Well, I didn’t tell you ahead of time because time got away from me, but I’m telling you now – Lynn and I are on the Bourbon Trail right now. We flew into Nashville yesterday and today are making our way through Lexington and on to Louisville, where we’ll stay the night. Our agenda is loose but here’s a quick rundown of what we’re planning to do:
The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. It is made from a mixture of bourbon, water, powdered sugar, and mint. According to Churchill Downs, they serve over 120,000 for the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, which requires 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,000 pounds of mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice!
Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve Bourbon says “Centuries ago, there was an Arabic drink called julab, made with water and rose petals. The beverage had a delicate and refreshing scent that people thought would instantly enhance the quality of their lives.” When the julab was introduced to the Mediterranean region, the native population replaced the rose petals with mint, a plant indigenous to the area. The mint julep, as it was now called, grew in popularity throughout Europe.”
Why the Mint Julep? The drink’s ties to the Kentucky Derby can be traced back to a struggling bourbon industry during the 1930’s, but it did not start out as a festive drink. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the drink was originally given to prevent diseases and provide pain relief from body aches. Other stories I have read said they were served for breakfast. It was the spirited equivalent of coffee. What a way to start the day!
The Julep is said to have its origins in Virginia. Much of Kentucky’s heritage and traditions began when it was still part of Virginia. They would have been made with rum or brandy and served in a silver cup. Having sterling silver cups, ice, and the servants to make the drink, was a sign of wealth. As the drink moved to Kentucky they started using bourbon.
Henry Clay, the famous Kentucky United States Congressman, Senator, and Secretary of State in the early 1800’s introduced the drink in Washington, D.C. at the famous Willard Hotel.
In 1938, it was named the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. According to Cocktail Times, Churchill Downs served the drink in a souvenir cup and charged 75 cents per drink. The Derby glasses went through several phases of glass, aluminum, Bakelite, and back to glass in the late 40’s. A complete collection of the glasses is quite valuable.
Since the 1940’s the track has commissioned a new design for the Mint Julep Glass every year. The popularity of the Mint Julep, synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, encouraged the other Triple Crown races to create their own drinks. Today, many sporting and special events have their own special cocktail or drink. We have all heard the term “The official drink of….” To think it all started very innocently with Kentuckians enjoying their favorite beverage on the first Saturday in May in the early 1900’s.
Football season ended with Sunday night’s exciting Super Bowl. So, now we turn to spring baseball, and, welll, just spring. I’ve talked about the Bourbon Trail before, but with spring upon us I wanted to talk about it more! There is no better time to visit Kentucky than spring, although fall is pretty spectacular as well.
The Bourbon Trail, which officially began in 1999, announced this past week that together the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Craft Bourbon Trail saw over 1,000,000 visitors last year. That is an impressive number and shows the interest and growth in bourbon and whiskey. There are two unique trails, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and the Craft Bourbon Trail. There is also a third experience, the Urban Bourbon Trail, which is a tour through Louisville’s bourbon bars (but all bars in Kentucky serve bourbon).
The Bourbon Trail is many of the larger distilleries and in a fairly concentrated section of the state. These are the big boys but that doesn’t mean you don’t get a very informative and personalized tour.
Because they have the bigger budgets their visitor centers are like visiting a museum and candy store with their gift shops. At Jim Beam Lynn got to fill a barrel before it was sent to the warehouse.
Then we got to bottle our own bottle of Knob Creek. We tasted right out of the cypress wood fermenting tanks at Four Roses. Woodford Reserve does 3 different tours. They have their general tour, a historic tour, and the one we took which is called “Corn to Cork.”
The Corn to Cork tour is an educational experience that takes you from where the corn is unloaded into the storage facility to the corking of the bottles. We learned a lot, had a great time, and even got to taste out of a barrel.
Maker’s Mark lets you dip a bottle in the red wax for you to take with you. At Maker’s Mark it’s an interesting story, I don’t want to spoil, about why they painted the buildings black.
The Craft Bourbon Trail includes: Barrel House, Corsair Artisan Distillery, Hartfield & Co., Limestone Branch, MB Roland, New Riff, Peerless Distilling Company, the Old Pogue Distillery, Wilderness Trail, and Willet Distillery. These are your smaller distilleries and give you a close up look at the guys making small batch, craft spirits. The craft distilleries are spread throughout the state. This tour is a real challenge to complete in one trip to Kentucky. We did not complete it but look forward to going back this year and completing it. We did make it to Old Pogue, Willet, and Barrel House. They are all so different, and so interesting. One of our favorites was Old Pogue where it was just the 2 of us. We also got a personal tour of the family’s Antebellum home overlooking the Ohio River. Willet is also one you do not want to miss. Their pot still is famous because their Pot Still Reserve Bourbon is in a bottle the shape of their still.
