After a fun day in Cincinnati, it's time to get back to the business of expanding my knowledge of bourbon. And what better way to do that than to hit another craft distillery and then roam the streets of Louisville, including Whiskey Row!
My Visit to Kentucky Artisan Distillery and Video 5.1
Cozy Little Distillery That Is the Home of Jefferson's Reserve and Ocean at Sea
- Location: Crestwood, KY (East of Louisville)
- Website: Tour Information (Requires Age Verification)
- Cost: I paid $11 for the tour.
- Samples: 4 Selections including Whiskey Row, Jefferson Reserve Very Small Batch, Jefferson's Ocean at Sea, Manhattan
- Perks: No keepsakes but some great conversations.
- My Kentucky Artisan Instagram Photos
Just for interest's sake (and since I haven't shown any in-house action videos to this point!) here is what it looks like as they bottle Jefferson's.
Video 5.2: My Thoughts on Kentucky Artisan Distillery
And as I drove away, here are my thoughts about the tour...(sorry, I learned after the fact that the air conditioner in my car was blowing straight into the microphone...again, my first time doing this sort of thing, so my apologies!). A pretty cool tidbit in here about how Oceans at Sea is made and where it may tie into Thomas Jefferson in ways the distiller may not have even known.
- I was ill informed before heading to this distillery. It was suggested to me that this was just a blending facility. It IS a fully functioning distillery. The warehouses are off-site, but everything else is here.
- They said they do about 2000 barrels a year versus Jim Beam's 2000 barrels a day.
- Very small batch according to the distillery is about 20 barrels, vs bigger distillers that can claim small batches that include hundreds of barrels. There is no legal definition of "small batch."
- We got some back story on the history of bourbon itself, although they offer up just one of the theories (a theory that fits their experimental process of using water for aging). There are many theories as to how bourbon came to be and where it got it's name and aging process.
- They actually use stainless steel mostly for their stills, which I found unique. But they do use a copper still in the process, so no sulfites!
- Here, they mention double stilling the product and that doing it more than that hurts the product. However, at Woodford Reserve we were told the exclusivity of using a three still process (and that it made the whiskey better). Okay, who you gonna believe?
- They buy their barrels locally and toast them, unlike most distilleries that purchase from Kentucky Cooperage (in Lebanon, KY) or Kelvin Cooperage (in Louisville, KY).
- While watching the AMC show Turn: Washington's Spies, I became very interested in the port wine called Medeira, which was a popular drink with our colonial forefathers. Totally by accident they discovered that if they aged it at sea, it improved the product. You can still find Medeira Port Wine in stores, but only a few brands actually still set their wine adrift. Read the bottle to make sure. It's very sweet and thick, like a sherry.
Video 5.3: A Break at Churchill Downs
- What is Kentucky know for more than bourbon? Horse racing! And what better place to visit when you're in town than Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. Doing the Behind the Scenes tour is great. It will set you back about $30 a person though. Still, a lot of fun and I took some pictures along the way. You can see them all on my Instagram account.
Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse and Video 5.4
An Easy Stop Off For a Tasting in Downtown Louisville
- Location: Louisville, KY
- Website: Tour Information (Requires Age Verification)
- Cost: I paid $8 for the tasting and did not take a tour. They are open late, so it can be a late tack on for your day of bourbon exploration.
- Samples: 3 Selections including Jim Beam Extra Extra Aged Black, Jim Beam Double Oak and Jim Beam Vanilla liqour. We were also given the chance to choose one additional drink. I chose Bakers.
- Perks: I received a shot glass with Louisville and Urban Stillhouse on it.
- My Instagram Photo
- I mention it's day 6 in the video, but for some reason I was getting my days messed up. Maybe it's the bourbon talking ;)
- Lyft, Uber and/or busses make a trip downtown easy and you don't have to worry about having "too much" to drink. I haven't said it much, but do be responsible! And taste, don't guzzle.
