Since Andria’s first adventure was in CA, I thought the first adventure I’d highlight should be one I went on while we were still living in OH. Of course, the adventure actually happened in Kentucky, but who’s keeping track?
We have two little kids and no family close by. Which, as anyone in the same boat as us knows, makes it fairly difficult to get away without dragging the kids along with you. Don’t get me wrong, I love our little family adventures, but sometimes you just want to go someplace that kids won’t appreciate. Luckily, I’ve got two close girlfriends who are happy to go off on romantic getaways with me. One day, Seth and I will figure out how to make this happen for us, but until then, I’m happy with to rendezvous with my ladies. One of my friends likes to go on spa vacations. The other just wants to drink. Either way, I’m more than happy to oblige.
So, my friend Courtney. Courtney likes bourbon. You can guess which of the two friends she is. The only reason she was happy we were moving to Cincinnati back in 2013 was because we would live within driving distance of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. She finally talked me into going in July 2015. We took a 48 hr whirlwind trip down to the Lexington part of the Bourbon trail, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Get thee to Kentucky!
I planned our itinerary based on the May 2015 issue of Cincinnati Magazine. I couldn’t find the exact story online, but in the print edition, maps were provided of distilleries in three different areas that could easily be visited in a day. We chose distilleries from the itinerary around Lexington.
First up was Buffalo Trace. I’d been to this distillery before when other friends visited us. The location is beautiful – along a river and situated on an ancient buffalo crossing (hence the name.) Here we got a crash course in bourbon distilling, the stringent requirements distillers need to meet for whiskey to be called bourbon, and Buffalo Trace’s unique approach to aging.
The storehouses are not temperature controlled. Old warehouses store the barrels and the process allows the natural temperature changes to heat and cool the bourbon in the barrels as it ages. This causes the liquid to be sucked in and out of the wood fibers of the barrel as it expands and contracts, leading to nuanced flavor profiles. Those with a sensitive palate (not I) can tell the difference between the bourbon that come from barrels on different floors of the warehouses, which are naturally exposed to differing temperature extremes. This distillery was an easy drive from Cincinnati, so could easily be hit up on a quick day trip if you don’t want to be gone overnight.
Next we drove through Lexington horse country to to stop number 2 on our itinerary. I’d go back there again for the drive alone. It’s the ubiquitous emerald green rolling fields, bright blue skies, and landscapes studded with the silhouettes of horses and the massive barns that house them.
Woodford Reserve’s visitor center seemed a bit uppity and crowded for our tastes, but man! The actual distilling and storage facilities were the most beautiful of our trip.
I loved how the limestone walls contrasted with the black iron and wood. Rustic and modern all at the same time.
The storage buildings were almost ethereal, with the damp coolness and smell of evaporating bourbon – what I learned is referred to as the angels’ share.
And the tasting room was super romantic, with our glasses set out on barrels in a candlelit interior of one of the storehouses. The only bourbon I actually liked on the whole trip was from Woodford Reserve, and was of course, the most expensive of the flight. Double oaked bourbon FTW!
The next day, we hit up Wild Turkey’s visitor center, but didn’t do a tasting or tour because we didn’t have enough time. The visitor’s center is beautiful – a modern, dark building contrasting with the lush countryside. Matthew McConaughey is now their celebrity spokesperson and made an interesting short film about the brand. Unfortunately, we didn’t see him while we were there…
Our final stop was Four Roses distillery. The setting here is the most old world European, it was almost like we’d been transported to Spain. And that’s the point. The original owners designed the buildings to reflect traditional Spanish-Mission style architecture.
While I wouldn’t say I developed a new found love of bourbon on this trip, I will say I came away with a respect for the detailed process that goes into distilling. The rules are very strict for bourbon, but each company leaves their unique mark on their products. It’s a quintessential American industry that’s been shaped by the land, and has shaped the culture around it. If you ever get the chance to head to Kentucky or southern Ohio, you don’t want to miss out on visiting some of these places.
Courtney’s next request was for me to take her to Napa Valley…surprise, surprise. 😉