Bourbon Trail splinters [moved from Midwest board]
Flew to Louisville for $130 though never made it into the city. Thanks to all sorts of googled recommendations drove early the next morning to the Buffalo Trace distillery near Frankfort and got there about 10am on a Saturday. If I had it to do over (which I will) I would have arranged in advance for a "hard hat" tour of Buffalo Trace to see the mashing and fermenting at 9am, but the 10am tour of the barrel storage and bottling (and a sampling) is really great. Besides absolutely stunning views of barrel storage (with each warehouse varying by height and external structure - - which significantly affects the flavor of maturing barrels) the information from the tour guide was genuine and not a little bit fun - - I learned a BUNCH. A really worthwhile tour.
Barrelled out to the Wild Turkey distillery where they had mash/fermenting tanks, but did not allow photography indoors. The juvenile tour leader was just as specious, and this tour was a wild TURKEY though if your camera happens to repeatedly and unexpectedly misfire while ogling the bubbling mash tanks you might get something memorable. Lousy tour, though in different circumstances it might be worthwhile.
Four Roses had just shut down their production the day before I got there (June 14th) so they did not allow a visit to the bubbling vats, but they had a really nice video, and then a tedious recitation of what was already covered in the video by a nervous youngin, followed by a tasting. The tasting matched exactly the bottles of Four Roses I had picked up the night before, but was delightfully (after our curious spotting, and then insistence) accompanied by a tasting of the pure spirit as it comes straight out of the high wines still. Four Roses is a very pretty operation, and the whiskies are unique, delicate, and hard to find, but the pretentiousness of the non-tour is a bit much to take.
Drove through Bardstown toward early evening and saw enough to realize that all of Sunday could be spent there happily. Route 31E/150 from Louisville is a gorgeous approeach to Bardstown. The Heaven Hill bourbon Heritage Center has some nice displays. I left before the tour start (barrels only--no production), and instead drove to Makers Mark which is an incredibly beautiful 25 minute drive toward the south-south-east This was a KNOCKOUT tour. At Four Roses another tourer had said that the Woodford Reserve (near Frankfort) tour was really worthwhile, but the Makers tour was absolutely gorgeous, was very comprehensive, and BEST of all, begged, insisted, beseeched, all tourgoers to dip their hands into every vat, to feel and then TASTE the ongong process of the fermenting "beers" as they went from grain mash to 8% bubbling pre-distilled corn/wheat excellence, and then wash their hands. The tasting at the end brilliantly let you compare the un-aged white dog out of the high wines still to the fully aged Makers Mark as it is sold - - FAB!
I didn't go to the Jim Beam distillery that Sunday because they only offer a video and then a self-guided walk around the grounds. Monday through Friday they also offer a tasting of their small batch bourbons, which would have been great, but this was a Sunday, and they don't offer tastings on Sundays (though I am sure that this makes God happy).