A guide to Kentucky's bourbon distilleries
By Linda Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ah, fall in Kentucky: my favorite time of year.
And what better time to return to my favorite drink -- bourbon, of course -- as warm days and cool evenings cover yards, hills and horse farms with falling leaves in vivid yellows and burnt auburns.
During the summer when itís hot and humid, I generally take a break from bourbon in favor of lighter adult beverages. But bourbon is one of my favorite things about fall and helps keep me warm in the winter.
Bourbon distillers have been perfecting their spirits for more than 200 years (except during the dark days of Prohibition) starting in the late 1700s with the excess corn farmers grew.
Bourbonís mix of grains ó corn, malted barley, rye and wheat ó must consist of at least 51 percent corn. If it doesnít, itís not ďstraightĒ bourbon.
But itís been only in the past 20 years that single-barrel, small-batch bourbons have come into their own.
Nearly 4.5 million barrels are aging at any given time in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Bourbon Trailís Web site. What a lovely thought.
High-end bourbon is the nectar of the gods, as far as Iím concerned.
I still occasionally get funny looks when I order bourbon in a bar or restaurant. Iím all of 5-foot-3 and weigh ... well, none of your business ... and some people still arenít used to seeing a fairly small woman order strong liquor on the rocks.
Thatís how I prefer it: chilled with a rock or two, not diluted in a full glass of ice. Bourbon is for sipping, slowly, so the amount of ice matters.
Purists wonít add ice -- they will drink it neat.
Hereís what else Iíve learned:
- Makerís Mark, made in Loretto, works well in food (and for smuggling into Commonwealth Stadium to mix with Coke). For Thanksgiving I make a fabulous sweet potato recipe with a bit of Makerís.
- High-end bourbons should never be mixed with anything, even though the distillersí own Web sites offer cocktail recipes. Thatís just wrong. Note: If you must drink a mint julep, please do so only on Derby Day.
- The higher the quality of the bourbon ó and therefore, the greater the cost ó the better I like it. No one who knows me is surprised by this.
- My favorite bourbon to date is 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve. Yes, aging really does make a difference in taste and smoothness.
- If Iím traveling outside Kentucky and canít get good bourbon, forget it; a nice red wine will do.
- To be straight bourbon (with a proof from 80 to 125), it must be aged at least two years; anything aged less than four years must have its age on the bottle. Bourbon also must be aged in new oak barrels. The charring of the inside of the barrels is what turns the liquid the silky amber color that is its trademark.
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Six distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail offer tours. (Buffalo Trace, which isn't part of the trail, also offers tours.) Iíve been to only one, Woodford Reserve, which sits in the middle of rolling hills and horse farms outside Versailles. The tours are offered 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday year-round and 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays, April through December. (7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles; (859) 879-1812).
As for the other five distilleries on the tour, check out their Web sites for directions and recommendations on reservations. They are:
- Four Roses Bourbon, 1224 Bonds Mill Road, Lawrenceburg; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; (502) 839-3436.
- Heaven Hill Distilleries, 1311 Gilkey Run Road, Bardstown; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. year-round, noon-4 p.m. Sun. March-December; (502) 337-1000.
- Jim Beam, 149 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 1-4 p.m. Sun.; (502) 543-9877.
- Makerís Mark, 3350 Burks Springs Road, Loretto; 10:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sun. March-December; (270) 865-2099.
- Wild Turkey, 1525 Tyrone Road, Lawrenceburg; 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; (502) 839-4544.
There are many more top-quality bourbons out there today that, like Woodford Reserve, are some of my favorites. Among them are Blantonís (93 proof), Old Pogue (91 proof) and Basil Haydenís, a smooth, slightly more mellow bourbon at 80 proof that was first distilled in 1796.
So, as evening comes, pour your favorite bourbon, relax on your deck and enjoy two of the best things Kentucky has to offer: fall weather and bourbon.