Category Archives: Travel

Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland

Virginia is not the only place we’ve been lately to taste great beer.  We were also able to enjoy some microbrewed beer on a recent trip to my husband’s hometown of Cleveland.

Right next door to the famous Westside Market is the Market Garden Brewery.

It has a nice outdoor seating area that was perfect to enjoy the pleasant summer afternoon, but it has a huge indoor area with plenty of TVs, too.

At the time of their visit they had 10 varieties of beer made in-house under the guidance of brewmaster Andy Tveekrem, but also have a variety of microbrews from locales around the world.  We decided to share a sampler of 6 of their brews.

Pearl Street Wheat – A tangy and sweet Hefeweizen with a hint of clove.  I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the style, but this was not outstanding.  Just fine.

Tarte Blanche Blonde Ale – Their thirst-quenching, fruity summer brew.  It was great for sitting outside in the sun.

Progress Pilsner – Crisp with a nice balance between malt and hops.  It was well made, but nothing to write home about.

Wallace Tavern Scotch Ale – Super malty it reminded us of whiskey.  We both ordered a full pint of this one.

OHC ESB – An Extra Special Bitter with a nice amount of malt.  If we stayed longer, I would have ordered this again.

Gordian Strong Ale – Another malt heavy brew.  I think we will enjoy it more in cooler weather, which Cleveland definitely has for a few months.

They seemed to have a pretty good collection of spirits behind the bar, but a craft distillery for the grounds is also in the works.  We were disappointed to learn it is just “coming soon.”

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Beer Brewing Basics in Virginia

A recent weekend saw us road-tripping to the Charlottesville, Virginia area with our friends Dave and Laura.  We not only stopped at Barboursville Vineyards, but we also visited the Starr Hill Brewery.

Weekends-only tours and tastings are free.  You can’t beat that, right?  The tour goes over the basics of brewing beer and then ends at their bar for a tasting.

First step to getting tasty beer is crushing grain into grist that allows the maximum extraction of the fermentable sugars from the grain when hot water is added to create the mash.  The grain is rolled between metal rollers that are set a specific distance apart so that the crushing is done without turning the grain into flour.

The grain is shoveled into a large kettle (also known as the mash tun) and hot water is added.  When the mash is done, as much of the starch has been converted to sugars and fermentable substances, the liquid in the mash tun is drained through the husks and spent grain in the bottom of the mash tun.  This liquid is called the wort.

The spent grain is often used to feed livestock, including cattle.  One local rancher gifted the brewery with a slaughtered steer that had been fed the grain that created beer.

The wort is  piped into the brew kettle where it is boiled with hops and any other ingredients…like pumpkin that goes on to create one of Laura’s favorites.

After all the essential oils and flavors have been extracted the wort is chilled and piped into fermenting tanks.  Yeast is added to the cool wort (and they work hard to keep the environment sterile so only yeast is added) and fermentation takes place.  Fermentation is when the yeast eats the sugar in the wort and produces ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Once almost all the fermentable sugar has been consumed by the yeast, the brew is filtered and piped into finishing tanks.  They are designed to withstand the pressure created by the carbon dioxide produced by yeast that makes beer effervescent.

Finally, the brew is bottled, canned, or kegged to be enjoyed by us.

Our tasting included a round of five sample beers:

Festie – Amber Lager with a high malt taste.

Lucy – Spiced Golden Ale is their summer brew.  With the addition of lime and coriander it has a unique flavor.

Double Platinum – Double IPA pulls no punches with two types of hops.  If you don’t like hops, you won’t like this beer.

Boxcar – Pumpkin Porter is their fall seasonal brew, and Laura’s fav.

Smoke Out – German Smoke Beer is just what it sounds like…think roasted malt and smoky bacon and you can imagine what it tastes like.  Dave and Laura took some home and used it to cook some sausages for a deliciously smoky flavored dinner with no fire needed.

Starr Hill beers are becoming increasingly available, but aren’t far from the East Coast.  Next time you visit the mid-Atlantic area, I recommend you give them a try.

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Vintage Virginia

Did you know that Virginia has nearly 200 wineries?

The wine industry has existed almost as long as Virginia.  When the English first settled in Jamestown, Virginia, the colonial government required that all colonial households plant and maintain at least 10 grapevines.  Centuries later at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson pursued the cultivation of grapes for fine wines that he enjoyed in Europe.  He was not as successful as winemakers in Virginia today.  But, he understood the potential of soil characteristics, climate, and growing conditions to produce grapes that could become premium wines.

