Recently I spent some time in Bourbon Country, USA. That would be Lexington, KY. Unfortunately I did not have much free time but did get to one distillery that I truly admire. The trip to Labrot & Graham’s Woodford Distillery in itself is a delight. The winding hills and roads back through horse farms (yep, Lexington is the horse capital of the USA also) was enjoyable. As my motorola Droid was guiding me, I started to wonder if there really was a distillery on this road? Yep, there it was! I pulled in hoping to catch the last tour of the day and was surprised when I was actually in time to the second to last tour. The people working at the visitors center were very cordial and relaxed (and sober I think). We had a wonderful guide who had been working there since he retired a few years back. The first thing he wanted to make perfectly clear was a) we make one product here only, Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and b) there will be NO flash cameras allowed in the distillery (BOOM!). We got the point.
So if you did not know, all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. There are only five ingredients allowed in bourbon (at least 51% Corn, Rye, malted Barley, Water and Yeast). No flavorings, no colors added, nothing can be added (period!) “.”
The first building we went into was where all the ingredients went into a massive vat where the “mash” begins to brew or ferment, and grow (its living!). The room has a distinct, overwhelming, smell to it due to the air is highly concentrated with carbon dioxide. Next it is pumped into the copper still pots (they are massive) that are made in Scotland. Here the distillation begins, Woodford is the only current distillery that uses a three copper pot system to distill their product. After it has moved through each of them then it is off to a newly charred wood barrel made at a company owned by Woodford’s parent company that has been exposed to heat and then fire. The insides are charred quite well which seems to be the secret to making good bourbon.
After filling, these barrels are rolled, by hand, into a very rustic warehouse next door. Walking through the door of this facility was an olfactory event. I can’t describe it but lets just say it was magical. It was there we met Elijah the cat. He was the rodent control officer and perhaps the happiest cat I’ve ever seen. So after a 7 to 9 year period, these barrels are ready for bottling. As part of the tour a barrel was open and some product was poured out of the cask into a glass which was a magical event also. As the tour guide explained, the alcohol content was much too high and would have to be cut with water to satisfy Federal requirements (them revenuers!).
So me being the opportunistic person (and son of a bootlegger no less), I was the closest person to the tour guide and just happened to notice he spilled quite a bit on the glass as he poured it. If I could have yanked that glass out of that gentleman’s hand without any witnesses, well, you know…. Anyhow, he passed the glass to me first to “smell only” and pass around. This I did obligingly. The next thing I know, I was surreptitiously moving my hands with the freshly spilled product on them towards my mouth! I had a grin on me like a raccoon on friday night! Anyhow, I really enjoyed that part.
So then our fun came to an end as we made our way back up the hill towards the visitors center for our “free” tasting. I was setting at a table with a few people who weren’t exactly appreciative of whiskey “straight” so they passed me their samples. I’m sure God has reserved a special place in heaven for them. Anyhow, I got to keep their shot glasses (acrylic) also, small pleasures.
And yes, they do have a gift shop! I hope to go back, I will take my film camera with no flash next time. And I will set out for the other distillers also.