The Bourbon Trail Part Two: Stops 6-10

I know you’ve been dying to read part two of my bourbon trail breakdown… Well, here it is! Check out these highlights from the last five stops on the second half of the trail including a short description of the facility, interesting aspects of the tour, information about the tastings, and anything else you may want to know. (Plus a few things you didn’t know you wanted to know!) For the first five stops on the trail, read Part One.

Warning: my favorite stops were on this half of the trip so I may get a little long-winded. Apologies.

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  1. Maker’s Mark (Loretto, Kentucky)
  • Facility: The grounds of this one are gorgeous! It helped that it was a perfect Kentucky day, but the walk through the “campus” is beautiful. Black buildings with bright red shutters are scattered along a brick path with trees, gardens, ponds, bridges, and everything you want in a walk. They had a temporary art installation throughout the grounds as well with glass sculptures from Dale Chihuly (one piece is pictured above). Their main building is decorated kind of funky as well, and they had rocking chairs to hang out in before the tour started.
  • Tour Highlights:
    • We were the first tour of the day, and when we arrived, they had bourbon-flavored coffee brewing in the other room. Heavenly.
    • You get to go into their labeling area and see old labels, as well as watch the people make new ones. And, most importantly, you get to take some labels home for yourself!
    • They take you into their “georegulated” warehouse embedded in the side of a mountain. They can control the temperature of this warehouse so it stays cool throughout the hot Kentucky summers (unlike other warehouses that allow the barrels to expand in the heat and contract in the cold to enhance flavor).
    • You get to see the assembly line where employees hand dip each bottle into the famous Maker’s Mark wax. So cool!
    • If you take the tour, you can see the glass ceiling created by Chihuly for one of their buildings.
  • Tasting:
    • In a private room, you taste five of their products: Maker’s White, Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, and Private Select.
    • The tour guide provided some great advice on tasting: take a sip, keep it in your mouth for 3-5 seconds, swallow, and then breath out of your mouth. Really helps with the burn!
  • Other:
    • While you wait for your tour to begin, stop by one of the kiosks and sign up to be a Maker’s Mark ambassador. It’s free, and you get some cool perks: free gift every Christmas, your name on a barrel of bourbon, and invites to private events in your area. Once your barrel has matured in six-eight years, you can come back for an ambassador tour and to buy a bottle from your barrel or—if you have some cash to burn—the whole barrel!
    • Maker’s Mark is unique in that it’s the only bourbon that uses all wheat in their mixture instead of rye. That creates a smoother, less spicy taste, making it a good first step for new bourbon drinkers.
    • They had a distillery cat wandering around the main building that my boyfriend was very excited to play with even though he is very allergic (cue the eye roll).
    • Fun Fact: Maker’s Mark holds the Guinness world record for the world’s oldest operating bourbon whisky distillery.
    • The grounds are beautiful, but the tour does involve a good bit of walking so wear comfy shoes.
    • In their gift shop, you can dip whatever bottles you buy in their red wax. And though you don’t get to do it yourself, you can have pretty much any other item dipped in the wax by an employee: magnets, mugs, shot glasses, ornaments, flasks, etc.