We have not yet visited Jefferson Vineyards, but we did make a recent trip to Barboursville Vineyards with our friends Dave and Laura.

On the estate of the former Governor James Barbour, the vineyard is now owned by an Italian couple, the Zonins.    The former Governor’s mansion was designed by Thomas Jefferson, but was ruined by fire in 1884.

The central octagonal parlor – a signature of Jefferson’s design style – has influenced the name of their most premium wine, Octagon.

The winery offers a brief tour and a tasting of all 21 of their wines for only $5.  Their Brut was just terrific…even the non-wine drinker of the bunch enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon and it was clear why Viognier has become very successful in Virginia.

We were pretty impressed with our tour guide.  He was able to lay out the basics of winemaking without being boring, answer all questions, deflect difficult visitors (And I quote, “Was that paid for with tax dollars?”  The answer is no.), and maintained a strong sense of humor throughout our tour.

The basic process of winemaking is thus: yeasts that grow on all grape skins automatically ferment grape juice into wine when the grapes are crushed.  Nowadays, however, most wineries add commercial, cultured yeasts instead of relying on wild yeast to better control the fermentation and its impact on flavor.  The mixture of grape skins immersed in their juice is called the must, and the period they are in is called contact maceration. Skin contact or maceration is particularly important for the production of red wines, because the juice inside all grapes is clear. The deep color of red wines must be extracted from the black grape skins.  Unfortunately, the crush pad where the grapes are crushed was not part of our tour.

During the alcohol fermentation, natural fruit sugar in the grapes is converted into equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide by the yeasts. Heat is released in the process, which is why most delicate white wines are fermented in stainless steel temperature-controlled fermenters—so they don’t “cook.”  Some of the stainless steel tanks have dippled wrappers that can provide additional temperature control.

Some wines are bottled directly from the tanks, while others are moved to wooden casks for additional flavoring.

The level of alcohol produced during fermentation depends on the ripeness or sugar content of the grapes and when the yeast or winemaker stops fermentation. Table wines receive their alcohol from fermentation only. Wines typically have between 7% and 15% alcohol by volume. This is the upper limit for fermentation because the yeasts die when they produce this level of alcohol. Most dry wines average 11% to 12% alcohol, but many full-bodied dry red or white wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah and Chardonnay, typically have 13% to 14% alcohol content.

We were very pleased with our visit.  I recommend you check it out, too.

Barboursville Vineyard
17655 Winery Road
Barboursville, VA
http://www.barboursvillewine.com

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A Little Something Fancy

This week Washington, DC was host to the Summer Fancy Foods Show by the National Association of Specialty Food Trade.  And, I was lucky enough to go.

Um…wow.  This was my first time and I was completely overwhelmed.  There were over 2400 exhibitors and 180,000 products on display.

This is not an event open to the public.  It is a business trade show and a large number of attendees are buyers of food products.  The show gives specialty food purveyors an opportunity to showcase their goods, and for some, it becomes a fast track to success.

I didn’t t have press credentials so I can’t provide you with pictures of the hottest products direct from the showroom floor.  I can offer you my opinion about some of the big trends.

Popcorn.  Lots and lots of popcorn products.  I love the stuff, but I didn’t realize there was this great a need in the marketplace.

Heat and spice.  Spicy elements were all over the place, especially chipotle and jalapeno flavors.  Bring it on!

Salt.  Exotic salts and just plain sea salt were added to unexpected products…Some were intriguing, but others felt like just an excuse to introduce something new.  What have we got?  Hmmm…I know, let’s sprinkle it with sea salt!

Pork is king.  There is saw a continued (stale?) emphasis on bacon writ large, but there were several purveyors of Spanish ham, too.  We did not turn down any samples.

Asia rising.  I noticed a pretty large number of products with an Asian influence (that were not from Asia), and I lost count of how many folks were peddling crispy seaweed snacks.  I was partial to the ones labeled Beer Mate.  We also drank several versions of aloe juice.  I like it and I hope it spreads.

Goat.  Tons of dairy products using goat’s milk…not just rounds of goat cheese, but yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, and more.  Yay!

Water.  Too many lame fancy-pants waters.  It felt very ugly American.  I find them a bit too precious and out of touch with our current economic situation and not too environmentally friendly either.

