September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and so it is only fitting for this week’s post to celebrate that great Kentucky whiskey:
Our whirlwind Bourbon Tour involved 3 other couples, a rented van, and a lot of details, but it was worth every second of the planning. We had great weather and in just four summer days drove through beautiful horse country, ate incredible meals, and tasted some mighty fine bourbon. Our travels took us from Buffalo Trace (home of Blanton’s and the famous Papy Van Winkle), to Woodford Reserve (official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby), Makers Mark, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam (where my favorites Basil Hayden and Knob Creek are distilled), and last, but not least to the Craft Distillery, Willetts.
21c Museum Hotel | Lexington, Kentucky
The 21c Museum Hotel is a great hotel with a contemporary vibe and a focus on historic preservation and art; what a winning combo. And yes, there is an art museum. This is one of several art museum/hotels in renovated sites by this innovative company. I loved the rooms in this repurposed historic bank building. I particularly enjoyed the fun the designers had with color and art. Bright colors were used as accents in the rooms and public spaces, and photography by one of the owners was beautifully featured in the room.
The room was comfortable, bed great, shower excellent. We had no trouble getting feather pillows. Our corner room was on a high floor and the views of the city were terrific. I arranged the trip for a group of friends and we enjoyed the bourbon package. Breakfast was excellent and our bourbon flight was a lot of fun, with a super bourbon steward. Valet was efficient and the staff was very friendly. The only hitch was check-in which was very slow and disorganized, a contrast to everything else about the hotel and our stay.
The Brown Hotel | Louisville, Kentucky
The Brown Hotel was a real step back into another era. We loved the hotel’s colorful history. We were traveling with a group of friends and enjoyed the Club Level service – it proved very convenient, and was more than adequate for breakfast and afternoon wine, beer, (no hard liquor) soft drinks and snacks.
Our Chef’s Table dinner in the kitchen of the English Grill was a wonderful and memorable occasion. Under the direction of English Grill Manager (and Sommelier/Bourbon Steward extraordinaire) Troy Ritchie and Chef Dustin Willett, we enjoyed a first-class event. I had worked with Troy in advance to put together the details and he was delightful, creative, and very easy to work with. Read the rest of this entry
After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we piled into our van and headed out for the noon Distillery Tour ($14) at Woodford Reserve. It’s a beautiful country drive through horse country, rolling hills and endless fences to Versailles, about half an hour from Lexington.
Another historic property with National Register designation, Woodford’s beautiful gray stone buildings reflect the personality of its Scottish founders. Owned today by the Brown-Forman conglomerate (based in Louisville), we watched them bottle Old Forester, helping a sister-product meet demand.
Learning about the process is interesting. I have been surprised about the smells during the cooking and fermentation process. The closest overall is the smell of banana bread. That was a surprise. We tasted the sour mash today and it was not pleasant. It’s very warm by the 100-year-old cypress fermenting tanks and the mash is a bubbling, sometimes moldy-looking, a grainy, yellow stew; not appetizing.
Once in a Rickhouse, you feel as if you could become intoxicated just from the smell. The 10% evaporation during the bourbon’s first year in the barrel (and 3-5% each year after) produces the scent, known as Angel’s Share.
The Woodford property is sophisticated and sleek with lovely grounds, leafy trees, lots of stone and dramatic triple copper pot stills. A 500-foot-long gravity-fed barrel run is still in place. After our informative tour and tasting, we enjoyed a nice lunch from Glenn’s Creek Café on the back porch before making the one-hour drive to Louisville.
In Louisville, we stayed in the elegant, historic Brown Hotel. Tonight, we enjoyed an amazing Chef’s Table dinner, in the kitchen of the English Grill. Under the stewardship of English Grill Manager Troy Ritchie (who also wears the dual hats of Wine Sommelier and Bourbon Steward), we enjoyed the handiwork of archeologist-turned-chef Dustin Willet and server Kelly. Troy surprised us with a visit to the rooftop for a beautiful aerial view of Louisville and a sneak peek into the Mohammed Ali Suite, chock-full of Ali memorabilia (for the uninitiated, Ali was from Louisville). It was an amazing evening.
Favorite Fact: Opera singer Lily Pons let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite at the Brown Hotel.
Woodford Reserve: www.woodfordreserve.com
Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com