The Kentucky Bourbon Tour Guide

Kentucky is beautiful in the summer. It’s hot and humid, but also full of lush, green beauty. While chatting with Ralf about Four Roses this week I was reminded of what a hidden gem we have here. He’s originally from Munich, now living in the Bay Area, and he knew almost nothing about bourbon. He knew even less about the beauty of bourbon country and the businesses and people that produce this tasty spirit. So, this week we want to shine a light on what may be a new idea to some of our readers – Bourbon Tourism. This industry is much more authentic than Napa Valley and it’s much more personal than a factory tour.

It’s time for outsiders to understand that the so-called factory tour embodies the best of America, with all the smells, views and authentic people that tourists desire on weekend or month-long getaways. Bourbon is not some liquor you pour over ice; it’s a lifestyle, listening to the authentic sounds of Bluegrass Music and watching the sunset over a ripe green field with young colts prancing and mares galloping. – Fred Minnick

For some of you, hopefully this will whet your appetite and you’ll finally start planning your trip to our beautiful bourbon country.

Kentucky Bourbon Country Guides

Photo credit: Jeff Marquis


Bourbon Distillery Tours


☞ Barton’s 1792 Distillery ★★★★★

☞ Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center ★★★★☆

☞ Willett Distillery ★★★★★


☞ Buffalo Trace ★★★★☆


☞ Four Roses ★★★★☆

☞ Wild Turkey ★★★★☆


Maker’s Mark ★★★★★


☞ The Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery ★★★★☆

☞ Evan Williams Bourbon Experience ★★★★☆


☞ Jim Beam American Stillhouse ★★★★★


☞ Woodford Reserve ★★★★★

Photo credit: wplynn


The Bourbon Map

We’ve created a map of Bourbon Country here on Google Maps. Use this to start planning your trip to Kentucky or pass it on to a friend.

Newsletter #22: Sip, swish, swallow, breathe out

☞ Photos: Large Personal Bourbon Collection // flickr

Kentucky Tavern is a brand we enjoy as our “house bourbon”. It is made by the Buffalo Trace folks now, possibly in Frankfort. For years it was made at the Barton distillery in Bardstown, which Sazerac (Buffalo Trace’s company) purchased in 2009, and it may still be distilled there.

☞ Learning to sip: “Not a man’s man and i need your assistance.” // r/bourbon

Try to (2) breathe in, sip, swish, swallow, breathe out… you can breathe in and out while swishing, you just want to always breathe out after you swallow so any alcohol vapors will be pushed out of your mouth/esophagus after sipping instead of into your lungs, causing you to potentially cough….

☞ Cheap Bourbon // r/bourbon

I’m a college student with a $25 budget to spend on a Saturday Night. What Bourbon do I choose?

☞ Review 83: Lost Prophet 22 Yr /r/bourbon

I’m not sure if this was wheated, but it does remind me of a well aged, but not overoaked wheater in some ways, especially with the rum notes I get and the way the spice stays towards the front of the palate.

☞ The Pappy Van Winkle Timeline // recenteats

1999:  Regular bottles for Van Winkle series changed from (very light) green glass to clear glass.

☞ Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey Review // bourbonbanter

The rye balances out with honey and fades into a smooth finish with vanilla creme notes and milder baking spices. The burn is slow to return but is steady and warm–very enjoyable.

☞ Early access for Kole: A cylinder flask made of steel and wood // nisnasindustries

A beautifully crafted thermal flask that keeps your espresso or whisky stylishly in your vest pocket, soon available on Kickstarter.

☞ We Find the “Jack Daniel’s Is Bourbon” Smoking Gun, Or Do We? // chuckcowdery

So is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon or not? The answer is yes. Jack Daniel’s is not bourbon because it is Tennessee whiskey…

☞ Destruction in Bourbon Country // whiskyadvocate

Bourbon’s troubles weren’t over. One day after the fire, the National Weather Service reported 95 mph winds in the Bardstown area. Microbursts caused severe wind damage to Heaven Hill’s Warehouse O and moderate damage to Warehouse P. O’s roof folded over like a pancake, half dangling over the side, the other half splayed open just feet way.

🌽 The Bourbon Newsletter #21 – What is Barrel Char?

Credit: Herald-Leader Staff

☞ See how bourbon barrels are charred in Louisville in this video. // youtube

Half a dozen casks go in at a time and are subjected to heat up to 1000 degrees per cask. …it’s this firing process, this charring, that imparts this most pronounced flavor into bourbon – the rich, creamy, caramel and vanilla flavors we all know.

☞ Making Barrels – Brad Boswell (Independent Stave Co.) // youtube

“We can take a piece of oak and cook it 150 different ways and each way is going to create a different flavor profile.”

☞ Charring Bourbon Barrels // seguinmoreaunapa

It acts like an activated-carbon filter to adsorb sulfur compounds and it provides a passage for the spirit into the pores of the oak. In the United States a full-depth charring of barrels (i.e., 1/8 inch) used to age American straight whiskey is predicated by law. This is in spite of the fact that over-charring can actually destroy some of the flavors that are needed to develop the finish of the spirit. This is why toasting, or even a light char, may be a better route, but it is illegal in the United States to age straight whiskies, such as bourbon, in any-thing but fully-charred barrels. A medium-depth char is required just to crack the wood, and a heavier char burns up wood compounds that would only be caramelized by a low- or medium-level char. – Bill Owens in the Craft of Whiskey Distilling

Nearly all bourbons you’ll find on the shelf come from barrels with heavy char – level #3 or #4. Most of the barrels used for the bourbons in the chart below are produced by the Independent Stave Company with the exception of the Brown Forman brands. Brown Forman produces their own barrels at the Bluegrass cooperage in Louisville.

Char #1 Char #2 Char #3 Char #4
Very Old Barton, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, Kentucky Gentleman All Jim Beam bourbons, Old Crow, Old Taylor, Knob Creek, Booker’s Old Grandad, Basil Hayden, Knob Creek Rye
Brown-Forman Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, Early Times, Jack Daniels Buffalo Trace, White Dog, Old Charter, Eagle Rare, Colonel E.H. Taylor, George T. Stagg, Ancient Age, Elmer T. Lee, Blanton’s
Four Roses, Single Barrel, Small Batch Everything Weller, Pappy Van Winkle, Sazerac, Bowman Rye, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
Heaven Hill, Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Parker’s Heritage, Old Fitzgerald, Bernheim Original, Mellow Corn Wild Turkey, Russell’s Reserve, Wild Turkey Rye
Maker’s Mark

Source: StraightBourbon Whiskey Tree and Independent Stave Company