I am very grateful to the person who supplied our complimentary passes.  She knows who she is, and I hope she knows we appreciated the opportunity.

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George Washington in Hot Water

While my parents were in town, we decided to visit George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery outside Alexandria, Virginia.  It is just a few miles south of his estate, Mount Vernon.  The original structures were destroyed sometime around 1850, but the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association have reconstructed the operation.

As a farmer, George Washington operated a gristmill that ground wheat and corn into flour and meal.  The mill was powered by a huge water wheel with water diverted from the Dogue Run Creek.  The mill machinery is enclosed in a huge frame of heavy oak and pine beams that is built directly onto the building’s foundation and not connected the walls.  This protects the structure from the machinery’s potentially damaging vibrations.

It is a terrific working example of the Oliver Evans Automated Milling System.  This system connected all machines in the mill in a continuous process, greatly improving the production of flour and meal.

The 16-foot water wheel provides power to run all the machinery in the gristmill.

Raw grain is stored in bins and fed into the rolling screens for cleaning.  The rolling screen is a grain cleaner which removes any chaf or other debris so only clean grain drops to the millstones.

The millstones grind the wheat into flour or the corn into meal.

After milling, the flour/meal travels up to the hopper boy where it is spread and cooled.

From the hopper boy, flour/meal drops into the bolter, where it is sifted through bolting silk and graded into superfine flour, fine flour, and bran.

Once the gristmill was well established, Washington’s farm manager, James Anderson, suggested building a whiskey distillery.  Anderson, who had experience as a distiller in Scotland, pointed out to Washington that all the key components for making whiskey were already in place: an abundant supply of grain, a gristmill to grind the grain, and a water system to operate the stills.  Once it was complete it was one of the largest distilleries in the United States.  In its most profitable year, 1799, it had become Washington’s most successful enterprise, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey.  A variety of whiskeys were produced at the site along with different types of fruit brandy.

With our country’s teetotaler history, the distillery was not a priority for rebuilding for many years.  Further, because there was no surviving examples of eighteenth century distilleries, the reconstruction required extensive archaeological and documentary study before an authentic structure could be built.

Beginning in 1997, excavation archaeologists uncovered the original foundation stones and the location of five stills and boilers, and found many objects related to the distilling process.  The distillery was reconstructed in 2007.  To ensure an authentic reconstruction the wood was finished by hand and the construction used hand-made nails and hardware.  There were some compromises necessary to meet modern building codes and safety requirements.  Even though, we were surprised to see open flames in the same room as the stills.  That seems like kind of a no-no when dealing with flammable substances like grain alcohol…

But, back to present day.  The distillery is back in operation and with five copper stills, produces rye whiskey using George Washington’s original recipe (60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley).

The grain mixture is ground and placed in a mash tub.  Hot water is poured over the grain to convert starches to sugar.  And, it is stirred by hand with the implement you see below.

Yeast is added to the mash to turn sugar into alcohol.  Then, after it sits for a bit, the liquid moves to distillation in the pot stills.

It is distilled at least twice to bring the alcohol up to 80 or 90 proof, the level at which Washington sold his common whiskey.

Limited numbers of bottles of whiskey distilled using this method are available certain times of the year at Mount Vernon.  Unfortunately, we were not able to secure a bottle during  this visit.

Stone ground cornmeal produced on site is always available in the Gristmill Shop, however.

Lucky for me, my dad treated me to a bag of this special product.  Here’s the first thing I made…

Hot Water Cornbread
Makes 12 to 18 pieces, depending on size

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal (maybe more)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp shortening (maybe more)

Bring water to a boil.  Add cornmeal to boiling water.  Stir constantly with wire whip to prevent lumping.  Stir in baking soda and salt.

Remove from heat.  The mixture will thicken quickly.  You want it to be stiff so it will stick together in a little cake.  If it is still a little drippy, add more corn meal, whisking with a fork to smooth out the lumps.

Heat shortening in a cast iron skillet.  The amount will vary to the size of your skillet.

Once it is nice and bubbly, scoop out the cornmeal mixture to make a little oval flat cake and drop into the hot grease.  Fry the cakes, browning slightly on each side.

Drain on paper towels, and repeat until all cornmeal mixture is used.

Serve right away.

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Lamb Jam DC 2011

Yesterday I volunteered at the first annual American Lamb Jam here in Washington, DC.

The event is sponsored by the American Lamb Board and strives to bring attention to the quality of domestically raised lamb and highlight its suitability to a variety of preparations.

