The Bourbon Trail: Our First 2 Days

Lynn and I just got back from a fun weekend on the Bourbon Trail and I’m going to spend the next couple weeks sharing all our tips and suggestions from the trip. We had a great time! But hit a big snag – the weather.

The Bourbon Trail in January would normally not be a huge challenge. We flew into Nashville because we needed to tour Corsair and MB Roland to complete our Craft Bourbon Trail passport to get our Julep Cups. When we arrived in Nashville it was in the 60’s and people were walking around in T Shirts. But that didn’t last long. When we got up the next morning it was starting to snow (the news predicted 6 inches so everything was closing) as we headed to MB Roland. Lynn got on the phone knowing they may not open. MB Rolland was not opening but Corsair said to come on over to Bowling Green!

IMG_8318

Corsair Distillery was named for the privateer or pirate Corsairs. They are a smaller private distillery that does things in a different way.   They make a lot innovative and adventurous spirits, they experiment with new methods, ingredients, and are privateers. With the weather the way it was we got a private tour and met Aaron Marcum, the Head Distiller.

IMG_8314

They were bottling while we were there. We got to ask Aaron a lot of questions and after the tour Steve the Assistant Distiller did our tasting. There are so many different spirits to choose your 7 tastings from you will be there quite a while.

IMG_8316

**That is my first tip on planning your Bourbon Trail trip. Leave time in your schedule to linger at your tastings, ask questions, take pictures, and shop. You will immediately notice how friendly everyone is and how many times you end up in great conversations with the employees.

IMG_8319

We bought a bottle of Ryemageddon and finished up at Corsair. And, luckily, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail folks still gave us our Julep Cups even though we didn’t make it to MB Roland!

We then scraped some ice off the car headed toward Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark or Wild Turkey. It was a trek from where we were, especially considering the weather, and we knew they might be closed. As we got closer we realized EVERYONE was probably closed. We drove to Wild Turkey as they had nothing posted on Facebook only to arrive to be the only ones there.

We took one last stab and went to Bluegrass Distillery since it was in Lexington and not on a country road. They were open and were gracious enough to give us a tour before they left for the day. They are very small which makes for an intimate tour.

IMG_8323

The next morning we awoke to another 3 inches of snow on the car. We checked the Bourbon Trail online and Town Branch was open.

IMG_3783

We had been there before but wanted to see it again. They have a beautiful facility. And despite the weather there was a big crowd. We did some tasting and bought a few bottles. Lynn loved the “Bluegrass Sundown.” It is a dark roasted coffee infused with Kentucky bourbon and sugar. We also bought a bottle off their Town Branch Bourbon with the Christmas labeling. We will hold on to it and to serve next Christmas.

IMG_3781

From Town Branch it was a short 5 minutes to  Barrel House Distilling Co. It’s one of the founding members of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour and features many unique products to sample.

IMG_3787

Barrel House, true to its name, is housed in the former barreling house of the James E. Pepper distilling complex, a bourbon distillery which operated from 1879-1958. They also have a new bar with a fireplace in it – a very inviting environment on a cold day.

IMG_3788

Up next – Day 3 in Louisville, which could be more than 1 blog in itself. The restoration of Whiskey Row in Louisville has been a true renaissance.

Did you have a Bourbon-filled Christmas?

I hope your Christmas was as Bourbon-ful as mine.  As you are reading this blog hopefully you noticed my new logo and branding. We are getting pretty professional over here! (The logo design was a Christmas gift from our daughter). And Taylor had a dark blue t-shirt made with the logo on it. Now I won’t need a name tag when out bourbon tasting!

