Pardon The Punctuation...It doesn't get more American than bourbon. Recently I had the opportunity of touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and experiencing my own little "Hillbilly Napa" of sorts. I don't mean "Hillbilly" in a bad way. I met some of the friendliest and most accommodating people on the planet. The official website of the Kentucky bourbon trial has streamlined the experience to make it as convenient as possible for you. Not all of the distilleries featured here are on the official trail and there is also a Craft Bourbon Trail where you get to check out some of the smaller producers like one of my favorites Willett Distillery. Your time is valuable so I'm going to make it short and sweet. Here's where I went.
Jim Beam: The Jim Beam American stillhouse is a huge facility. They make Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Bakers, Basil Hayden's and Bookers on site just to name a few of their products. The regular Jim Beam white label is undrinkable in my opinion but the other whiskey they make is awesome. Best part of the tour was being able to bottle my very own bottle of knob Creek and have my name put on it. The tasting room was ok. You're given a electronic card that's valid for two tastings of their line. I went with Bookers and Knob Creek rye. My favorite was the Bookers which is between 121-127 proof and is one of the smoothest high alcohol whiskies in Kentucky.
Four Roses Bourbon: These guys really rolled out the red carpet. Also a single barrel bourbon for about $30 is outstanding. After the standard tour we sat down in a private room and I was able to try their entire portfolio against their competitors. If you have only one distillery to visit this is the one. My favorite would have to be the limited edition small batch. This bourbon has the "wow" factor.
Wild Turkey: You can't mention bourbon without hearing Wild Turkey in the conversation. Their tasting room is newly redone and has the most beautiful view on the trail. I wasn't a fan of Wild Turkey in the past but this experience changed me. Their "Forgiven" was excellent.
Town Branch: Who knew that great beer can be made along side some solid bourbon. I was able to meet with both the master distiller and beer maker who took me through their process from beginning to end. The tasting room is modeled after an Irish pub and is the perfect place to end your day on the trail with a town branch rye and a Kentucky ale chaser. The bourbon still has a little way to go but I see big things in their future. Hard work will equal a consistently great product. The tasting room is made to look like an inviting Irish pub. Great work guys.
Woodford Reserve: The drive to the distillery is probably the most scenic of the entire bourbon trail and the visitor's center is also the most beautiful one on the trail. A knowledgeable guide will take you through their distilling process showing you the ins and outs of Woodford Reserve. Even with all that, their bourbon just isn't to my taste. The final tasting only gets you a taste of their standard Reserve and their "Double Oak." Basically two bourbons you can buy at the store and save yourself the trip to the distillery. The highlight of the experience is the slice of bourbon pecan pie you can scarf down at the cafeteria there.
Buffalo Trace distillery is not on the official Kentucky Bourbon trail but it needs to be. It is home to some of the greats whiskey on the planet. The king of American bourbon "Pappy Van Winkle" is made on the property. As well as Eagle Rare, Blanton's, W.L Weller, and George T. Stagg to name a few. Fun and knowledgeable tour guides make this a top notch experience. The only thing I'd change about the it is the lack of variety in the tasting room. You get to drink some "Eagle Rare" which I love and the basic Buffalo Trace bourbon they make. They're delicious but you can pretty much buy them anywhere. The dining on the property was the best on the trail. They have an amazing BBQ stand with delicious food. Try the baked beans and brisket. YUM! Definitely plan your visit around lunch time.
Willett Distillery: I'd have to say I saved the best for last. It was the only distillery that I visited from the craft trail. Great whiskey and an experience to match. Our guide Jessica was knowledgeable and genuinely excited about the product. Got to try my favorite whiskey of the trip. The family reserve 25 year rye. At $275 the price is up there but this is an outstanding whiskey. Hands down the best rye I've ever had. Their patented "Pot Still" is there for you to see in person. A really cool experience. Also they make a wheated bourbon called "Noah's Mill" which is my current goto. Check them out for sure.
Making your way to Kentucky is a must for any fan of bourbon. So much of our country's great history has taken place with whiskey having a major part and on the bourbon trail you'll be in the heart of it. The people are genuine and want to make sure you leave with the same passion for bourbon as them. Also the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has set up a passport for you. You can get it stamped at each distillery on the trail...it's a fun little incentive. Enjoy some happy whiskey drinking!