Locally raised lamb was supplied to Washington, DC area chefs to prepare dishes for event guests to enjoy.  The food was deliciously paired with local beers from Dogfish Head and Heavy Seas and surprisingly Washington state wineries.  When I asked no one could give me a clear reason why Maryland and Virginia wineries were not represented.

Not that I’m complaining about the wine choices.  They were great, and I certainly support the Washington State wine industry.   I especially enjoyed the 2008  Carmenere from Smasne Cellars and the 2008 Red Blend from Novelty Hill.  They were both terrific paired with the lamb dishes.  But, it would have been nice to bring attention to our local folks, too.

The lamb dishes were not just for attendees enjoyment.  The chefs also participated in a friendly competition:

Best Loin – Chef Richard Brandenburg at Cafe Atlantico
Lamb three ways

Best Shank – Chef Michael Costa at Zaytinya
Hunkar Begendi (roasted lamb shank with eggplant puree)

Best Shoulder – Chef Nick Stefanelli at Bibiana
Border Springs lamb shoulder confit with charred eggplant, lamb ravioli, and ramps

Best Leg & Best of Show – Chef John Critchley at Urbana Restaurant & Wine Bar
Slow-cooked leg of lamb with preserved lemon, dried herbs, and flowers with rosemary-scented gypsy peppers and cipolini onions

People’s Choice – BLT Steak
Braised lamb shank with paella and charred ramp gremolata

This was one of several regional events leading up to a final event in New York City.  As Best of Show winner Chef John Critchley from the Urbana Restaurant will represent Washington, DC and compete against winning chefs from Seattle, Boston, and San Francisco.

In addition to be able to enjoy delicious food and wine, attendees also got to take home some fun lamb-related swag.

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Distiller for a Day

Well, not exactly…I was more like a distillery employee for a day, but a girl can dream, right?

Because my husband and I enjoyed our tour of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail so much, I decided to look for similar experiences closer to home.  I’m familiar with and have toured some local wineries and breweries, and readers of the blog will recall we visited the Wasmund’s distillery last year, but the microdistillery scene is growing.

Enter Catoctin Creek Distillery.

Located in a garage in an industrial park in the middle of Loudoun County Virginia, which is pretty much the middle of nowhere, Catoctin Creek is a tiny family-owned distillery making rye, gin, unaged/white whiskey, and a couple of brandies.

Owners Scott and Becky Harris are totally committed to a 100% organic operation.  Everything – from the ingredients, the equipment, the cleaning solutions are certified organic.  Even the barrels are made from certified organic Minnesota oak including the sealants on the barrels which are beeswax.

Every so often they recruit no more than 20 volunteers to help them bottle the next batch.  The husband and I were lucky enough to get a couple of slots and join them for bottling day this weekend.  It was a fun learning experience that made us continue the fantasy of becoming distillers ourselves.

All batches have multiple types of alcohol resulting from the distillation process.  The poorer tasting alcohols come of the distillate first (the heads) and then again at the end (the tails).  The art in distilling comes in taking the proper cut of the “heart” of the distillate (avoiding the heads and tails), where you get pure, clean-tasting ethanol alcohol.

All the spirits except for the pear and grape brandies are made from 100% organic rye flour.

It is used to create a mash that is heated and then cooled in a large, blue fermentation tank for 3 to 5 days.

The fermented rye is then distilled in a German copper still, heated by electricity.

Distilled rye spirit is run off and the heart is poured into stainless steel casks to hold Mosby’s Rye Spirit and Waterhead Gin.  Another batch is aged for less than 2 years in charred oak barrels for Roundstone Rye Whiskey.

Now they call in the volunteer troops…

Once they are ready to bottle, the distillate goes into what they call the whiskey cow, known in other circles as the bottle filler.  Check out the future whiskey-drinker…

A volunteer corks the bottle and checks for foreign particles.  The bottles are then sealed.

Next, the bottles are labeled both front and back.

Finally, the bottles are boxed and the boxes are sealed, labeled, and stacked.

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Kentucky Bourbon Trail – Part Four

Our third and final fun day on the Bourbon Trail…

Jim Beam
526 Happy Hollow Road
Clermont, Kentucky

After breakfast, we started our day with some Jim Beam and a tour of the family home of the second largest distilled spirits company in the U.S.

The Beam family home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has two centuries of family memorabilia on display.