Taylor and her husband also gave me a bottle of Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey from Richmond, Virginia. Reservoir is handmade, single run, small batch whiskey. Look for a review in a future blog. I am so excited to try it (and visit the distillery the next time we’re in Richmond)!

img_6296

Lynn gave me a fantastic gift from Pappy & Company. It was a canvas tote bag from J. Stark. Inside the bag were 2 Pappy & Company glasses, some “Pappy Hour” napkins, and 12 “Pappy Hour” plastic cups. The last part of the gift set was a box of Bourbon Balls made with Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year. The bourbon balls are handmade by Sugar Mama’s Bake Shop. What a fun gift, great for picnics or a weekend away. There is plenty of room in the bag for a bottle of your favorite bourbon (maybe a new bottle of Pappy??) and a few other bar accessories for your getaway.

img_6297

In addition to the gift set, I got a Barrel Stave Cutting Board. The board measures 8.5 x 9 and about 1.5 inches thick. It is made from Pappy Van Winkle barrel staves and it is branded with their crest. Great for the bar!

Lynn also gave me a Collared Greens Bow Tie with bourbon barrels on it. (Collard Greens is another Richmond-made item… they have lots of fun bowties on their website)

img_6300

I did take my own suggestion and stopped by Hi-Time Wine Cellars to buy a bottle of Makers 46. I just love the Makers 46 and needed to replenish my bar. Based on a suggestion from Ryan at Hi-Time I also bought a bottle of Belle Meade Bourbon. Ryan said he thought it was one of the best bourbons and values in the store. I’ve had it once before but wanted to give it a full taste and review.

img_6301

I am ready for whatever the New Year brings with all my new gear. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukah and want to wish a Happy New Year to all!

In their stockings: Maker’s 46

Our second Christmas gift bourbon suggestion this week is Maker’s 46! I’m really into this bourbon right now.

img_6276

Unlike it’s more popular sibling Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46 is aged a little longer making it a little smoother. French oak staves are also added toward the end of the aging process, adding some extra flavor to the bourbon. With the extra aging and the extra oak, a really tasty bourbon is created.

So why does this make a good Christmas gift (or stocking stuffer if it will fit!)? It retails for only about $10 more than Maker’s Mark, and is well under $50 at about $35 from Total Wine. Total Wine also sells a 375mL bottle for about $25, which would definitely fit in a stocking! More importantly, your friends and loved ones very likely have had Maker’s Mark many times. But Maker’s 46, the likelihood goes down a lot. This Christmas, introduce them to another Maker’s product, and a really good one at that!

(Here’s a picture of my Maker’s 46 bottle decked out in the little sweater I got at the Maker’s Mark Holiday Red Line event!)

img_6268

Maker’s Mark Holiday Red Line Event

If you are not a Maker’s Mark Ambassador, and are a Maker’s Mark fan, I have one question. WHY NOT? Being an Ambassador is easy – you literally just have to register on their website (info below).

Ambassadors receive Maker’s Mark distillery, product, and new release information. There are also invitations to special events including local events like the Holiday Red Line event I attended last week in Los Angeles.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-10-48-22-am

For years there were street cars in Los Angeles and it was called the Maker’s Mark Holiday Red Line. This event was put together by Katie Bronow of Beam Suntory. She named it the Makers Mark Red Line in honor of the Red Line that used to run through Los Angeles, which was also a very creative tie in to the red wax every Maker’s Mark bottle is dipped into for its distinctive look (working in packaging, I’m extra appreciative of these things!). The Pacific Electric Railway Company (Red Cars) was started by Henry Huntington in 1902 and the last car ran until 1955. For some California railway history (bare with me here) — in a tie in with another piece of LA history, our bar hop ended at “Bunker Hill” Restaurant and Bar on Bunker Hill. In 1901 Col. J.W. Eddy built “Angles Col. J.W. Eddy,” a funicular inclined railway up the steep incline of Bunker Hill to give residents better access to their homes.

img_6247

But back to the event. About 40 Ambassadors and their guests gathered at Salvage Bar & Lounge first for a Gold Rush.

img_6248

(Not me – just another festively dressed Ambassador!)

The Gold Rush was created by Alex D’ Alessio. It was made with Maker’s Mark Bourbon ($31 through the ReserveBar website), Honey, Fresh Lemon Juice, and Ginger Beer.

img_6240

It was very refreshing and a great way to start the evening. It was fun getting to know the other Ambassadors and learn what brought them to the event and what drew them to bourbon.

