The beginning of the end of the trail began early this morning at an "off-trail" (a distillery not part of the nine on the list from the USA) at Buffalo Trace, which distills some of the best bourbons on the market, including the most sought after, and expensive, Pappy van Winkler, as well as one of my favorites, Blanton's.
The tour at Buffalo Trace was excellent. We learned that whether you have a good tour and/or tasting or not is very dependent on the guide. Jeff at Buffalo Trace was excellent giving us some very good information on the history of the area and on the Buffalo Trace distillery and its products. For instance the bottle of Col. Taylor Tornado Survivor bourbon I received as a gift some years back that enjoyed every drop of us now selling for up to one thousand dollars or more.
It was neat to see the Blanton's single barrel being hand bottled and labeled. As well learning that the horse and hockey on the bottle's cork has eight different styles. Each of the eight versions has a letter on it and if you get all eight you can spell B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S. One more twist to the cork topper is that is you line them up it the horse is running a race with the first one being the horse standing still, the next one breaking from the gate, etc. Fantastic tasting as well, alas no Pappy though...my notes below.
Next up was Woodford, about twenty minutes away through some beautiful horse farm country. One of the highlights of this trip has been the journey through the Kentucky countryside. Rolling hills, twisty roads, immersed in woodlands then breaking into open fields. At one point today I commented that when we return around 2018 to buy bottles made from the barrel with my name on it at Maker's Mark that I hope my buying window includes the end of September/early October so we can see this country in fall foliage colors. (Regarding my barrel at Maker's Mark, if you go to their website and sign up to be an ambassador they will put your name on a barrel. In about seven years our so when your barrel of ready to be bottled they will notify you and you have a the ninth window to buy bottles from your barrel--and you have to buy them at the distillery in Loretto.)
We had a great experience at Woodford, another one of my favorites. Instead of the standard tour and/or tasting we signed up for a food paring. No one else signed up so it was just Leslie and I with our guide, who looked a lot like George W Bush. We went out on the patio and set out on a barrel had was a full shot of Woodford Select Reserve and a plate with very small piece each of parmesan cheese, dried cranberry, orange, dark chocolate and a tiny bit of sorghum molasses. Also on the table was "flavor wheel" and W talked about the ingredients in bourbon and how foods being out different flavors in the bourbon, much like food does with wine. A great experience reading the small bites and then taking tiny sips of the Woodford.
From Woodford we had another lovely half hour drive to Wild Turkey. We cheated a bit on our Bourbon Trail passport as we had it stamped but didn't tour or taste. I asked what was being poured in the tasting room and there was nothing I either wanted to taste or had not tasted before.
We took off towards Four Roses stopping in the way for lunch at a local chain we had seen a few of the last two days, Huddle House. Think of Denny 's in the space of a Waffle House or old Taco Bell. We try very hard to not eat fast food on our trips, this was somewhat compromise, not really fast food but not real fresh either. (For Sharon, smoked sausage melt for me, chicken sandwich for Les.)
Four Roses is a good looking place, but the tour and tasting were like their standard bourbon, not that great. Tasting notes below.
It was just after four when we left and our final stop was Town Branch Distillery in Lexington, a half hour away and closing at 5:00. Town Branch is interesting because it is part of Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company. In Louisville I had a few Kentcky Ales from Alltech and it was very good so I was intrigued to try their whiskey.
We got the too late for the tour, I wanted to go to great about the layout and how they operate as a better brewer and distiller. They did however let us join the final tour group at their tasting. No beers but some really good whiskey, notes below.
Finding a nearby Best Western we checked in and found a really good roadhouse for dinner. Pretty slow to get our food but with the wait. Smoked meat combo for me with excellent smojed meatloaf, pulled pork and brisket, Leslie went for the brisket sandwich.
At dinner we discussed our plan for Wednesday since we are back in Nashville Thursday night and flying home Friday. I was thinking pudding further east and south. Leslie asked, "how far is Indianapolis? Google 'funky bones'." Indianapolis is just a few hours away, Cincinnati is en route and the Reds are hosting the Cardinals. There are storms going through the region which may impact some of the planning. We'll see what happens.
I've been asked about good values, hard to quantify but once we get back I will try to put together a list of bad values and then what seems to deserve to be in certain price ranges.
Wheatley vodka: yes we had a distillery sneak in a what vodka. I'm not a vodka drinker, Leslie is, but this was really, really good. Incredibly smooth, distilled ten times, perfect for drinking straight in a martini, wouldn't waste it with a mixer.
White Dog: like other distillers Buffalo Trace pulls its "white" off the still before the barrel, cuts the proof and bottles it. Unlike what we tried at other distilleries Buffalo Trace White Dog is pretty tasty and without a burn. A very good cocktail bar, or for your friends telling them you have some 'shine.
Eagle Rare 10 Year: very good, especially for the price range. Smooth, very good flavor, can serve as your base bourbon for mixing, sipping, cooking.
Bourbon Cream: think Bailey's but bourbon. Very good, we tried a small amount with an outstanding root beer and it was very good.
See above, we just tried the Woodford Select Reserve, which is an excellent bourbon, triple distilled so very smooth, one we usually have on hand as one of our premium bourbons in the home bar.
Yellow Label: no reason to buy this. At the tasting they even said, "this is your everyday bourbon..." trying to compete with Jack, Jim Beam, etc. Spend a few more bucks and get something that tastes a little better even if just using for mixing.
Small Batch: Another dud, not much different than the yellow label so not worth the extra money.
Single Barrel: Now we have a good bourbon. The one we tasted at the distillery was good, no burn, pleasant to drink. I received a birthday bottle from my brother that is also pretty good. Four Roses uses a different recipe for its single barrel, they should use it for Yellow Label and Small Batch.
TOWN BRANCH: Newer outfit that fits as far west as Texas in current distribution.
Sparse Lyon Reserve Single Malt: Another tasting that is not a bourbon, and since distilled in Kentucky it cannot be called "scotch". With the Scottish and Irish heritage in Kentucky and the bourbon history it is surprising no one else does a single malt. These guys do and it is good, I'd put it in my bar is we could get it California.
Town Branch Straight Bourbon: strong rye effect and finish for me, smooth, good for sipping or mixing with the flavor profile.
Town Branch Rye: Excellent flavor, very smooth, another rye that has me becoming a fan.
Bluegrass Sundown: an interesting drink. Liquid that you put a few tablespoons into a glass, add boiling water and it makes a coffee flavored drink, top with cream. Tastes good, don't think I'd buy it.
|Blanton bottles being corked, sealed, labelled|
|Blanton's going into the bottle|
|Pre food and bourbon tasting at Woodford|
The Town Branch tasting area next to stills
Combination beer bar and liquor store in Lexington