Unfortunately, this distillery is not set up for visitors to view the stills, but we were able to see a crew rolling barrels through the warehouse.

Booker Noe, a grandson of Jim Beam, was the Master Distiller for 40 years.   He possessed a truly larger than life personality.  No, literally… he weighed more than 300 pounds.  The owner of the Jailer’s Inn explained to us that Booker was a friend of his parents, and they had a chair made specifically to bear his weight when he visited their home.  He passed away in 2004 and was cremated.  His dog still lives with his widow, and when the dog dies he also will be cremated and his ashes will be combined with Booker’s so they may be companions for all time.

So, not only did Booker make great bourbon (I love the small batch Booker’s), but he was a dog lover, too?  My kinda guy.
Maker’s Mark
3350 Burk Springs Road
Loretto, Kentucky 40037
This distillery is very visitor friendly.  Because it is small and all processes are located on-site, it makes it easy to see and understand all aspects of bourbon-making from milling the grain to barrel aging to bottling.
We were fascinated to learn that besides making tasty bourbon, Maker’s Mark is also an innovator of green energy.  The energy needed to heat their stills and produce alcohol vapor is methane-rich biogas, not fossil fuels.  The distillery feeds the stillage, or leftover grain and water from the stills, to bugs who in turn produce methane that heats the stills.  Cool, huh?
After some lengthy experimentation, the Master Distiller recently developed a new bourbon, Maker’s 46.  The bourbon is made as usual and aged in charred oak barrels.  Once it has fully matured it is dumped from the barrel and the barrel head is removed.  Lightly seared French oak staves are then placed inside the barrel.  The bourbon is returned to the barrel for additional aging.  The addition of the carmelized wood adds extra sugar to the bourbon and we found it quite reminiscent of cognac.
You can also see America’s oldest remaining retail whiskey store, which was built in 1889 and was where Maker’s Mark was originally sold.
End your tour in the gift shop where you can dip your own souvenir bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon into the signature red wax.
City of Bardstown, Kentucky
Apart from touring distilleries, we also spent time in the community of Bardstown, the self-proclaimed Bourbon Capital of the the World.  It is a typical Southern small-town.  Established in 1780, Bardstown is Kentucky’s second oldest city, and is home to Annual Bourbon Festival every fall.
Oscar Getz Whiskey Museum
114 North Fifth Street
Bardstown, Kentucky
Curated by the Bardstown  Historical Society, this museum houses an amazing and extensive collection of rare artifacts and documents of the American whiskey industry from pre-colonial days to present.  The displays were fascinating and definitely worth the stop.  Admission is free, but donations are suggested.
Hurst Drug Store and Soda Fountain
102 N. Third Street
Bardstown, Kentucky
I couldn’t remember the last time I had been to an old-fashioned soda fountain.  It is a fun place to stop for a hand-made sandwich or afternoon treat of a milkshake or float.  The ice cream is from regional Mayfield Dairy Farms.
The drug store is right on the courthouse square and is surrounded by antique and gift shops, so you can pick up souvenirs for the folks back home.
Keene’s Country Hams
8 Old Bloomfield Pike
Bardstown, Kentucky
If you really want to make folks back home happy, though, I recommend bringing back food.  Not only can you buy a country ham and other Kentucky specialities, but Keene’s Depot also sells guns and hunting accessories; fishing tackle and bait; beer; and ice.  What more do you need?
What is country ham you ask?  A Southern specialty, country ham is ham that has been salt-cured for several months, then smoked with hardwood (like hickory), and then aged for another several months, or even years.  It is drier and saltier than most hams you can buy in the grocery store.  You may see whole bone-in hams being displayed unrefrigerated and hanging in rough cotton bags.  You can buy a whole ham or purchase a portion.  Read the labels carefully, if it is uncooked, it must be scrubbed and soaked to remove the salt cure and mold.
We purchased a cooked ham and served it sliced very thin at room temperature with biscuits.  A delicious companion to bourbon.
Old Talbott Tavern
107 W. Stephen Foster Avenue
Bardstown, Kentucky
This 200-year-plus-old tavern represents the oldest western stagecoach stop in America and past guests include Abraham Lincoln, General Patton, and Jesse James.  Bardstown is not a hubbub of activity on weekday evenings, but the Tavern’s dining room is open for dinner and drinks.  The staff are very friendly and attentive, and the space is cozy and conducive for conversation.  We enjoyed bowls of burgoo, fried chicken, and a bourbon sampler.  Yum.