- I believe you can tour this facility, although I only did the tasting.
- I probably felt more like I was walking into a commercial on this visit more than any other.
- Probably a good place to take a date when downtown to get them into bourbon and show off your newly acquired knowledge! Hey no problem...just buy me a drink sometime.
Off Topic: A Word About Transparency
Before I took this trip, I had been binge watching a Scottish whisky taster's YouTube channel to learn more about whisky in general. I was absolutely amazed at how this guy could pull so many flavors out of a glass of whisky. His name is Ralfy and I highly recommend you watch his videos. One thing Ralfy talks about is how American spirits are really bad at transparency. They don't always disclose clearly that their spirits are made elsewhere, or that they use a lot of misleading marketing terms.
I must say after taking this trip and learning so much, I have to agree.
More than once on this bourbon tour, I've heard some blatant marketing hogwash. Prior to this tour, I might have bought that same non-sense, but after hearing the process over and over, you start to realize that some people are just flat out pulling your leg. For instance, more than once, I heard promotional videos or tour guides saying "our bourbon is aged in American Oak barrels" with an inflection like were superior because of this fact. If you know about bourbon, then you know that oak is a requirement of bourbon and most of these distillers use some form of American Oak.
Other bourbon's use the term "sour mash" like it is something special. I didn't hear of a single distiller that left sour mash out of the process.
And the biggest one is aging. There is forced transparency, in that any product not aged for at least 2 years cannot carry the name "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" on the bottle, and that any under 4 years must have an age statement (see a bottle of McAfee's Benchmark Old No. 8 as an example of this), but Very Old Barton's is not very old, and Old Charter 8 is not aged 8 years, but instead for 8 seasons according to the bottle (which could be 2 years by my calendar, but the bottle used to say aged 8 years, so it now creates confusion and if it were just 2 years, it would have to state that fact). Distillers all along the way are all saying age statements don't matter, it's when the spirits are "mature." Okay, maybe so...or maybe that is a convenient way to get out of age statements when the high demand for bourbon may be driving some distillers to pull barrels earlier and earlier. Sad part is, we just don't know.
We get marketed to every minute of every day. We see ten million drug commercials with smiling happy people where the product will potentially kill you and yet it doesn't stop people from "asking their doctor." It's bizarre. It seems borderline criminal to me. At the very least irresponsible. But maybe that is the cost of living in a free market society.
I think two things need to happen. The bourbon industry needs to cut the fluff and give us a little more information on the bottle (something akin to Nutrition statements). And we as Americans need to stop being as gullible as we seem and should start educating ourselves instead of taking a marketing company's word for it. That is my take on things. And that is why I highly endorse these distillery visits. It uncovers a lot of misinformation.
Extra Note: There is one item that sounds like marketing but it actually is an official, legal statement and that is Bottled-In-Bond. Bottled-In-Bond is a government supervised program that is as close to a guarantee of quality as anything. These products must be aged for 4 years under government supervision and must be 100 proof. The program was started because in the late 1800's distillers were putting questionable products into whiskey, including poisons such as the "heads" of the distilling process (something that is discarded these days) that can cause death or blindness.
Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse
Not a Distillery, But a Fun Place to Get "Tastes" and Some Good BBQ
- Location: Louisville, KY (Next to Old Forester Distillery)
- Samples: I like this place because you can get smaller samples called "tastes" at half price and they have a ton of whiskey's to choose from. I tried Michter's Bourbon Whiskey, Kentucky Pure (Willitts) and Weller 12 Year.
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 out from Cincinnati and made my way to Kentucky Artisan from there. In terms of my time in Louisville, I used a Lyft from my AirBnB. There is also a good bus network that can get you to and from Whiskey Row. Also note, there are more distilleries opening up on Whiskey Row in the future, stay tuned.
- Kentucky Artisan Distillery (Crestwood, KY) to Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse (Louisville, KY) - 19 miles/23 minutes
On to Day 6