September 17, 2007

What I Remember from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Actually I remember a lot. We thought we would get a lot drunker than we did, but considering each tour was like an hour and each tasting was only like five minutes, we had plenty of time to recover between each of the distilleries.

We flew into Nashville first and then drove three hours to KY on Thursday. The state of Kentucky is basically built on caves and caverns, but we didn't have time to explore any of them. Also, given its rich history in war and military battle, it's really haunted. In fact, the Bourbon Festival's home base, Bardstown, is known as one of the most haunted places in the country.

Thursday night we actually got to take a ghost tour of the town, which took us to the old Jailer's Inn, a local cemetery, and our own hotel - The Old Talbott Tavern. During our tour we saw some supposedly ghost-induced chandelier flickering, but that was our only encounter with the supernatural there. Thank God, too - we were a little afraid to wake up with somebody standing over us.

The Tavern is the place to be during the festival, which actually isn't saying much. We thought the whole event would be a lot more exciting, with a lot more people. Nevertheless, we had fun in the bar that night, hanging out with the locals, drinking cheap bourbon and dancing to the live band and DJ.

All told, we managed to hit five distilleries and eat a lot of bourbon balls. We got so hyperglycemic that we succumbed to chain restaurants for food (like Pizza Hut and Longhorn Steakhouse) when we got too crazy to drive any more.

Best Tasting: Heaven Hill, where we missed the tour but got to sit in a larger-than-life barrel and try some great high-end bourbons like the Elijah Craig 18-year

Best Tour: Maker's Mark, where our tour guide Betty let us stick our fingers in the tubs of corn mash in various stages of yeasting and taste the bourbon-making process in the works.

yeasty partially cooked sour mash

Best Distillery: Woodford Reserve, which has a beautiful plot with really old buildings, and a barrel track for barrel-rolling (which essentially replaces trucks)

Hardest-to-Find Distillery: Woodford Reserve. It's hidden in the middle of a bunch of horse farms, and there aren't really any signs. Google Maps and GPS think it's somewhere else and sent us off the beaten path. We got lost on the way there and on the way out.

Most Bizarre Tourism Moment: In the Jim Beam tasting room, which we shared with a huge group of Japanese tourists who didn't speak any English. Those poor Kentucky women pouring the bourbon didn't know what to do with them.

We also visited Buffalo Trace which was pretty unremarkable for me, but cool for Edith I think, who liked watching them bottle the Blanton's. We missed Four Roses and Wild Turkey because we ran out of time, with most tours ending around 3 in the afternoon. We were kind of sick of hearing about virgin white oak, white dog and angel's share anyway, and had gotten to the point where we just wanted to taste the bourbon.

I think some people must come and have a life-changing experience during the festival like in the movie Sideways, but for us, it was just a cool thing to do, that we could probably only do with each other.

By the time we left, I was glad to go, but maybe it was just to get back to some normal drinking water. The running water in our hotel was so gross that I didn't want to wash my hair with it.

Fare of the Country; Where Kentucky Makes Its Bourbon - The New York Times 1993
On Kentucky's Bourbon Trail - The New York Times 2007
Riding the Bourbon Trail - The Philadelphia Inquirer 2007

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