Back in July, I wrote about the wonderful road trip that we took to New York State. I need to write about the continuation of that trip that took us to Louisville, Kentucky for a couple days. It seems appropriate to rectify that omission at this time since, of course, September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and Kentucky is the mecca of bourbon.
A disclaimer I should make, I do love me some bourbon. Those of you not familiar with this brown liquid could possibly use a bourbon primer. The first mantra is “all bourbons are whiskeys, but all whiskeys are not bourbons.” Bourbon is and always will be an American spirit. Just as real champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, bourbon that is sold in the United States must be distilled in America. How that bourbon is made is decreed by US statute which requires:
- production in the United States
- that it is made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
- that it is aged in new, charred oak barrels
There are also rules as to what percent alcohol it goes in and is taken out of the barrel. Anything labeled “Straight” bourbon has been aged at least two years and it not blended with other spirits, nor does it have added color or flavor.
There are several legends surrounding the origins of bourbon, but one of the most robust is that Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister in Kentucky, put his moonshine in charred barrels after a fire went through his property. The resulting product was a revelation. This story has been discredited, but suffice it to say that sometime in the early 1800s, moonshine created with the calcium rich waters around Kentucky started being stored in charred barrels, shipped down the river to New Orleans, and loved by many.
We arrived in Louisville on a Friday afternoon. We stayed at The Galt House Hotel, right in the center of Louisville. Wonderfully, there were races that day at Churchill Downs. We got to spend a couple hours sipping mint juleps, betting on races, and admiring the wonderful crowd – including some fantastic women’s hats and men’s seersucker.
The real mission of our time in Louisville happened Saturday. We had booked a Bourbon Trail tour that left our hotel at 7:30 Saturday morning. What a delightful adventure it was. Our co-tourists were enthusiastic and friendly. We had people from Canada and the US – all who loved bourbon and who had wanted to make this trip for a good long time. Our tour guide, Bob talked to us continuously as we drove out of Louisville and towards Bardstown, Kentucky. I can listen to men with Southern accents for a long time, and when they are talking about bourbon and history, I kind of swoon.
We made three stops during our almost ten hour voyage. Our first stop at Maker’s Mark was the longest and most informative. We toured the property – which was absolutely gorgeous – and learned about the Samuels family who created the distillery, how Mrs. Samuels came up with the concept of the dipped in wax bottle, and about the process used to create their bourbon from grain to bottle. I think that the smile that Dan had when he stood by that giant tub of mash told the story of what a delightful time this was.
After our tour, we got to taste several of their products and then had the opportunity to shop in their gift shop where Ali and I got our tourist on and dipped our own bottle of wax to take home.
Back on the bus, Ali wondered why we didn’t buy a bottle to share on the voyage. Bob had let us know that it was fine to do so and there happened to be ice and water in abundance in the back of the bus. Dan went back in the store to cure that problem. The bottle was opened and our friendships with our co-trailers was cemented.
The rest of the day had us lunching at a little spot on the Maker’s property, then we were off to The Barton 1792 distillery, and finally to the Jim Beam distillery. Along the way, we got to learn more about each other, bourbon, and Kentucky. It was very much a fine time and worth the decision to add it to our itinerary.
Back at our hotel, we made plans to eat dinner with Lynn and Neil who made the trip from the Toronto area. Usually they travel on motorcycles, and they had actually gotten married on a trip to the Sturges motorcycle event. They were a fun couple and adventurous eaters. We had an amazing dinner at Milkwood, which is owned by Edward Lee – a former Top Chef contender. We ended the evening in the restaurant on top of The Galt Hotel, overlooking the beautiful city of Louisville.
It was a wonderful time!