After about an hour we walked to Spear Steak & Seafood House which featured the “Key to the City,” created by Mat Lim.

img_6252

It is made with Maker’s 46 Bourbon (on sale for $31.99 through Hi-Time Wine), Lemon Juice, Strawberry & Blueberry Puree, Cardamom & Allspice Syrup. (Check out the cute little sweater on the Maker’s bottle in the picture below!)

img_6251

It felt like the holidays and paired very well with the food appetizers provided. We had crispy calamari, different sushi rolls, one being seared salmon truffle roll, flat breads, way too much to remember.

Our last stop was Bunker Hill Bar & Grill for a Cask Strength Old Fashioned, created by Jose Balderas. (Cask Strength is $53.99 at BevMo!) WOW, what a way to finish the evening with an Old Fashioned in a miniature Julep Cup with a Maker’s Mark logo. (How many times have I said on this blog I am a huge Kentucky Derby fan?) The food there included Crispy Garlic Brussel Sprouts, Lobster Mac N’ Cheese, Korean BBQ Wings, Sweet Potato Fries, and more.

What a fun evening of fellowship, new friends to go along with fantastic cocktails, and good food. And on top of that my own miniature Julep cup at Bunker Hill to go along with the Maker’s Mark bottle Sweater from Spear, and the T-shirt we got at Savage. Merry Christmas y’all from Maker’s Mark!

Do yourself a favor and become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador. Or even better buy a friend a bottle for Christmas and suggest you both join. They put on great events. A Merry Christmas to all from Bourbon Bill!

Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am just a Maker’s Mark fan!

A Bourbon Adventure for Maker’s Mark

We are in final preparation mode for our Derby party tomorrow. I had to share a little story about efforts to track down a bottle of Maker’s Mark’s limited edition American Pharaoh bottle that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. I had visited both Hi-Time Wine Cellars and BevMo here in Orange County searching for a bottle. Having seen American Pharaoh win the triple crown last year and being a big horse racing fan, I really wanted a bottle – and I really wanted one to display on the bar at tomorrow’s party. Unfortunately both Hi-Time and BevMo hadn’t received any and it sounded like they didn’t think they would be.

In my search I learned that stores in California might not even be receiving any, but that they were on shelves in the East. So, naturally, I called my daughter, who lives in Richmond, Virginia. I asked her if she could check out her local ABC store (state controlled liquor stores in Virginia… boo) and see if they had any or thought they would be getting any. Taylor called two stores and both said they hadn’t received any. She then swung by the store at the ABC warehouse in Richmond. While they hadn’t received any, they offered to do an inventory search for her. The closest store that had any was in Hopewell, Virginia, about 35 minutes away. For some reason, they had received 12! And every other store in Richmond, zero. So, Taylor took off for Hopewell and snagged a bottle just in time to bring it out to California for me for the Derby party.

Below is the photo and text message I received from Taylor when she got home:

IMG_3216
“Who’s your favorite child now? Drove all the way to Hopewell to get you that bad boy”

Last night we checked out what these bottles are going for on eBay. Most it looks like are selling for about twice the shelf price. Taylor now wishes she bought all 12 bottles!

If you’re in the hunt for one of these, good luck! I struck out in Orange County. Curious if anywhere in Southern California has received some? Happy early-Derby Day!

