Bourbon country is only a short day trip away from Indianapolis so Mrs. GLP and I took advantage of our proximity last weekend and ventured down to three distilleries. The major distilleries are split into two groups, with half about an hour south of Louisville and the other half about an hour east of Louisville. We headed off east to visit Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve and Wild Turkey, planning to visit the others on a future weekend. Each tour was similar, delving into bourbon production and the history of the distillery, yet each one was different enough to not feel like we were repeating the same tour over and over.
Located in Frankfort just off the Kentucky River, Buffalo Trace was our first stop. The tour of America’s oldest distillery was the most history-focused of the three. From its humble beginnings as O.F.C. Distillery to its current state, the distillery has weathered everything from massive floods to Prohibition. To make it through Prohibition, the distillery was allowed to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes, as doctors could prescribe up to a pint of whiskey every 10 days for patients. A short video discusses how bourbon is distilled and a journey into one of the warehouses greets you with the heavenly aroma of the “Angels’ Share.” It mystifies me that there are not more bourbon-scented products. If you visit on a weekend, you’ll have to settle for an oral description of the bottling process as the workers have the day off. The tour concludes with a tasting back at the visitor center where we sampled Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10-Year and Buffalo Trace Cream Liqueur. Sadly the tasting does not include any Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year-Old, also distilled at Buffalo Trace.
Tours are free and according to the web site take place Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and start on the hour but we found that there were tours running until 3 p.m. on Saturday and they seemed to start every half hour. The tour takes just over an hour.
Bourbon aging in the warehouse.
The water tower stands watch over the distillery.
One of the brick warehouses, windows below thirty feet barred to prevent any barrels from disappearing.
A reminder of the distillery’s past
A complete collection of Blanton’s bottle toppers. Each is marked with a letter in Blanton’s. Collect the whole set and display with pride.
We set off on winding country backroads lined with horse farms and hills towards Versailles (pronounced Ver-Sails) and the Woodford Reserve distillery. Nestled beside Glenn’s Creek, the tour begins in the expansive visitor center before visitors are bussed down a hill to the distillery site. The tour is much more focused on the production of bourbon rather than the history of the distillery. The official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, Woodford Reserve is produced on such a small scale only one warehouse is used for aging. Visitors are able to walk right up to the side of the four fermenters and peer into the bubbling mixture of grain water and yeast. You can touch and look inside the massive copper stills used for distilling, a process done three times unlike the typical two. After walking through the warehouse and viewing the bottling area, patrons are bussed back up the hill to the visitor center where the tour concludes with a tasting of Woodford Reserve. The visitor center also houses a cafe with an assortment of sandwiches and snacks, which we enjoyed on the wraparound porch overlooking the distillery.
Tours are $5 per person and according to the web site take place Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and start on the hour but we found that the tours seemed to start every 15-20 minutes. The tour takes about an hour.
Glenn’s Creek flows alongside the property.
An extra warehouse sits empty.
The welcoming visitor center
The mash bubbles in the fermenter as sugar is transformed into alcohol.
Three copper stills grace the room.
Empty oak barrels waiting to be filled with whiskey.
Wild Turkey is massive compared to the previous two distilleries with myriad warehouses spread over a large area, yet has the smallest vistor center of the three. Visitors are bussed down the road to the modern distillery, completed in 2010, and watch a brief video featuring master distiller Jimmy Russell. The tour is very production-focused. Like Woodford Reserve, visitors can walk right up and peer into the 30,000 gallon fermenters. Unlike Woodford Reserve, the 23 tanks show bourbon production on a much larger scale. Visitors can peer into a room containing the stills and the tasting room before being whisked back to the visitor center for the tasting. Each visitor can taste two of the six available whiskies – Wild Turkey 81, Wild Turkey 101, American Honey, Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old and Rye. You don’t learn nearly as much as you do on the other tours or get to view the barrels aging in a warehouse but it is interesting to see the differences between a small and a large distillery.
Tours are free and take place Monday-Saturday at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m and on Sunday at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and, unlike the other distilleries, it seemed to us that this schedule was strictly followed. The tour takes a little under an hour.
These fermenters dwarf those at Woodford Reserve.