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Kentucky Bourbon Trail

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    • Kentucky Bourbon Trail

      If there is a website where the definition of 'trail' can be stretched, the Appalachian Trail Cafe is it. :D

      Background

      The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a marketing collective of 41 mainstream and craft distilleries organized by the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA). The overall mileage depends on how you schedule your visits. The KDA publishes a passport / guidebook and the goal is to collect all 41 passport stamps to qualify for a special memento (kind of like the 2000-Miler certificate). Surprisingly, two popular distilleries - Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 - don't participate in the KDA and aren't in the passport / guidebook. But they do offer tours and tastings. Unfortunately, Barton 1792 announced that they would no longer be offering tours after June 30th 2022 and would also be closing their Visitor's Center.. That fact moved up my plan to start the Trail.

      Hike #1 - May 27th, 2022

      I scheduled this trip pretty quickly to be able to visit Barton 1792 before they closed their gates to visitors. And fortunately, I was able to add two additional distilleries to make the most of a day trip. Mrs. Tortoise joined me to ensure I could get home safely. Smart move...

      We couldn't get a tour at Barton but did stop in at the Visitor's Center. 10:00 am and I'm tasting bourbons. A helpful staff member sold me on an Early Times Bottled-In-Bond


      Next up was a tour of the Preservation Distillery. They're a very small craft distiller that makes 3 - 5 barrel batches. All of their current salable offerings are blended from barrels of whiskey that were purchased from defunct distilleries in the 80's and 90's. Everything distilled on-site is still in the maturation phase. After four tastings, I decided that I needed a bottle of the Wattie Boone. Smooth.



      The last stop of the day was the Willett Distillery. It's small enough to be in the Craft category but large enough to offer a traditional distillery tour. Their claim to fame is their copper pot still and unique matching bottle. After five tastings, we had lunch in the on-site bar and then headed back to Cincinnati.


      Two passport stamps down, 39 to go!
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • For a whiskey to call itself bourbon, its mash (the mixture of grains from which the product is distilled) must contain at least 51 per cent corn. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, the distillate must be stored in charred new oak barrels at 125 proof or less, and it must not contain any additives.

      The Wattie Boone Whiskey I bought can't be called bourbon because it was drained from its charred new oak barrel, the oak char was scraped off and re-charred, then the contents were returned for another aging process. Thus, the barrel was no longer a new oak barrel. So it was a bourbon, but now it's a whiskey.

      An interesting difference between distilleries is their target distillate proof. Preservation Distillery likes to start low so they don't have to add much water at the blending / bottling phase. Willett started off with a higher proof and didn't mention the dilution that occurs afterwards.

      Speaking of blending, most bottles are a blend of different barrels taken from different floors of the rickhouses where the barrels mature. Barrels on the upper floors of the rickhouse see higher temperatures which cause the oak staves to have more expansion / contraction cycles. This causes more distillate interaction within the barrel's oak staves (flavoring) while also leading to more water evaporation (higher proofing). Single barrel bourbons are chosen from a sweet-spot in the rickhouse that has the perfect combination of temperature, air flow, and humidity.

      The lesson of the day was on the difference between American and Canadian whiskeys. Canadian whiskeys ferment all of the different mashbill ingredients separately then mix them together before distillation. American whiskeys blend the corn, wheat, rye, etc. together during the fermentation process. The more you know...
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • Hike #2 - June 17th 2022

      My company offers a summer schedule where we work our 80 hours over nine days and get the 10th day off. June 17th was my day off so I visited the New Riff Distillery just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The distillery shares a parking lot with The Party Source, one of the largest liquor, beer and wine retailers in the U.S. I thought it was a happy coincidence but I learned that it was no accident. The owner of The Party Source decided that he wanted to get into the bourbon distillation business. And since the law says you can't own a distillery AND a retail operation, he sold the booze store to his employees.

      New Riff only has two mash bills - a traditional bourbon and a rye. Both bottled products conform to the Bottled-In-Bond regulations. The Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897 requires conforming bourbons to be distilled by one distillery in one season, then aged in a federally-supervised warehouse for four years before being bottled at exactly 100 proof. New Riff also offers single-barrel versions of their bourbon and rye which are labeled with the actual proof. These are essentially the tastiest barrels that are saved from being blended into the Bottled-In Bond offerings.

      It was a fun tour and we were encouraged to get up close and personal to the fermenting mashbill. The sweet smell must have been in my hair of clothes because I kept getting whiffs of it later in the day.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH