillery of the day – Woodford Reserve!
The distillery is owned by a multi-national conglomerate, and the slick visitors center seemed to reflect the corporate ownership, but the rest of the operation seemed small-scale and true to its hand-crafted roots.
We got to see barrels on their rolling tracks, bubbling tanks of fermenting mash, and the set of copper stills used in their triple-distillation process.
The barrel ends are marked with stylized versions of the triple stills, probably my favorite barrel stamp of the ones we saw on tour.
In the bottling room, we got to watch the bungs being drilled and barrels emptied into the bottling tank, and see the bottling production line in action.
There was also a very cute orange and white cat prowling around as we toured the warehouses and bottling room.
We spent the night in Lexington, with dinner at the Horse and Barrel pub, where we sampled a few more bourbons as well as the local beer, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, and I had a delicious (and giant!) prime rib sandwich.
We stayed at the Lyndon House Bed and Breakfast, where we had a spacious suite in which to sleep off our travel-induced weariness, followed by a delicious breakfast the next morning.