There are other outstanding distilleries not on the official bourbon trails but a must on your trip. Those include Old Barton and Buffalo Trace. Anyone who knows their bourbon knows Buffalo Trace has a lot of brands. Just a few of their brands are Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, Sazerac Rye, George T. Stagg, Stagg Jr., W.L. Weller, and one other brand might have heard of — Pappy Van Winkle.
As you can see there are a lot of stops you can make on the Bourbon trail and I haven’t even mentioned other things to do while you are there. There is always horse racing at Churchill Downs in Louisville, or Keeneland in Lexington.
Or for something different plan a picnic and go to Steeplechase Racing or Polo. These events are always fun, exciting, and feature the food and drink of the region. Churchill Downs makes a mean Mint Julep in the spring. There is always a tour of a horse farm around the Lexington area.
So where do you stay? The bourbon trail is very spread out, so you have to decide where you want to start and end if you’re trying to see a lot of distilleries. We stayed at the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville. A grand of Hotel with a great history. The Brown Hotel in Louisville is also a great place to stay. The Brown Hotel is home to the original Kentucky Hot Brown (another blog to come – I’m a big fan). In Harrodsburg, the Beaumont Inn has been highly recommended by friends. But Lexington, Frankfurt, Bardstown all have wonderful places to stay. In Bardstown you must stop in the Talbott Tavern for a bite to eat. It is the oldest western stagecoach stop in America having been built in 1779.
I could go on and on about bourbon, horses, and Kentucky. Leave a comment with some of your favorite stops along the bourbon trail if you’ve been before!
The first thing you notice about the Willet Pot Still Reserve Bourbon is the bottle. It is a beautiful, elegant bottle with a very long neck and wood topped cork. The bottle shape is made to look like a copper pot still. There is a gold wax seal medallion on the front. Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon appears a copper brown which makes it look even more like a Pot Still. The distillery first offered this bourbon and bottle in 2008.
We visited Willett Distillery when we did the Bourbon Trail a few years ago. It is small distillery viewed against the big distilleries but a wonderful size for a craft distillery.
I highly recommend you make a stop by Willet on your tour of the Bluegrass. They produce over a dozen bourbons and a few ryes. They are also known for Willett, Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Johnny Drum, and Old Bardstown, Kentucky Vintage, and Pure Kentucky.
They offer tours daily and the $12 charge includes a tour, tasting, and a Willett Glencarin tasting glass to take with you. (Well, we didn’t get glasses back when we toured, so now I want to go back!)
There isn’t much info on their website as to the mashbill or makeup of their bourbon. Based on the government regulations for a bourbon there is obviously at least 51% corn. I am guess for the Willett Pot Still Reserve it’s a little higher. The bourbon is very floral on the nose. It gives you citrus on the palate with a strong flavor of honey. The finish is very herbal and smooth.
This is a very well made bourbon from a family with a great reputation for small batch bourbons.
You are going to want this top-class bourbon on your bar for the bottle, but more importantly the liquid gold inside. The bourbon has a delightful finish that come up remarkably sweet and smooth. This is a great sipping bourbon.
Aged: 4 years Proof: 94 proof Color: Copper Brown Aroma: Vanilla, Citrus, Caramelized Sugar Taste: Caramel, Spice, Herbs, Honey Price: $43.99 for 750mL at Hi-Time Wine Cellars
$85.99 for 1.75L at Hi-Time Wine Cellars
It’s the time of year when everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions. I am suggesting if you are a true Bourbon or Whiskey lover it’s the time of year to start planning that trip, party, or purchase for 2017. With the growth in bourbon, and spirits as a whole, in the past few years there are many exciting things you can do.
The first I would suggest is a visit the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky “Where the Spirit Leads You” – especially if you haven’t been before. There are many ways to see it and several tours. There are two trails – you can do the Bourbon Trail, or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour (or both in an extended trip). You will cover a lot of the state; from Lexington, to Bardstown, to Maysville, and beyond. Lexington and the surrounding area has much more to offer with Keeneland Racecourse, the horse farms you can visit, and all the history there.
On our most recent visit to bourbon county, we did the Urban Bourbon Trail which was a bar hop through Louisville. There are a lot of great bourbon bars and restaurants in Louisville. While in Louisville there is always Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby), the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the Speed Museum just to name a few places to see beyond the bourbon. I’ll do a visitor’s guide to Louisville in the next couple months.
