There might be nothing I like better than dark warehouses filled with story upon story of bourbon barrels, but I had no idea this was the case until I explored some of the distilleries along the Bourbon Trail. With dirt floors, cobwebs and an absence of light, these warehouses feel like mine shafts. Stepping inside the warehouses with no climate control, the air is still and warm in the middle of July. The rich spiciness of aging bourbon fills the air. Inside the distilleries, where the production takes place, the aged cypress wood fermentation tanks that hold gallons of mash and the huge copper distillation stills are both functional and beautiful objects. Bolts, vials, stills and vats all worn with age kept me captivated as we toured. Sure, the bourbon facts were interesting, but they had nothing on the visuals of the day.
We visited Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and Four Roses. Each distillery we toured offered something entirely unique. Wild Turkey had warehouses that looked like insane asylums falling into disrepair. Somehow the roughness of the exteriors seemed to fit with the history of distilling bourbon. For such a uniquely American product it’s nice to see history still standing. The warehouses with bars on the windows haven’t changed since prohibition.
After Wild Turkey we headed to Woodford Reserve. Instead of tasting bourbon alongside bikers and looking at their heavy leather boots and leg tattoos, I was surrounded by men with Kennedy hair, dress shorts and Top-Siders. I could have easily been at at UVA football game instead of a distillery. Although I loved the landscape of Woodford, I missed the grittiness of Wild Turkey. Somehow the gourmet sandwiches served to waiting tour groups and a gift store filled with golf jackets and polo shirts didn’t feel quite right.
We capped off the day of touring at Four Roses. This yellow Spanish mission style building, unexpected in the hills of Kentucky, was built in the early 1900s. The buildings at Four Roses were based on the architecture popular in California wineries at the time and ended up being the perfect way to cap off the tour. I finally found a bourbon that tastes like more than just fire water. If I ever need a stiff drink I’ll go for Four Roses Yellow Label on the rocks.
You can find more pictures of our bourbon adventures over at Flickr.