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Kentucky Bourbon Trail – Part Three

The second full day on the Bourbon Trail…

Woodford Reserve
7855 McCracken Pike
Versailles, Kentucky

Woodford Reserve is the oldest and smallest distillery in Kentucky.  The grounds are well-manicured with pretty limestone buildings, including one of the oldest stone aging warehouses for barrels.

Woodford Reserve is special as the only bourbon distillery using a triple distillation process in copper pot stills.

It is also the only bourbon company to craft its own barrels.
Interestingly, their rickhouse, or barrel warehouse is heated with steam to control the temperature and their claim is that it adds a “fifth season.”  That is, it creates another period of temperature fluctuation to expand and contract the barrels, and perhaps speed up the aging of the bourbon.

All distilling, barreling, aging, and bottling for this premium bourbon is done on the same grounds.

Another unique point…Woodford was the only distillery to charge a fee for the tour and tasting – you pay $5 at the door.  We both really like Woodford Reserve and we thought the grounds were lovely, but we didn’t feel it was a selling point to give us a plastic souvenir shot glass and “tasting notes” to take home for our $5.

Besides the excellent Woodford Reserve, the distillery also has a Master’s Collection of super premium bottles in which the master distiller changes the process to create something different.  We picked up two of these limited quantity bottles on our trip.

One is the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak Finish.  To explain what makes this special, you need to understand a bit about barrel-making or coopering.  Quality bourbon barrels are made of wood slats that have a degree of seasoning prior to coopering.  Seasoning is the natural drying process that changes the wood by reducing tannins (that can taste astringent) and creating new flavor compounds.  Typically, the wood for barrel staves or slats is left outside for three to five months to be weathered and mature.  By comparison, wood used for barrels of the Seasoned Oak Finish bottles was seasoned between 3 1/2 and 5 years.

The other bottle is Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish.  This is not technically a bourbon, but is instead classified by the Federal government as a specialty bourbon.  The reason for this classification is that the spirit was finish-aged in maple wood barrels.  If you recall the guidelines from the bourbon primer, bourbon is aged only in charred oak barrels.  This drink was first aged in charred oak barrels and then transferred for additional aging to toasted maplewood barrels.

Wild Turkey
1525 Tyrone Road
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

Perched on the banks of the Kentucky River, the Wild Turkey distillery has a dramatic location.  You see it up on a hill as you wind a narrow road and cross the river.  Unfortunately, not the safest place to stop and take a picture, so you have to settle for this model.

This tour was a bit of a bust.  They’ve recently built a brand new building and new stills, but it was not yet open to visitors; and the old still was no longer available for viewing.  So, we only got to see some barrel storage.  However, the staff were very friendly and welcoming.  In fact, one of the tour guides even made a couple of King Cakes to share with guests as our visit fell on Fat Tuesday.

Wild Turkey is distilled and barreled and eventually dumped (poured out of barrels in preparation for bottling) in this location, but the company has about 20 rickhouses throughout the area, and bottling takes place in yet another location.  Because of that, the aged bourbon is dumped into tanker trucks and shipped to the bottling warehouse.

At each stop, we sought out bottles that are available only at the distillery or are in some way a limited edition.  Wild Turkey offers an opportunity to have a personalized label on a bottle of Rare Breed, their barrel strength (no water added) small batch bourbon to commemorate your visit.

Heaven Hill
1311 Gilkey Run Road
Bardstown, Kentucky

Heaven Hill Distillery is the country’s largest independent and family-owned producer of bourbon.  Beginning in the late 1980s the company began expanding beyond bourbon and it now has some 40 brands including gin, vodka, liqueurs, tequila, rum, brandy, and other spirits.

In 1996, Heaven Hill suffered a devastating fire that consumed nearly the entire inventory of bourbon aging in its barrel warehouses.  The fire jumped from rickhouse to rickhouse until they were all almost gone.  They have recovered and the company now possesses the second largest inventory of aging Kentucky whiskey with over 800, 000 barrels.

Our visit didn’t really have a tour of the distilling or bottling facilities – we were not able to get our reservations nailed down in advance.  Instead, we walked through their museum of bourbon history with a very knowledgeable tour guide, and finished with a sample of premium bourbons (Elijah Craig 12 year and 18 year) in a bourbon barrel shaped tasting room.  Delicious.