If you can’t make it to Kentucky, there is a pretty high likelihood there is a distillery in driving distance to where you live that you could make a trip too in 2017. Lynn and I visited distilleries in Virginia and Washington State this year. Bourbon and whiskey is everywhere.
WhiskyFest is another way to learn about Whisky and Bourbon. These events are put on by Whisky Advocate Magazine (I know what you are thinking, where is the “e”). If you are you wondering about the “e” you need to attend a festival. The hold them in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.
Events like these offer a lot of fun and fellowship amongst people with a very common interest which in this case is the spirit
Or maybe it’s the year you want to start a collection of bourbons. Do some research on line, through your knowledgeable local store, or ask an expert. There are lots of forums and websites. Plan now to make this the year to do that “Bourbon Experience” you always wanted. Whether its sipping a whiskey you always wanted by the fireplace this winter, or meeting a Master Distiller at a festival or Distillery. Cheers to 2017!
We are just a month and a half away from the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. Have you started planning your Kentucky Derby gathering? Whether it’s you and your best friends in the den, or a backyard full of people, what bourbon will you serve on Derby Day? As an avid horse racing fan, this is my favorite time of year. Its spring, horse racing’s Triple Crown is around the corner, and it’s time to enjoy a little bourbon on the patio.
I will cover a lot of related subjects the next 2 months and today I am excited to share the special edition 2016 Kentucky Derby Bottle that Woodford Reserve released just a few days ago.
I believe this is the 6th one of these they have done since becoming the “official bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby. The bottle always has new art, is colorful, and brings the race right to your bar. What better way to jazz up the big day! This is a perfect bourbon for a Mint Julep during the Kentucky Derby. This year’s bottle does not disappoint. You can read more about the bottle’s artwork in the press release Woodford sent out.
Woodford’s press release says the bottle will be out in March. It’s usually available at your better liquor stores, BevMo and Total Wine. The best part of the Woodford bottle is what is inside the bottle. Woodford reserve is a fantastic Bourbon and, as I said in my post about Bourbon Country, a great tour.
I was actually asked yesterday what bourbon I serve on Derby Day. There are a lot of good choices and I just think you have to start with Woodford. I love to have bottles on the bar with a horse racing theme. The next that comes to mind for me is Blanton’s. It’s another great Bourbon in an equally impressive package. Blanton’s was the first to market and sell single barrel bourbon. The unique bottle that looks like cut glass is topped by a cork with a brass horse and rider on it. Even more unique, there are 8 different positions of the horse and rider from standing to a full gallop. At the base of each horse’s back foot is a letter that corresponds to the gait you see. The 8 letters spell out Blanton’s.
Lexington is another horse racing themed Bourbon and named after the famous horse Lexington. Not quite the quality of Blanton’s or Woodford but a very reasonable price point. Other horse-themed bourbons are Chestnut Farms and Calumet. Calumet is named for the famous farm which bred several Triple Crown winners, including Citation and Whirlaway.
Whatever you pour, remember that bourbon is the essential ingredient in a Mint Julep. Make sure your guests enjoy the best.
I recall Rebel Yell from when I was living in the Louisville, Kentucky area and you could only buy it south of the Mason Dixon Line. The “Rebel Yell” brand was created for Stitzel-Weller by Charles Farnsley (a former Mayor of Louisville) around the 100th anniversary of the original Weller company, with the idea to distill it in limited batches for exclusive distribution in the Southern United States
The brand name Rebel Yell is currently owned and marketed by Luxco, and the bourbon itself is distilled and bottled under contract by Heaven Hill at its Bernheim distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.
I bought my bottle at Trader Joe’s where you can currently get a 750 ML bottle for $9.99. You read that right – less than $10 before tax. This is a brand that 30 years ago was aged 6 years and was 90 proof. It was a very good bourbon back then. But now it’s $9.99 and really only a good choice for using as a mixer. I hate to see a good bourbon mixed with anything other than a little ice if necessary. If you are looking for an economical bourbon to use for mixed drinks this will work nicely.
The bourbon starts off with a strong alcohol taste but mellows to caramel, oak, and vanilla. I am not tasting much char at all. It has its nice flavors but they are just not developed to their fullest potential.
As I have said before I am a sucker for good packaging. I have always liked their name, type style, label graphics and bottle. They have changed from the original bottle but the new bottle is a nice shape, very heavy glass with a die cut label.
Age: Not available Proof: 80 Color: Cinnamon Aroma: Raisins, caramel Taste: Alcohol, vanilla, Price: $9.99 at Trader Joe’s