Limited Edition Kentucky Derby Bourbons

Kentucky Derby festivities are coming up quickly, as we are just 2 weeks away from the “most exciting 2 minutes in sports.”  It’s also the time of year when the bourbon distilleries come out with special bottles and promotions around the event.  As I previously wrote about, the 2016 Woodford Reserve commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle is on the shelves.  I got mine at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, Ca.
IMG_4923
This week, I got information on 2 new special bourbon bottles.  As a Makers Mark Ambassador, I got an email from Rob Samuels about a special charity bottle they will have to commemorate American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown Victory.  It is in the silks and stable colors of American Pharaoh and the Zayat Family.  I called the distillery and I was told they will cost between $75-85 depending upon your location.  If you click on their link starting May 1 you can find a location near you to purchase one.   I called Hi-Time Wine Cellars to see if they were getting the Pharaoh bottle and they thought they would but it had not been confirmed.
MM Bottle
Another new offering is from Calumet Bourbon.  They have a boxed set with a Derby glass. The glass has Calumets’ name on it.  It is different graphics than the official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glass.  Below is a photo Caskers sent me.  May be a real collectible.  This is available from Caskers on line.  I have not seen it anywhere else.
Caskers
If you type in Kentucky Derby Bourbon into google you will find lots of listings of bourbon related recipes, goods,  and decorations related to the Derby.   The link below ups for some additional bourbon drinks for your party.

Visiting the Bourbon Trail

A great adventure for spring is hitting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Lynn and I did the Bourbon Trail in the Fall a few years ago. Kentucky is a big state and you can’t cover it all in a day, or even two. Before hitting the road, you definitely want to have a plan of attack to see the distilleries you want to tour.

But first, if you are going to earn the official Bourbon Trail t-shirt or Julep Cup, you need to decide which trail you will follow. “Which trail?” you say. Yes! There are 3 trails: The Bourbon Trail (mostly the big distilleries you’ve heard of), the Craft Bourbon Tour (smaller distilleries) and the Urban Bourbon Trail (Louisville’s distilleries). All 3 are unique and offer different experiences, and can also be mixed and matched together.

IMG_2652

Lynn and I drove to Kentucky after visiting our daughter in Richmond, Virginia – so that kind of determined where we began. If flying in, your could start in Lexington and end in Louisville, or vice versa.

We started at “Old Pogue” without reservations. It was during sequestration and while we had planned to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah National Park, we were shut out, so we went on to Maysville, Kentucky. We showed up at Old Pogue for the first tour of the day. We knocked on the door and when John Pogue opened the door we said we were there for the first tour. John said, “I didn’t know I had a tour this morning,” and we said, “You do now.” It was just the 3 of us.   What a great way to start the week.

Old Pogue is a great little Craft Distillery. Founded in 1876, it closed after prohibition and was re-opened by 5th and 6th generation Pogues. They even bought back the old antebellum home of the family which sits next to small distillery.

DSCW0084

We then continued on to Town Branch

And then it was on to the rest of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail passport. Although they are big they are all different. Lynn had read about the “Corn to Cork” tour at Woodford Reserve. It was a great education and they do very small groups. Its more expensive and you have to book in advance but well worth it. We sampled some bourbon right out of the barrel at Woodford Reserve. Lynn also got to fill a barrel at Jim Beam, and while there also filled her own bottle of Knob Creek. Along the Bourbon Trail, we also visited Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Evan Williams.

The Craft Tour gives you the chance to see things even more up close and have a more intimate experience. We haven’t completed that passport yet, but did a lot of it. I will write about the Old Pogue experience later. It deserves a whole blog.Willett Distillery was another great experience and well worth the stop.Limestone Branch also offered another unique experience.

We also visited many others that technically aren’t part of the branded “Bourbon Trail.”  Makers Mark is another incredible experience and tucked into this beautiful valley. Another “must see” is Buffalo Trace – purveyors of Pappy Van Winkle, E.H. Taylor, Blanton’s, Stagg, and a number of other great bourbons.

The Urban Bourbon Trail is a bar hopping experience that allows you to experience all that great bourbon you have been tasting and reading about all week. When you combine that with the food in Louisville it’s an evening you will not forget.

We ended our trip in Louisvile, and stayed the night at the Seelbach Hotel, a great old historic hotel. While we were in Louisville, we stopped by the Brown Hotel for a Hot Brown – a must do in Louisville!

Feel free to leave a comment below if you’re planning your Bourbon Trail visit and are looking for additional suggestions on your trip!