Their gift shop has a number of signed and limited edition bottles, including Parker’s Heritage Collection from Master Distiller Parker Beam.  (Yes, that’s right, the Beam family is involved in a number of bourbon distilleries throughout Kentucky.)  We picked up a bottle of 27-year-old bourbon.  It was aged in the bottom level of one of the distiller’s favorite rickhouses.  This created more consistency in temperature and resulted in less loss to evaporation.  In other words, the barrels still had something in them by the end of 27 years.  This bourbon does not taste like any I’ve had before, and I understand why it was named the North American Whiskey of the Year when it was released in 2008.

Brown Hotel Bar
335 W. Broadway
Louisville, Kentucky

We also spent an evening out in downtown Louisville.  And the Brown Hotel Bar was the first stop I wanted to make.  I think this is a beautiful hotel and I’ve always had friendly service.  Plus, I wanted my husband to have a famous (and delicious) Hot Brown.  As the story goes, the Hot Brown was invented by the chef of the hotel in the 1920s to feed the late-night dance crowd who tired of ham and eggs.  The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich with turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and a creamy Mornay sauce.  I love it.  And it goes very well with bourbon based cocktails.  I ordered a Manhattan from their bar menu that included St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur.  Very intriguing…You can choose to order the sandwich in the hotel’s restaurant or bar, where I have found it is a few bucks cheaper.

Old Seelbach Bar
Seelbach Hilton Hotel
500 S. 4th Street
Louisville, Kentucky

We moved towards the river a couple of blocks for our next round of drinks.  Set in the hotel that is rumored to have served as inspiration to F. Scott Fitzgerald for The Great Gatsby, the Seelbach was named one of the 50 best bars in the world by London’s The Independent.  I don’t know that we would rank it as one of the 50 best bars, but they are worth the stop when you are in Louisville.  I recommend you stick with bourbon – you have more than 50 to choose from.  I enjoyed the signature cocktail, but frankly, I enjoy almost anything with sparkling wine.

Seelbach Cocktail
Makes 1 drink

1 oz bourbon
1/2 oz Cointreau (or triple sec)
4 or 5 dashes Angostura bitters
4 or 5 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
champagne (or sparkling wine)

Pour bourbon, Cointreau, and bitters into champagne flute.  Top with champagne.

Jailer’s Inn
111 W. Stephen Foster Avenue
Bardstown, Kentucky

And, of course, we did eventually rest that day and we spent the night in jail.  Built around 1820, the Old Nelson County Jail held prisoners until 1987 when the county sold it and it was developed into a bed and breakfast.  It has undergone extensive renovations, but the 30-inch stone walls remind you of the history, and one guest room is a modified jail cell.  A tour by the charming owner of the historic facility is included in your stay.

It is located right in front of the Pioneer Cemetery that was used from 1785 to 1856.  Legends have it that both locations are haunted.

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Kentucky Bourbon Trail – Part Two

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  After yesterday’s primer on bourbon distilling, I thought I’d start to share some of the details of our trip.

We started our journey on the eastern side of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.  March is not the prettiest time of year in Kentucky, but it is still lovely country with horse farms and rolling hills, and of course, bourbon distilleries.

Four Roses Distillery
1224 Bonds Mill Road
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky


Our first stop on the Trail was Four Roses, a nice-looking distillery with a Spanish Mission style architecture.

Four Roses was the best-selling bourbon in the country from the 1930s to the 1950s, but after purchase by Seagram, it became unavailable for sale in the U.S.  A Canadian company, Seagram decided to focus its business on blended whiskies.  It has been owned by the Kirin Brewing Company since 2002 and the bourbon is now widely available in the U.S. again.

Limestone filtered water is one of reasons Kentucky was so supportive of the creation of bourbon.  It is free of iron and is supposed to have nutrients that support yeast.  The spring-fed Salt River is the water source for Four Roses bourbon.

This distillery has used the same grain source for nearly 50 years, and inspect every delivery.

They use a higher percentage of rye than most other bourbons.  The spicy rye flavor is probably why this brand is a favorite of both my husband and I.

The master distiller works with a combination of 2 mash bills (one with 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley and another with 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley) and 5 proprietary yeast strains for 10 different bourbon recipes.  Each product has a unique formula of certain bourbon flavors at specific proportions.

Four Roses uses a columnar still for its first distillation.

The doubler used for the second distillation is a copper pot still.

The alcohol vapor for each distillation is condensed here.

