Schooled in Bourbon – From Virgin to Virtuoso
Have you ever decided on a whim that you wanted something so much you would travel crazy distances to get it? I once chased down an ice cream truck for eight blocks when I was six years old…just to get a fudgsicle.
I still have that same crazy tenacity, only now with more adult desires. Get your minds out of the gutter people, I am talking about booze!
Jason and I both have a deep appreciation and love for beer, wine, gin, coffee and our most recent addition: bourbon. You see, once we take an interest in something, we go all the way. We want to know what, why, when, how and we will travel to the ends of the earth (or at least all over Kentucky) in the name of this vitally important research.
First it was Craft Beer that had us driving way out of our way for tours and tastings, now it’s Bourbon that seems to be making its way into our adult craft addiction spotlight.
It all started with a bourbon margarita in Breckenridge, Colorado. I’m not a big fan of tequila so I was just curious, and it’s that beautiful margarita that lead us to the Breckenridge Distillery where our (ok, mostly my) interest in bourbon was born.
We wanted to learn more, and taste more, which set the small town of Bardstown, Kentucky and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in our crosshairs. Bardstown is affectionately known as the heart of bourbon country! This is where we learned to love bourbon and most importantly where we go from being bourbon virgins to bourbon virtuoso’s!
Did you make it through the whole video without getting a virtual buzz? I know it’s a long one but there’s a lot of distilled love in there to share.
We had more fun learning about prohibition, bourbon and Kentucky than I could have ever imagined! We could’ve easily made an entire documentary and still not touched on everything that makes it all so incredibly interesting.
Even if you don’t drink, learning and seeing what all goes into making bourbon, and the intricate roll whiskey has played in history, is worth the trip alone! While we liked some bourbons more than others, each distillery is worth a visit and each is unique in its own way.
Should you decide to make your way to the heart of bourbon country, in the name of research of course, here’s the scoop on the places we hit:
Start at the Market
The Bourbon Marketplace really is a great place to start and/or end your tasting adventures. Tasting the bourbons side by side is the best way to figure out what you like most. This helped us figure out which distilleries we wanted to visit most and helped us determine what initial qualities we liked in a bourbon. For instance, I learned I really liked the bourbons with wheat. Also the owners are not judgmental in the slightest, we all had a good laugh as Jason attempted to man-up and sip his whiskey, but it was all in good spirits. Howard didn’t stop searching until he found the perfect bourbon for Jason’s dainty palate.
If you like industrial, then this is the tour for you. Barton has a nice mix of old school methods with some big innovation and they take you through it all. Gritty is the best word I can think of to describe the vibe that we experienced here. We ended up purchasing some of their Chocolate Bourbon Ball liquor (which is only sold there) and it goes exceptionally well with ice cream! The tours are limited to just five people once a day, so make sure to schedule this one a few days in advance.
These guys are like our brothers from another mother. It’s a tiny distillery compared to all of their big neighbors but it makes for the perfect contrast. Everything about this place is an expertly crafted medley of antique charm meets New York contemporary. You’ll want to pay close attention to details here (like the pulley system fans) and make sure someone explains the family history, and the story behind the pre-prohibition column still, it’s all wildly interesting. If you have the budget for the limited release “small bottles” I’d recommend the 21 year, its fan-tas-tic!
We ended up having way more fun here than we expected. They have a really great interactive tour set up that allows you to participate versus just looking at everything from a distance. It’s a bit “Disneyesque” because they take you through a mini version of their factory, but there’s no crowds and it ends with hands down the best tasting room! Here you get to choose which two bourbons you want to taste, no matter the price point, so for crying out loud get the good stuff!
We added this tour to our list last minute (after hearing people rave about it) and I am sooo glad we did. The property is beyond beautiful and they work very hard to make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time with the Samuels family…right down to the talking photos, the randomly ringing “party-line” phone that begs you to answer and the greeting when you walk into the living room “coffee’s in the kitchen make yourself at home.”
Funny/embarrassing story here:
Remember how we said we were total bourbon virgins going into this? Well, we were so clueless going in, we didn’t even know that Makers Mark was owned by the Samuels family. Kim, who works for the city of Bardstown, set up our tour for us. Now, I don’t know what she told them (I’m pretty sure she didn’t mention us as “RV Bloggers”) but we ended up with Jacob Samuels (the grandson) as our tour guide…but we didn’t know.
We’re about 20 minutes into our tour, assuming we just had a really nice and passionate tour guide, when I finally asked, “you keep telling stories about your grandparents, did they work here for a long time?”
So, you can imagine how incredibly embarrassed and dumb I felt after that! To all of the Makers Mark fans out there…I am sorry. We were so shocked after that, we forgot to even take a proper photo with him! Shameful, we know.
He was incredibly nice and we couldn’t believe he took time out of his busy schedule to share his and his family’s story with us. It was truly an experience we’ll never forget!
We didn’t have time for the full tour here so we just opted for a tasting, which somehow lead us to crashing a wedding party, go figure! Again, another beautiful property that would have been worth exploring, so if you go…send us your photos and let us know if we need to go back.
This was somewhat our least favorite tour (probably because if felt the most corporate), but still worth checking out. The “museum” provided a general knowledge of the founding families and the history of Bourbon. Everything here is “ala carte” meaning you want to taste a better whiskey, see the bottling line, etc. then that’s gonna cost ya.
Where to Park It
We stayed at the My Old Kentucky Home State Park and it’s not only a beautiful location, it’s a good central base camp for any bourbon based adventure.
Sips & Bites
If you’re hanging around Bardstown, make sure to grab a slice of pie at Mammy’s Kitchen, make dinner reservations at the Rickhouse Restaurant and order the house specialty pasta dish at Kreso’s, it is divine. If you’re into trains check out the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train schedule, we did Sunday brunch and it was a blast.
If you’re interested in all the history, make sure to check out the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and the Old Bardstown Village.
As you can see, our little field trip was rather successful in taking us from bourbon virgins to bourbon virtuoso’s! Seriously, it’s amazing how a week in Bardstown was able to enrich our lives in such a wonderful way. Like any good student though, we are working diligently each day to refine our palette.
Have you been on any distillery tours? Have a story or a suggestion you want to share? Are you in Bardstown now and want to send us a bottle of that high quality whiskey? Tell us all about it in the comments below, because we love hearing from you!
Too much of anything is bad, but too much of a good whiskey is barely enough.