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  1. Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)
  • Facility: The Jim Beam Stillhouse is a striking start to your experience there. In the front of the tall building is a spiraled sidewalk with a statue of Mr. Jim Beam himself in the middle waving his hat (pictured above). The rest of the grounds are fairly spread out with green grass and lovely flowers all around. Their main “courtyard” area where you can get food and eat outside is up the hill from the Jim Beam statue. Luckily they have a bus to take you around to the buildings, but the tour does involve some walking.
  • Tour Highlights:
    • Instead of seeing their full-scale operation, the tour shows you a mini version of their process with small fermenters and copper stills that will produce one barrel of bourbon. You also get to see the large fermenters after.
    • Jim Beam makes Knob Creek so there is a special part of the tour all around that brand. I got to help the guide roll one of the barrels to pour out a sample that he passed around for us to smell. Then, you can bottle your very own bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel. You write your initials on a sticker that you put on your bottle. Then you wash out the bottle and place it in the assembly line. Then watch as it gets filled, corked, and labeled. After it gets off the line, you pick up your bottle and take it over to be dipped in black wax that they clamp. At the end, you get to put your thumbprint in the top of the wax seal. It’s a fun little part of the tour. You can buy the bottle in the gift shop after the tour for around $50, but I don’t think they’d chase you down if you didn’t buy it so go ahead and do the bottling process just for the fun of it even if you’re not sure you’ll buy the bottle.
    • One room is filled with Jim Beam’s novelty bottles over the years. They have cats, fish, kings, koalas, trains, and one for each U.S. state.
    • Have you seen that Mila Kunis commercial for Jim Beam Devil’s Cut? Well, in their warehouse you get to see Mila’s barrel with her name stamped on it. It provided my favorite moment of the tour when my mother asked, “Who’s my-la?” Yeah…
  • Tasting:
    • Much like at Town Branch, this tour requires you to make some tough decisions. You receive a card that works in their tasting dispensers. The guide goes through the twenty or so different options to taste, and then you can go around and get four tastings.
    • If you’re in a group, share your tastings! Between the four of us (without coordination), I was able to taste seven: Jim Beam Single Barrel, Jim Beam Double Oak, Jim Beam Bonded, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s 7 Year, Red Stag by Jim Beam Black Cherry, and Knob Creek Maple.
  • Other:
    • They have a little bar off the tasting room where you can get a cocktail after the tour. The bartender was adorable and told us all about his love of bourbon and past career. Oh, and he made a mean old fashioned.
    • There are some good photo opportunities throughout the grounds. Pose next to the Jim Beam statue at the front, snuggle up to a statue of Booker Noe and his dog, or take a selfie in front of a painted horse.
    • Grab some BBQ from Fred’s Smokehouse on the distillery grounds to enjoy with your cocktails outside. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon. (Just be warned that time will slip away from you, and you may miss your Louisville Slugger tour…)

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  1. Bulleit (Shively, Kentucky)
  • Facility: Bulleit is located at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery in a little neighborhood outside of Louisville. There are a couple cute bricks buildings, and the old distillery has a smoke stack with “Old Fitzgerald” on it—the name of the best-selling brand made there in 1972. They have one big warehouse you can walk through to see the barrels and a trendy welcome center and tasting room.
  • Tour Highlights:
    • In Stillhouse B, the tour goes over the history of the distillery, which is the oldest one in Louisville. It’s also where Julian P. Van Winkle (aka Pappy Van Winkle) started his career in the spirits industry in 1893.
    • They took us to their experimental area where they try new flavor combinations of their bourbon in small batches. They were working on a chocolate whiskey. I guess we’ll see in a few years if it’s good enough to go to market!
    • After the tour, we wandered the grounds and found a small building with an exhibit on the barrels (pictured above). We got a general sense of how the barrels are put together.
  • Tasting:
    • The tasting was in a room within the welcome center. You sat at long tables with four samples, and the tour guide stood at a bar in front a large window and told you about what you were tasting.
    • We tried Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit Rye, I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and Blade and Bow. The second two aren’t made by Bulleit but are aged in the Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
  • Other:
    • Blade and Bow is named after the two parts of a skeleton key. Its name is a tribute to the five keys that once hung on the door of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
    • Thomas E. Bulleit, Jr. started Bulleit Frontier Whiskey in 1987 when he quit his law practice to attempt to bring back his great-great-grandfather’s high-rye whiskey made between 1830-1860. Apparently the whiskey recipe was almost lost when great-great-grandfather Augustus Bulleit disappeared while transporting his bourbon barrels from Kentucky to New Orleans.
    • Bulleit is unique in that the bourbon uses mostly rye, giving it a spicy flavor. It’s based on Augustus’ whiskey, but includes more than 50% corn now to classify it as bourbon.
    • Bulleit is aged at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, but it’s actually distilled elsewhere. They just bought a new distillery in Shelbyville, Kentucky in March 2017 that will eventually take over all production.

