“Don’t want to wait ’til the sun’s sinking, We could be feeling alright, I know you know what I’m thinking, Why don’t we do a little day drinking.” – Little Big Town
Miles Traveled: 45.7
Just on the other side of Louisville and the Ohio River, is the state of Indiana. And while not originally part of the agenda, I literally couldn’t help myself. The border had to be crossed. And so it was. Add another state to the list. That officially becomes the 36th state (not including repeats) I have passed through on my road trip, leaving one more state to go through that I hasn’t already been part of the trip so far. I just bummed myself out by that fact – nicely done, Sarah.
After my detour, I drove into downtown Louisville, parked, and hit my first stop of the day – the Louisville Slugger Factory. It’s like the Gibson guitar factory of baseball. My guide’s name was Dan, and he was pretty hilarious. It’s an active factory, so pretty cool to walk through and watch the bats being made – and pretty crazy to think that the ‘basic’ bat form is made from a cylinder billet of either maple or ash in about 30 seconds versus the 30 minutes it takes to make them by hand. In case you may be wondering, an average tree will provide roughly 60 billets, and ultimately 60 bats. Dan closed out the tour by saying, “The tour is over – You can now jump for Joy…if you can find her.” Ha. And I may or may not have gotten a personalized Louisville Slugger with my signature on it. Every single gal needs personal protection after all, and I’m pretty damn good with a bat.
Known for crafting the official bat of Major League Baseball, Kentucky is also quite well known for a little barrel-aged product called Bourbon. Over 95% percent of the world’s bourbon is made in the beautiful state of Kentucky. Now, I am not a bourbon or whiskey drinker, but I’m very much a ‘when in Rome’ kind of traveler, and I like to experience what makes each state unique. So gosh darn it, I was going to educate myself on and taste some bourbon.
My first stop of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, just a couple blocks from the Louisville Slugger factory. While I was hanging out and waiting for my tour to start, I briefly met Aurelien Collin of the MLS Orlando City SC – he was in town with the club for a game tonight. Kind of cool. I lucked out with a private tour of the artisan distillery (aka not a large scale production distillery, and smaller than a craft), and my guide, George, was awesome. He is also a former HR manager from UPS who decided after 25 years he was done with Corporate America, and began working in breweries and distilleries. I laughed and said, I lasted about 10 years in Corporate America before I decided to call it a day! It was great talking with George, and he provided great information about Evan Williams and bourbon history and the process to make it.
So what’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey?
First general rule: All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
A strict set of standards by the US government that regulates what is considered a bourbon. So here they are:
- Must be made in the United States.
- It must be at least 160 proof when coming off the still, meaning it will be bottled with an 80 proof minimum.
- It cannot be flavored. (So honey, black cherry, cinnamon, etc flavored barrels are whiskey, not bourbon)
- It must be aged in a charred white oak barrel.
- It must be minimum 51% corn.
At Evan Williams, I tasted 3 different bourbons – Evan Williams Black Label, Evan Williams Single Barrel, and Larceny. The first two were rye recipes and the third is a wheat recipe. You’re thinking, golly Sarah has quite the educated palette. No. I couldn’t pick a rye versus wheat versus a vanilla coke recipe – other than that 2 of the 3 burn on the way down. The best I can do is say that the darker the bourbon, the longer it aged! Let me also relax your anxiety-ridden minds on the quantity of bourbon I tasted. They are legally only allows to serve customers a ½ ounce pour of bourbon. So divide that by three, and consider I did not drink all of the samples, and I had essentially 3 tiny sips. Which was plenty to taste the difference. Fun fact: The warm, spreading, and sometimes burning sensation you get when you drink a bourbon is called a “Kentucky Hug.” Isn’t that precious.
So next I headed down the road about 30 miles to visit the Jim Beam distillery. And no, I am not visiting all of the ones on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! But George suggested going to a specific three because they were different types of tours. So I’m going with his suggestion. The Jim Beam property was located in the beautiful Kentucky countryside. It is also a full-scale production facility, which the first was not. So here’s what I learned at Jim Beam from Pete the guide:
- Like Evan Williams, Jim Beam ages their bourbon naturally – meaning the barrels are stored in non-climate controlled warehouses, so they are subject to the changing temperatures. The change in temperature causes the barrels to naturally expand and contract, which acts as a natural circulation system.
- The fermented product is distilled twice, creating a product called ‘high wine’ (the alcohol from the first distill is called ‘low wine’).
- It takes 53 gallons to fill a barrel.
- Mila Kunis was pushing an empty barrel in the Devil’s Cut commercial. Ha.
- Jim Beam keeps the first and last bottle from every line and will store them for up to 2 years (in the event there are customer complaints, etc). After the 2 years, the bottles are given to employees as holiday gifts. Happy holidays.
- Jim Beam loses about 4% of product a year as part of the aging process by way of the natural evaporation (the ‘Angels Share’), and then the Devil gets his cut – hence the new ‘Devils Cut’ line in which they add water to the barrels, agitate them, and produce a high flavored aged bourbon.
- Three types of bottling: Single barrel, Small batch (20 to 200 mixed barrels of same line), and Large batch (over 1000 barrels of same line mixed).
- Before every bottle is filled in production, it is rinsed with the same bourbon that will go into the bottle.
After wrapping up my visit at Jim Beam (I tasted 2 bourbons at Jim Beam and they tasted an awful lot like bourbon), I made the short drive to Bardstown, KY – voted again as the most beautiful small town in America. I stopped by the hotel, and then headed downtown to check out the famed town and grab some dinner. I had dinner at the Old Talbott Tavern, where I had the local’s favorite meal – the Kentucky Hot Brown. I have absolutely no idea what I ate, but it was quite good and tasted authentically southern. I closed out my meal with a pretty stellar bread pudding – it is so good to be back in the South!
Sorry for the long post!
Until next time…