The drive out to Woodford Reserve through country backroads was a joy. While the well kept strip of asphalt held some danger in it's narrow passages, the horse farms and picket fences made the extra tension roll away.
Video 3.1: Those Fine Kentucky Backroads
Woodford Reserve Distillery and Video 3.2
Historic and Pristine Distillery
- Location: Versailles, KY
- Website: Tour Information (Requires Age Verification)
- Cost: I paid $15 for the tour online. It appears reservations would be a good idea.
- Samples: 2 Woodford Reserve and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
- Perks: We also had a chocolate to pair with the bourbon.
- My Woodford Reserve Instagram Photos
- Woodford Reserve's distillery is on the National Register of Historic Places, with a well-manicured and pristine campus. You'll want to kick the dust off your heels when stepping into the distillery, it's that clean. And the distillery itself dates back to 1838.
- This is the first tour where they suggested I buy a bottle of water, as it gets very warm in the distillery. Personally, I take a bottle of water with me on all of these tours. it not only helps with the heat, but also with counteracting the dehydrating effects of alcohol in your tasting events and as an excellent source of distilled water for reducing your whisky if needed. Make sure it's distilled, reverse osmosis water, as water with iron clashes with the bourbon and fresh Spring Water will most likely contain some.
- Woodford Reserve is one of three tours that I think could stand on their own. If you could only visit one place in Kentucky, I would suggest either this, Old Forester or Maker's Mark. Maybe it was because it was the 7th time I had heard the bourbon making process explained to me, but this time the process actually sunk in. I think having a good tour guide also makes all the difference and we had a great one.
- Marketing Confusion: They said that Woodford Reserve is the only major distiller using a three pot still process (stay tuned because another distiller coming up says that is not a good process).
- Note: I did buy some Woodford Reserve Malt Whiskey a couple days later, as it had been released a couple weeks earlier. It has became an instant favorite.
Beyond the Marketing: Who's the Oldest?
Woodford Reserve claims they are the oldest active distillery. Hmmm, so does Buffalo Trace and apparently that distinction my actually belong to Maker's Mark, who didn't seem to claim it. However, Burks Distillery is named as the oldest and that is where Maker's Mark resides. They started making whiskey on site in 1805. While someone was distilling on the grounds of the current Buffalo Trace distillery in 1775, it didn't become a distillery until 1812. The site of Woodford Reserve saw it's first distilling occur in 1780, but the actual first distillery didn't open until 1838. Jack Daniel's claims to be the oldest "registered" which may be an official mark, but puts that distillery at 1866, well after the others. This is almost as convoluted as the origins of baseball or the name of bourbon itself. So, all of this nonsense leads marketing companies to claim each distillery as the oldest. Enjoy each for what it is. They are all steeped in history. Next time you're sipping their whisky, I want you to think whether the age of their facility really had anything to do with what you're drinking and the experience you're having with it.
By the way, Old Forester would later claim they were the oldest continuous running brand (cir. 1870) and the first to bottle their bourbon. Who will be the first not to claim being the oldest at something (wink)?
Buffalo Trace Distillery
An Enjoyable Tour and Tasting All For Free
- Location: Frankfort, KY
- Website: Tour Information (Requires Age Verification)
- Cost: Free of charge.
- Samples: I had two selections out of four to choose from. I chose the Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare as the other two were white dog and Vodka.
- Perks: We were given an extra taste of a liquor called Bourbon Cream.
- My Buffalo Trace Instagram Photos
Video 3.3: On The Way In
Make sure when you come in that you look for and keep following the visitor's center signs. I parked in the employee parking lot and figured I would be waiting a couple hours for the tour because there were so many cars. It took about 2 seconds to realize my mistake. Also, when you arrive, they tell you to just queue up. That made me a bit nervous as more people started to gather, but they actually took 2 tours out at the same time by splitting us up, so no waiting. That may be different on busy days though.
Video 3.4: The Free Tour
WIthin this video I will unscramble the mystery of the scarcity of Pappy Van Winkle, in case you were wondering.
- I was buzzing (with excitement not inebriation) after this tour because I actually mistakenly followed someone into the wrong building and lucked into a conversation with one of their master tasters. Cool experience.
- Quit Your Bellyaching: I heard a few people complaining that the samples weren't unique enough. I have a hard time complaining about a free tour where you get to taste Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace at the end. You are limited to two selections and then they give you a mixer that is a bit more my style called Bourbon Cream. Good for Irish coffee or ice cream. They also let you sample their White Dog which is available for purchase or their Wheatley Vodka. By comparison, Woodford Reserve's tour costs $16 and you only got to try their two bourbons, so I think Buffalo Trace is a tremendous value.
- I try not to be sucked in by branding, but I found a ton of things I liked in their gift shop. I ended up walking out with 2 Glencairn glasses and a coffee mug. The Buffalo Trace logo is one of my favorites and it's bottle design sucked me in. The product afterwards didn't disappoint either.
- Got to walk in and see them bottling Blanton's by hand. A very unique experience in a large distillery that they let you ask the workers questions as long as you don't disturb operations.
- They did a nice job with their history. And they are very open about the Weller/Van Winkle scarcity issue.
- Their campus is fun to walk around so take advantage of it when they suggest it, including a walk around the clubhouse.
- I still haven't seen the John Wick movies...
Video 3.5: Bonus Video of Buffalo Trace's Clubhouse
This was designed by the same architect that designed Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, KY.
Side Tracked: Allocation
As bourbon gets more and more popular and distillers struggle to keep up with demand, the word "allocation" will become more and more prevalent in the bourbon buying vernacular. I mention this after talking about the Buffalo Trace tour, because they are one of the distilleries where this term is used most frequently.
What it means is, because a particular bottle of bourbon is in such short supply (due to low quantities being distilled as in the case of Pappy Van Winkle, or just because demand caught the distiller by surprise in the case of Buffalo Trace Bourbon) they are only allocating a certain amount of bottles to be sent to each store or maybe restricting it's sale to a particular region of the United States.
The way to survive in the world of allocated bourbons? Get to know your liquor store operator and ask them if they have a certain day when allocated liquors arrive. Pappy Van Winkle 23 year is only sent out twice a year and so it has a very tight list and you may not be able to get it. Whereas something like Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare may come in once or twice a month in limited supply.
Scotland is already dealing with a similar problem and there is talk of a worldwide shortage of aged spirits because producers had no idea how popular they would become. Some people may go towards hording bottles. Let's hope it doesn't get to that.
Do It Yourself
Each day, I will provide a map showing my drive and will give you an idea of the mileage.
Note: I started from where I was staying south of Lawrenceburg. Here are the distances.
- Lawrenceburg to Woodford Reserve Distillery (Versailles, KY) - 13 miles/22 minutes
- Woodford Reserve Distillery (past Castle and Key and Glenn's Creek) to Buffalo Trace Distillery (Frankfort, KY) - 11 miles/19 minutes