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Visiting Bourbon Country

lavaca Feb 17, 2012 02:58 PM

In March I'll be driving north from Chattanooga to Louisville and then southeast from Louisville to Asheville. I'd like to visit at least one of the bourbon distilleries while I'm in the area - do you guys have any recommendations? I am reasonably familiar with nationally-available brands of bourbon, so a place that lets me try/learn about obscure stuff rather than just Maker's Mark, Bulleit, Four Roses, etc would be preferable.

In addition, are there any bourbons that I could find easily in Kentucky but not so easily back home in Seattle?

  1. x
    xcorvis Feb 17, 2012 03:38 PM

    I visited the Bourbon Trail recently. Heaven Hill (Louisville) makes a large number of lesser known bourbons (Fighting Cock!), so that might be a good place to stop. Their basic tour is mostly a history lesson, but some of the other tours sounded interesting. If you've never done it, get a tour that includes a rick house. The smell is amazing, it'll haunt your dreams.

    Buffalo Trace (Frankfort) is a national brand so I'm sure you've heard of it, but the tour was good.

    IMO, tours weren't a great time to be trying new bourbons. It's nice, of course, but at the end of a tour at 10 am isn't the best time to be trying to find a new whiskey to like.

    1. Pedr0 Feb 19, 2012 02:02 PM

      The Maker's Mark distillery is absolutely worth visiting. Don't miss it if you're down that way.

      The Buffalo Trace tour is also very good.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Pedr0
        ellaystingray Feb 20, 2012 01:38 PM

        I have to agree with Pedro on the Maker's tour. It is the perfect blend of history, eduction and fun. And the place is effing gorgeous. The only downside is that it isn't really "close" to much else. But that is relative to how much driving you mind doing. Now, if you just want to taste and not really tour, there are tons of great bars all over the area with terrific selections. If you just stay in Louisville at either the Seelbach or 21c they both have great bars with outstanding selections and then you don't have to drive anywhere.

      2. ted Feb 20, 2012 10:21 AM

        So, where in Chattanooga should I arrive so that you can pick me up and take me with you?

        My Dad and I have been talking about going and visiting some distilleries for a while but haven't managed to firm up a trip.

        Don't forget Jack Daniels and/or Dickel on your way up from Chattanooga.

        1. r
          ravchaz Feb 21, 2012 12:51 PM

          Distillery touring, tasting and bourbon buying are distinct activities. Because of local liquor laws, the distilleries only give at most three one-ounce samples and can only sell a limited number of varieties -- I think four. Buffalo Trace on occasion has sold items that are exclusive to its gift shop, though -- their cream liqueur and at one point their white dog was only sold in their gift shop but that is no longer the case. Each gift shop will also give you a shpiel about how they sell bourbon mainly as a courtesy to their visitors and their prices are not designed to compete with the retailers -- and in point of fact you will pay at least as much, if not more, at the distillery.

          Best overall tours are Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve because you see the whole process from milling to bottling. Same is true of Buffalo Trace hard-hat tour, I think, but that is by reservation only and we've only done the regular tour. Heaven Hill's tasting is very informative and they give you tastes of some higher-end products but the actual distillation is not done in Bardstown so you only actually see a warehouse.

          If you want to buy, find a liquor store with a good selection and knowledgeable staff. We are partial to Old Town Liquors on Bardstown Rd. in Louisville but you can search the board here for other recs as well.

          3 Replies
          1. re: ravchaz
            x
            xcorvis Feb 21, 2012 03:52 PM

            That reminds me - most distillers aren't actually distilling during summer because it's too hot. March should be fine but I went in August and many of the distilleries were not running.

            1. re: ravchaz
              lavaca Feb 21, 2012 05:53 PM

              Thanks. I admit that's the answer I suspected I was going to get. We are also visiting Charleston, so I think there are Louisville are where I'll do most of my bourbon-tasting (but that's another thread, of course).

              1. re: lavaca
                r
                ravchaz Feb 22, 2012 04:46 AM

                The Brown Hotel lobby bar has a nice selection, including bourbon flights so you can try a nice variety. The Seelbach is also reputed to have a nice selection. Both are recommended in that you can indulge widely and then go upstairs to sleep in your room.

                There are also a couple of restaurants which offer bourbon flights -- Bourbons Bistro and the Maker's Mark Lounge come to mind.

            2. d
              DavidT Feb 22, 2012 09:15 AM

              Wine Spectator magazine has a travel article on visiting Bourbon Country.

              http://www.winespectator.com/webfeatu...

              1. ithimis Feb 23, 2012 09:13 AM

                My favorite tour was Buffalo Trace which also makes Blanton's and Pappy van Winkle and is part of the Sazerac brand. Nice tour in a great setting. Stop by Capital Cellars in Frankfort for a flight of bourbons (and they do flights of wine if your traveling companion, like mine, does not like bourbon). http://capitalcellars.net/?page_id=4
                I also second the Brown Hotel for tasting and indulge and get the Kentucky Hot Brown to eat.

                1. lavaca Mar 27, 2012 05:35 PM

                  We ended up going to Maker's Mark for a tour. They are doing work in the barrel room and left that out of the tour but the experience didn't suffer too much. At the end, we got to taste a white whiskey (the first I've found particularly palatable) in addition to regular Maker's and Maker's 46. I decided against paying $42 for the mint julep base, but I will note that this is something they only sell in Kentucky and only for part of the year.

                  For the drinking, we went to Proof on Main in Louisville and did flights. Although not as focused on bourbon, Harvest also had a nice selection despite being out of all but one of the Pappy Van Winkle vintages on the menu.

                  I also discovered that the restaurant at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill sells bourbons like Knob Creek and Four Roses Single Barrel for $6-$7. Paying Kentucky bourbon prices and then returning to Seattle is sort of like paying Seattle beer prices and then going to Washington DC or New York City.

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