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  1. Evan Williams (Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Facility: The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is located in downtown Louisville in what looks like a large museum or gift shop. The bourbon is aged and bottled in Bardstown so it’s not a typical tour of the distillery like at the other stops.
  • Tour Highlights:
    • The tour included rooms with animation projected on the walls to make you feel like you were in the town back when Evan Williams was alive and first making bourbon in the 1700s. Animated Evan Willliams even talks to you about his business, his political career, and more.
    • You see their test kitchen on your way upstairs. The top floor is decorated like Main Street Louisville from the 20s and 30s.
    • There was a display of bottles labeled as different “medicines” during prohibition. One was called “Brain Salt,” which I would love to try! (Pictured above.)
  • Tasting:
    • On “Main Street,” you enter a Mad Men-era bar and sit at the funky counter for the tasting. They even have 50s-style ads playing.
    • We tasted Evan Williams Black Label, Evan Williams Single Barrel, and Evan Williams 101 Proof, aged 12 years. They give you a little bottle of water with a dropper, and the guide tastes with you.
  • Other:
    • Our tour guide mentioned that in Japan, they pay the equivalent of $400-600 for a bottle of 101 Proof. Too rich for my blood.
    • Evan Williams had some more creative things in their gift shop. I got myself some Evan Williams marinade and a chap stick flavored like their cherry whiskey.
    • Evan Williams (the man) is considered Kentucky’s first commercial distiller. He set up his distillery on the banks of the Ohio River in 1783. 

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  1. Angel’s Envy (Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Facility: Angel’s Envy was also in downtown Louisville but in a much larger facility than Evan Williams. The whole building was very open with tons of natural light so you can see the upper floor from the first floor and vice versa. The massive column still serves as the centerpiece of the main building (pictured above). It was modern and rustic at the same time with a lovely little bar at the end of the tour.
  • Tour Highlights:
    • While you wait for the tour to start in their lobby, they offer you some boxed water. Who doesn’t love a good box of water?
    • The openness of the building provides a very unique tour. It’s the only “urban” distillery on the tour, and you get to see how they actually make their bourbon in a very different environment.
    • The spirit safe (a glass container from which the distiller can examine the spirit being distilled) is shaped like one of the Angel’s Envy iconic bottles with large Angel wings on the bottom.
    • This was the only place on the trail that let you taste the proofs in the still. They showed us a little trick I had learned at a whiskey distillery in Ireland: if you rub the proof between your hands, it smells like freshly baked bread.
    • They allowed all of us to sign a barrel during the tour.
  • Tasting:
    • The tasting took place upstairs outside their bar. We got a small glass with Angel’s Envy bourbon in it, and a small and delicious chocolate from Art Eatables—we got to taste the milk chocolate orange chimères (pronounced schmears).
    • They walk you through how to taste the bourbon by itself and then with the chocolate, which was so delicious.
  • Other:
    • After the tasting, we were invited to their small bar, The Finishing Room, to try one of their unique drinks. You’re only allowed to buy one drink per person, and they are pricy, but I highly recommend trying one of the smoked expressions. The bar tender was very good at her job and explained that she took a batch of the bourbon across the street to a BBQ place to “smoke” the bourbon alongside the meat. It gave it this smoky, original flavor in a perfectly-balanced cocktail.
    • Angel’s Envy is a family operation. We actually saw Wes Henderson, the son of the family, on a private tour the day we were there.
    • Part of the distillery is built on Louisville’s Billy Goat Strut Alley, an alleyway known for its goat races in the late 1800s.
    • Angel’s Envy is unique in that it is aged in old port barrels instead of new ones like at the other stops on the trail. It provides a bit of a sweeter taste to the bourbon.
    • The distillery is not temperature-regulated so the at least one room was very hot. They will warn you ahead of time, but just keep that in mind.

Once you’ve completed the trail, be sure to stop by the Louisville visitor’s center for your “free” t-shirt and a lovely picture with Colonel Sanders!

I hope this provided some insight and a reason or two to try the trail. To see photos from my trip and get a better idea of some of the things I described here, visit my Facebook page.

Oh, and if you’re ever in the D.C. area and want to grab a drink, let me know.

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