On Bourbon Tour 2010: Day 2, we traveled from Lexington to Bardstown. Our first stop of the day was Wild Turkey, a bonus distillery we added to the itinerary after squeezing in two tours on Thursday.
We arrived around 11am, and a sign on the door said the next scheduled tour was at 12:30, but there were enough visitors that an extra tour was added to the schedule, and we only had to wait for about 15 minutes.
Where Buffalo Trace celebrated its colonial-era roots, Wild Turkey was an homage to the industrial revolution – giant metal buildings loom above the road as you approach the turnoff to the distillery, and its easy to imaging the grounds as they were in the late 1800s.
Wild Turkey was on summer shutdown, but the tour was still thorough. We followed giant yellow turkey tracks through the grounds to see the giant steel fermenters and tall red grain silo.
We also got a great look at the column still used in the first of two distillations.
The barrel warehouses at Wild Turkey were light-colored metal, and there were a lot of them – Wild Turkey appeared to be a much higher-volume distillery than the others we’d visited thus far. I asked if each barrel was tasted before bottling, as our tour guide at Woodford Reserve said happened there, and was told that at Wild Turkey they just sample one barrel from each rick to determine whether its ready for production.
We got to sample two bourbons each at Wild Turkey, so between the two of us we sampled Rare Breed (the barrel-proof version of Wild Turkey), Russel’s Reserve 10-year aged bourbon, and Kentucky Spirit, a single-barrel bourbon.
Even though we’d originally planned to skip it, we were glad to have stopped at Wild Turkey since it was so different from the other tours we took.
We stopped for lunch in Lawrenceburg, a fairly small town in central KY, and happened to park right in front of Heavens to Betsy, a small bakery / lunch counter serving yummy sandwiches, quiches, cookies and cake. The tomato pie and double chocolate cake were especially good!
Distillery #4 was Four Roses, a brand which had been available on oversees for about 40 years until just a few years ago, and one which I wasn’t familiar with before we visited.
Their bottle design for the higher-end bourbons is very elegant, with the four-rose emblem molded into the glass. Four Roses was also on summer shutdown, but they gave a good tour that really emphasized they technology behind their distilling process.
We learned that they have 10 different base bourbons that they blend to make their products – five grain bills * 2 strains of yeast – and all 10 bourbons go into their yellow-label product. This was very different from the other distilleries we visited – Woodford Reserve had only one recipe, Buffalo Trace had two, and Wild Turkey used one for their five bourbon labels and one for their two rye liquors.
We also learned about the testing that Four Roses performs on the corn that is brought to the distillery, including the 15-second microwave test for corn, which they use to check the aroma. We even got to peek inside the receiving lab to see the where the corn-testing magic happens.
Their video was also very tech-oriented, showing us the inner workings of a column still and the production-line software they use to control the fermenting and distillation. It was quite a contrast to the other tours, which emphasized the human aspect of the bourbon production and the artisanal skills of their master distillers.
The Four Roses tour was also the only one without a barrel warehouse visit, as those were all off-site. They did emphasize how their warehouses were the only single-story ones – six ricks high – so that the heat level was more consistent throughout and the bourbon therefore ages more consistently as well.
At Four Roses we got to taste their single-barrel bourbon as well as a 10- or 12-year aged bourbon.
After we left Four Roses we drove to Bardstown, which was smaller and less pedestrian/tourist-rich than I had imagined. In California there would have been art galleries, cafes, antique stores and gift shops on every block, but Bardstown only had a few points of interest.
We stayed at the Jailer’s Inn, the old county jail (operational for about 200 years, until the 1980′s) turned into a Bed & Breakfast. We stayed in the “Library Room”, which was nicely appointed with a sitting area and comfy (if somewhat creaky) bed.
The old town cemetery and schoolhouse were also just behind the inn, so we wandered around looking at remnants of historic Bardstown for a while.
For dinner, we went to The Old Talbott Tavern, conveniently located right next door to the B&B. The tavern was a fun place to enjoy some Kentucky specialties – we tried Burgoo, Kentucky’s signature stew, and Hot Brown, an open-faced sandwich with turkey, ham, cheese, bacon, and tomato.