What I knew about bourbon prior to our visit to Kentucky you could put in 1/2oz shot glass and I probably am exaggerating about that. What I know now you could put in a full 1 ounce shot glass. But what I do know is that Kentucky is a beautiful state and Lexington is one rad city, with acres and acres of fenced in estates replete with horses of all kind and a city that boasts a bourbon heritage that goes back over 200 years. We were there to get some repairs done on the RV and as is usual these days our wait time was going to be three weeks. When in Kentucky you have three choices to occupy yourself – in the fall that is – getting involved with horses either at shows or riding them, University of Kentucky football, or driving the Bourbon Trail. Not really a horse person, and certainly not a fan of Kentucky sports, the Bourbon Trail seemed like a good option, although we did camp out at the Kentucky Horse Park campground so we can claim some horse sense.
The first thing I needed to do was understand the lingo – like what is the difference between whiskey, whisky (no e ), rye and bourbon. This was a 101 course for me. So thanks to google this is lesson one.
Whiskey (or whisky) can be any of a variety of distilled liquors that are made from a fermented mash of cereal grains and aged in wooden containers, which are usually constructed of oak. Commonly used grains are corn, barley malt, rye, and wheat.
The difference between whiskey and whisky is where the stuff is made: in the United States and Ireland, it’s spelled “whiskey”; in Scotland, Canada, and Japan, it’s “whisky.”
Now, for the differences between Scotch, bourbon, and rye.
Scotch is a whisky (no e) that gets its distinctive smoky flavor from the process in which it is made: the grain, primarily barley, is malted and then heated over a peat fire. A whisky cannot be called Scotch unless it is entirely produced and bottled in Scotland.
Bourbon, a whiskey that was first produced in Kentucky, U.S., uses at least 51 percent mash from corn in its production. It also uses a sour mash process — that is, the mash is fermented with yeast and includes a portion from a mash that has already been fermented. U.S. regulations specify that in order for a whiskey to be called bourbon, it must be made in the United States.
And rye whiskey? It’s a whiskey that uses a rye mash or a rye and malt mash. In the United States, regulations stipulate that the mash must be at least 51 percent rye in order for it to be called rye whiskey. In Canada, regulations do not specify a minimum percentage of rye.
Flavor-wise, Scotch is smoky, bourbon is sweet, and rye is more astringent than the two others, making it particularly suitable to cocktails.
So – seriously? Yep. Bourbon, Rye and Scotch drinkers take this seriously and much like their cousins the wine aficionados they know their shit, and for the purpose of this blog, they know their bourbons.
The Bourbon Trail is a group of distilleries that came together in 1999 under the guise of the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) to promote the bourbon experience in Kentucky. It now includes 28 distilleries, the oldest and grandest being the Buffalo Trace Distillery. The distillery sits on 440 acres of gorgeous wooded property and whose architecture dates back for over four centuries. Claiming itself to be THE world’s bourbon destination, in the past ten years it has won more awards than any other distillery in the world. Way before bourbon was first made, buffalo roamed this country carving out trails and paths that early pioneers and explorers followed as expansion slowly moves westwards. One such trail led to the banks of the Kentucky River where the first bourbon in the United States was made and named Buffalo Trace Distillery. It has a host of labels and the day we were there they had released a batch of ten year old Eagle Rare – one bottle per customer and only one every three months. A straight Kentucky bourbon (bourbon has to have been aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years in order to be a Straight bourbon), people were lined up for three hours to get a bottle. One of the reviews included the following: “Easily one of the most tactile yet assertive and expressive bourbons I’ve tasted in the last two years; fasten your seat belts.” Oh my!
W. Weller Special Reserve is blended with wheat instead of rye, another fan favorite, and the tasting notes include the following – a sweet nose with a presence of caramel. Tasting notes of honey, butterscotch, and a soft woodiness. It’s smooth, delicate and calm. Features a smooth finish with a sweet honeysuckle flair. Oh my!
Among the other labels are Blanton’s Single Barrel and the family of Van Winkle bourbons, easily the hardest to get of all the bourbons to be found in Kentucky. Another factoid about the jargon used in the hills of Kentucky is the difference between small batch bourbon and single barrel…Single barrel refers to bourbon that comes from, well, a single barrel. This barrel is usually handpicked by the master distiller based on a particular set of stipulations. … Essentially, a small batch is comprised of a select number of barrels that are mixed together to create a desired taste.
Located near Versailles (appropriately so) Kentucky, the forefathers of Woodford Reserve started production back in 1812 – easily making it one of the oldest distilleries in the country. Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery started the art of making fine bourbon back in the mid 1800’s and introduced the Woodford Reserve label in 1996.
It is crafted from a grain recipe of 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley and the percentages of the grains is what makes almost every distiller unique. The core of any bourbon is the corn – it must contain at least 51% of the grain in order to be called bourbon and so bourbon is distilled from a fermented mash of grain, yeast and water. For most bourbons, the average is about 70%. Other grains such as rye, malted barley and wheat are considered the “flavor” grain. Of course the hook lies in the flavor grains as well as the corn, mostly grown on site and tweaked to the distillers whims.
The perfectly balanced taste Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is comprised of more than 200 detectable flavor notes, from bold grain and wood, to sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit & floral notes. Tasting notes include a nose heavy with rich dried fruit, hints of mint and oranges covered with a dusting of cocoa and a faint vanilla and tobacco spice. The taste is rich, chewy, rounded and smooth, with complex citrus, cinnamon and cocoa. Toffee, caramel, chocolate and spice notes abound. And the finish is silky smooth, almost creamy at first with a long, warm satisfying tail. Not bad prose huh?
