Our week in Nashville flew by. We pulled out of Grand Ole RV Park Thursday morning and were on the road by 9:15am. Our route took us up I-65 to Elizabethtown where we cut east on the Bluegrass Highway. The road surfaces were good. There were a lot of tractor-trailer rigs on I-65 heading to and from Louisville. Southern Kentucky has a lot of brown signs on I-65 indicating points of interest – mostly parks with caverns and museums. Apparently the limestone in the area is conducive to the formation of caves.
We stopped at the Pilot Travel Center at exit 86 on I-65 before we hit the Blugrass Highway. I topped up the tank with 60 gallons of diesel. Fuel prices have been on the rise and I paid $3.11/gallon. Our next stop was at Walmart on US127 in Lawrenceburg. Donna went in to get a couple of thigs while I ordered a Subway sandwich for a late lunch. I had a mishap in the parking lot there. Although the parking lot didn’t have trees, which are my usual obstacle in Walmart lots, this one had concrete islands with high curbs at the end of each row. I picked what looked to be the widest opening and went for it. There was a metal stop sign right at the edge of the island. I scraped the trailer on the edge of the stop sign. Arrgh!
We made our way to the Still Waters Campground. Check-in was a little different. No computers. The owners live onsite and do everything the old fashioned way – hand written receipts and journal entries. The guy that took us to our site (on a riding mower!) brought us in from the wrong direction – there was no way I would be able to back the trailer into the site. He had me loop around on the lawn and enter the site from the rear – making it a pull-through. Before I could get all the way in, a branch had to removed from one the trees lining the site. We were finally ready to set up around 3:30pm.
Donna made a quick and easy meal for dinner – just the thing on a travel day. She made a skillet meal of sweet Italian chicken sausage, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus and served it over whole wheat penne and pesto. It was a savory, hearty meal.
On Friday morning, I got the Spyder out and we rode into town to the Buffalo Trace Distillery. We arrived just in time for the 9am tour. I had read about their tours online – they have five different tours. The Trace Tour runs every hour from 9am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, noon to 3pm on Sunday. Their site says “walk-ins welcome, no reservation required.” It’s a tour that gives background on making bourbon and the history of the distillery. It includes walks through barrel-aging warehouses and one of the bottling operations.
The other four tours are more specific to a certain aspect of the distillery. I wanted to take the Hard Hat Tour which takes you through the mash and distillation process. But, I didn’t notice that all of the tours except the Trace Tour require reservations. By the time I realized it on Thursday, they were all booked. All of the tours are free.
This distillery has the distinction of being the oldest continuously running distillery in America. The distillery was built by Harrison Blanton in 1812. The Prohibition era from 1920 to 1933 closed all but a few distilleries. Buffalo Trace Distillery was known as the George T. Stagg Distillery at the time and was granted an exemption to distill whiskey for medicinal purposes. During prohibition, pharmacies carried small amounts of whiskey which could only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. Thus the distillery never shut down.
The distillery is on the bank of the Kentucky River and the property is beautiful with manicured lawns, gardens and brick buildings dating back to the 1800s. The rest of this post is photo-heavy – I took lots of pictures at the distillery.
An interesting thing I learned is why barrels are… well, barrel-shaped. When filled with whiskey, the barrels weigh about 550 pounds. If the barrels were made with straight sides like a 55-gallon drum, they would be hard to handle and maneuver around. With the barrel shape and convex sides, when the barrel is on its side, it only has a small contact area. It can easily be spun or turned. If the barrel is rolled onto a track – much like a narrow-gauge train track – it will roll along and follow the track. That’s how they transport barrels from building to building here. The tracks have a slight slope to let gravity roll the barrel from one building to the next. They also have elevators to raise the barrels to different floors of the buildings.
Buffalo Trace distills a number of whiskey brands. The interesting thing is they only have three grain bill recipes for their bourbon. Grain bill number one is used for Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Eagle Rare and a few others. The difference between Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Eagle Rare comes from the amount of time it’s aged and the placement of the barrel during aging. Whiskeys that are bottled young are aged in the top floors of the barrel buildings where the temperature fluctuation is the greatest. More expensive whiskeys are aged on the lower floors and closer to the center of the building. The actual recipes are secret, but I’ve heard grain bill number one is 70% corn, about 15% rye and the balance barley. Grain bill number two is also corn, rye and barley but in different percentages – it’s used to make Blanton’s. Grain bill number three is used to make Pappy Van Winkle’s and is corn, wheat and barley.
As the barrels age, some evaporation occurs. Water escapes as the water molecules are small enough to pass through the wood barrel through osmosis. The alcohol molecules are larger and remain in the barrel. So the percentage of alcohol in the barrel increases over time.
The premium whiskeys produced by Buffalo Trace are bottled and labeled by hand. The barrel of whisky is dumped into a trough. A sample is taken to determine the alcohol content of the barrel. Water is added to reach the desired alcohol content, then the whiskey flows to the bottler.
You can thank the Blanton’s brand for creating the popular single-barrel whiskey niche. They started it in 1984 and now it’s the craze. Most bourbons are made by blending several different barrels of whiskey together to create a consistent flavor profile. Each bottle of Blantons is filled with whiskey from a single barrel. The label has the barrel number hand written along with warehouse designation and storage rick on the label. It also has the date the barrel was dumped.
They had two lines bottling Blanton’s. One of the women working the line told me they box 350 cases per shift, six bottles to a case. That’s 2,100 bottles per line and they run two shifts per day – 8,400 bottles. They can’t keep up with demand though. The problem comes from aging. Who knew nine years ago that the single-barrel Blanton’s would become so popular? If they had a crystal ball, they would have made more of it back then so it would be good to go now.
They produce 18 different spirits at Buffalo Trace. One of them is Pappy Van Winkle’s. For many bourbon connoisseurs, 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle’s is the holy grail. They only bottle and release it once a year in November. People pay crazy prices for it and often have to be drawn through a lottery to obtain a bottle.
They have a special place to commemorate every millionth barrel filled since prohibition. Right now barrel number seven million is aging in this place of honor.
The tour ended around 10:30am with a complimentary tasting. I tried the White Dog which is basically moonshine – it’s liquor that hasn’t been barrel-aged. It was awful. Then I had Eagle Rare in my right hand and Buffalo Trace Bourbon in my left hand for a comparison taste. Both are superb. We finished with a chocolate bourbon ball with a pecan on top and a shot of bourbon cream with a dash of root beer. Delicious.
Before we left, we dropped some cash in the gift shop. We bought chocolate bourbon balls, Buffalo Trace bourbon and I had to grab a bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel. It’s way pricier than I would usually spend on bourbon, but I got caught up in the hype.
Of course, I had to add a Buffalo Trace T-shirt while I was at it.
Later in the afternoon, I got the Sea Eagle kayak out and we rolled it down to Elkhorn Creek on the kayak carrier. Donna paddled up the slow moving creek and had a look around. I saw a water snake as we were launching the kayak – harmless. And Donna didn’t see anything scary other than a couple of cows drinking from the muddy river.
Donna prepared another quick and easy meal last night. She made a new dish she’s calling Skillet Taco Turkey & Black Beans with Cauliflower Rice. Healthy and scrumptious.
Tomorrow is Donna’s birthday. We are postponing her usual birthday dinner out due to the lack of a suitable restaurant open on Sunday in the area. We’ll probably find something in Lexington in a few days. We’re booked here through Tuesday. Hopefully the weather holds out, but the forecast calls for a strong possibility of thunder showers today and tomorrow.