The try box for gauging the proof of the distillate before it is barreled.

The bourbon is barreled, stored, and bottled in another location, so the new-make bourbon is transported in tanker trunks.

It is the only distillery to use single-story rick houses.  The belief is that it minimizes temperature variances and provides even maturation.

All 10 recipes are married together (bourbon is married, not blended) to create Four Roses Yellow.  Four of the recipes are married for Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon.  Only one is hand selected for Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.

Typically once a year, the Master Distiller selects one exceptional barrel or marries a few especially good recipes to created a limited release.  These are usually released in the spring in time for the Kentucky Derby.  They are difficult to find outside of Kentucky, unfortunately.

On our tour, we were able to sample each of the offerings except for a Master Distiller’s bottle.  Perhaps next time…

Buffalo Trace
113 Great Buffalo Trace
Frankfort, Kentucky

Buffalo Trace is not technically on the Bourbon Trail anymore, and they’ve withdrawn from membership in the Kentucky Distillers’ Association – deciding to go off on their own.  We wanted to see Buffalo Trace, though, because it holds the title of oldest continually operating distillery in the United States.

They’ve been in business for 200 years, even during Prohibition, but under different operators.   It was one of a handful of distillers licensed to make alcohol for medicinal purposes.  They had a prescription on display.

Each of the Kentucky distilleries has its own personality and culture.  Currently owned by the Sazerac Company, Buffalo Trace felt a bit more corporate to us than some of the others.  It is set on over 130 acres so you can only see a small part of it on the tour.  For instance, we were only able to see the huge column still from a distance.

We saw barrel rickhouses made of both metal and brick.

We were able to see the inside of one of the aging warehouses in the picture above.

Buffalo Trace is unusual in that they still employ leak hunters to search its barrel warehouses and look for leaks and they patch with a neutral wood that cannot influence the flavor of the spirit.  Take a look at the narrow space between the barrels…

And, we were able to watch a batch of one of their premium bourbons, Blanton’s, being hand-bottled by a surprising small staff.

Sazerac Company has 5 whiskey recipes and one vodka recipe for 15 labels.  Most of the differences between bourbons are influenced by aging and barrel storage.  Unfortunately, we were only able to have two samples each and not all the labels were available for tasting.  I found the Eagle Rare to be especially delicious.
If you are a collector, the gift shop sells bottles signed by the Master Distiller and special bottles of Buffalo Trace that have are decorated with a buffalo nickel.

Another tip, Frankfort is Kentucky’s capital city, and we found it worth the very short drive from Buffalo Trace to take a look at the capitol grounds.

Tony’s BBQ Barn
1435 North 127 Bypass
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

Food is a must on the Bourbon Trail.  We stopped for lunch in the community of Lawrenceburg for pulled pork sandwiches and bowls of burgoo.  It was a huge place with tables that could accommodate big groups or booths for smaller parties.  The staff were very friendly, but don’t count on big-city speed.

Burgoo is a stew-like dish native to Kentucky.  Every restaurant and family seems to have their own recipe, but it has a mixture of meats and vegetables in a spicy tomato base.  Tony’s burgoo included some smoked pulled pork.  Yum.

Alltech Brewing and Distilling Company
401 Cross Street
Lexington, Kentucky

In downtown Lexington, this micro brewery and distillery is owned by company that makes animal feed supplements, Alltech.   This may not make sense upon first reflection, but the company is a major supplier of yeast.  Their knowledge and experience with yeast is quite helpful in brewing tasty beer.

Their cramped facility not only brews and bottles beer, but now distills Kentucky’s first malt whiskey since 1919, Pearse Lyons Reserve (double distilled) and a bourbon coffee drink called Bluegrass Sundown.  We were able to try all their beers (Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Light, and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale) and the coffee drink tasted like Irish coffee.  The bourbon barrel ale is aged in used Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.
A separate facility for the distillery, which will be known as Lyons Distillery, is still under construction.

Montgomery Inn
270 Montgomery Avenue
Versailles, Kentucky

We needed our rest on this bourbon adventure and we spend two nights at this well maintained bed and breakfast just outside of Lexington.  The innkeeper, Pam, and her family were very friendly and accommodating.

Liquor Barn


Wow!  Their sign is not lying when it says “Every boubon under heaven.”  We were awed by the beer, wine, and liquor selection in this place.  Make it a stop on your visit to bring back some local beverages and food stuff.

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