It was “Old Fashioned Week” along the Bourbon Trail and we had one at Woodford Reserve. Not being a huge Bourbon fan, which saved us a lot of money, I hesitated to choke down a cocktail at one in the afternoon for fear one that I wouldn’t like it and two I would like it. It turned out pretty good and it was fortunate that one among us wasn’t drinking that day.
Classic Old Fashioned
2 oz. Woodford Reserve
1/2 oz. Demerara Syrup
3 dashes Woodford Reserve Aromatic Bitters
2 Dashes Woodford Reserve Orange Bitters
Add ingredients to the mixing glass. Add ice to mixing glass and serving glass. Stir ingredients for 30-40 seconds. Strain into serving glass. Garnish with a slightly expressed orange peel.
My first Old Fashioned did not disappoint.
The origin of Four Roses Bourbon has several different twists but the one of fairytales is that a certain Paul Jones Jr. was making bourbon of an unnamed label back in the mid 1800’s . He met a Southern belle and immediately became enamored and quickly proposed. She kept him on a string saying that on the occasion of an upcoming ball if she appeared with a corsage of roses on her gown her answer would be yes. That fateful night she indeed appeared with a corsage of four roses pinned to her gown, and the beginning of Four Roses Bourbon was to go on and become his lifelong passion as was the woman for whom he named the bourbon.
Here we go – Bourbon 102 (second semester freshman year)…Four Roses uses two distinctive mash bills (or grain recipes) each with a high proportion of rye (35% in one of the recipes) that contributes to the unique taste of Four Roses Bourbon. Each mash bill is mashed (cooked ) with the limestone rich water from the nearby Salt River. The desired flavor is produced by strictly regulating the temperatures which protects the delicate flavors of the different grains.
Four Roses has only the one brand and ten individual and distinct recipes that it uses in the different types of bourbons it makes. All ten recipes go into Four Roses Bourbon, four of the recipes go into Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, and a single one is used to make Four Roses Single Barrel which is a “complex, full bodied and surprisingly smooth with a delicate long finish that’s unbelievably mellow.” Four Roses Small Batch, also mellow, targets the nose, the palette and the finish “with hints of dried spice, pear cocoa and maple syrup, hints of ripe plum and cherries, robust and smooth and rich.” And the Four Roses Bourbon popular for making mixed drinks is “sophisticated and contemporary, contains a balance of subtle fruits and spices, hints of tastes of crisp fruit, caramel and vibrant spices and is mellow, long and pleasant.“
Relatively new to the distillery industry, Maker’s Mark began in 1953 when owner Bill Samuels Sr bought the Burks’ Distillery for the sum of $35,000, probably the best investment of that amount of money in the history of investing. Armed with a a 170 year old family recipe for making bourbon, Samuels set about refining it by experimenting with various grains. “Give me a bourbon that won’t blow my ears off.” Samuel’s eventually settled on using a soft red winter wheat instead of the traditional rye grain that resulted in a delicate sweetness that is the hallmark of Maker’s Mark Bourbon.
Bill Samuels’ partner in this venture was his wife Margie who was determined to make the product as uniquely visible in the marketplace as the unique taste of the new bourbon was to drinkers. Thus evolved the shape of the bottle, the look of the label and the signature hand-dipped red wax topper. “My aim was to bring good taste to tastes good.”
Bourbon 201 – graduate school level. Cask strength bourbon? Yep – new lingo. This from “The Whisky Woman”:
1) WHAT: Cask Strength is the whisky straight from the cask. No water added. Typically in the 55%-60% abv range (double those numbers to know the proof) vs. the more common 40%-45% abv of most bottled whiskies.
2) WHY: Bottling whiskies at Cask Strength is typically reserved for the upper premium whiskies. This is more expensive for both the producer and the consumer because the product is more concentrated and the distiller get’s fewer number of bottles to sell out of a single cask. You, the consumer, get more whisky (same volume, but more actual whisky).
3) BENEFIT: What’s great about having a cask strength whisky is that you then get to take over and play “blender” by controlling the amount of water you add in your glass.
4) HOW TO: Let me repeat myself, you (the consumer) get to add the amount of water you would like instead of having this pre-done by the distiller. If you have the pleasure of tasting a cask strength whisky, make sure you know what to expect. This is going to be much stronger than what you’re used to (unless you make it a habit to drink these, in which case, my hat’s off to you). Essentially, you’re buying whole spices here, not the pre-ground McCormick shaker. Proceed excitedly with educated caution.
Maker’s 46 is a twist on an old theme. It starts out as a traditional Maker’s Mark Bourbon with a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley.To differentiate from the original, 46 is aged longer in the barrels which mellows out the bourbon and adds more flavor. Towards the end of the process seared French oak staves are seeped into the barrel the bourbon bringing out some even more flavors. Bourbon heaven!
We didn’t get to anywhere near all the distilleries there are to see around Lexington nor did we really become Bourbon connoisseurs by any stretch of the imagination. By writing this blog I became just a little knowledgeable about the history, the brands, the flavors – just enough to know that I would recommend a trip to the Bourbon Trail. It was fun!
Ahhh! Bourbon! Gotta be something to cook with bourbon, although there isn’t much of a choice when it comes down to drinking the stuff or pinching a little to cook. Just a little. Of course recipes with bourbon abound, but this one is an easy one to cook and very tasty.Enjoy.
One Reply to “the Bourbon Trail”
I must say, this is my favorite blog post to date. Watching you dip the neck of the bottle into the red wax was pretty cool! And I printed the bourbon chicken recipe so will be making that soon. Happy travels!