A visit to the Bluegrass region of Kentucky would be incomplete without a stop at a bourbon distillery (pics). While bourbon can be made anywhere, approximately 95% of all bourbon comes from Kentucky and most of that is produced in northern Kentucky in what is known as the Bluegrass region. Bourbon is a type of whiskey and is generally made using the sour mash process. In order to be called bourbon it must be made with at least 51% corn and will be combined with barley and rye in order to make the mash from which it will be distilled. The distilled liquid is placed in new, charred oak barrels to be aged for no less than 2 years, although most distillers age their bourbon for 6 to 8 years. The barrels can only be used once for aging bourbon so they are sold to be used for aging other products such as scotch, tequila, beer and even hot sauce.
We visited two distilleries: Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and Woodford Reserve near Versailles, Kentucky.
Buffalo Trace Distillery claims to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in the US, beginning around 1860. They were allowed to operate during prohibition under federal supervision in order to produce their product for medicinal purposes. Some six million prescriptions were written in Kentucky alone for this “medicine” during prohibition. They bottle 18 different brands which they derive from 3 distinct mash recipes. They also distill and bottle the Pappy Van Winkle bourbon which is a premium brand aged for 23 years.
The Woodford Reserve Distillery produces the Woodford Reserve bourbon which is considered a premium brand. Although many of the facilities used to produce this bourbon date back to the late 1800’s, the Woodford Reserve brand is a relatively new one. In the early 1990’s, the Brown Foreman company wanted to begin making a premium bourbon. It purchased this property, a distillery it had owned some 20 years earlier but it had been idle since, refurbished it adding the distinctive copper stills and began producing Woodford Reserve in 1996. They feel that distilling their bourbon 3 times in the copper stills gives Woodford Reserve a unique flavor profile.