Welcome to Lexington, Kentucky!
Lexington is an interesting place that is well worth a visit! Did you know that there are more bourbon barrels than people in the state of Kentucky? I certainly didn’t know this when I first stepped foot in Kentucky. Whether you come to Kentucky for the bluegrass horses or for the 200-year-old time-honored recipes for bourbon, you are likely to start in Lexington.
To reach Lexington, Kentucky, you can fly directly there, or you can drive there in about an hour and a half from Cincinnati Airport (CVG).
There are more than 10 bourbon distilleries within a short drive of downtown Lexington. You can get a local taxi or choose from an array of tour companies to lead you though the world-renowned Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Two highly recommended onsite distillery tours are the following:
1) Buffalo Trace Distillery
2) Woodford Reserve Distillery
There are also many other distilleries, including Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, and Jim Beam.
I personally visited Buffalo Trace Distillery. There I received a wonderful tour by J.W., whose passion and knowledge of bourbon really showed in his tour and presentation of the 400-acre estate, home to over 300,000 225-liter barrels. It is noteworthy that while Buffalo Trace makes over 17 brands, it only has three recipes. What varies is the aging time and the location for the aging. Location for aging involves different types of buildings–for example, red brick buildings, yellow brick buildings, or metal buildings. The choice of buildings determines whether the buildings holding the bourbon-in-process will either absorb the heat, reflect the heat, or even heat up and cool off faster.
Another distillery, the Old Fire Copper Distillery, or OFC, was built in 1787–indeed, established before Kentucky was even a state. (At the time, Kentucky was still part of Virginia.) OFC was one of the four distilleries in the state to continuously produce bourbon even through Prohibition.
Did you know that back in those days, bourbon was considered medicinal, and a prescription was required in order to obtain it? To this day, you can still buy bourbon at pharmacies!
So what is bourbon, and what makes Kentucky so special? Bourbon can be whisky but this is not necessarily true vice versa. Bourbon’s base is corn, with a requirement of at least 51% corn; wheat and rye are considered secondary grains. Only virgin white oak barrels are used, generally American oak, for aging, and aging requires at least 2 years. The reason barrels are used is to impart that beautiful caramel color typical of bourbon that comes only from its time in barrel. Absolutely no artificial colors or flavors can be added if it is to be considered bourbon. Once barreled, the bourbon-in-process is stored, and, unlike some wines, there is no further movement or rotation of the barrel. It simply sits, and eventually the angels take their share over the years of aging.
In fact, a full barrel will be reduced over a period of 20 years to approximately a quarter of the original barrel. When it is ready to be bottled, this concentrated bourbon is then transferred to a tank where it is blended with Kentucky limestone water to the correct proof, and then filtered, bottled, and labeled (by hand at Buffalo Trace).
So why Kentucky? Kentucky is perfect for distilling and aging bourbon because it has four distinct seasons, which are necessary in order to age bourbon. Not only this, but as mentioned earlier–similar to sake–it is all about the water source. Kentucky offers easy access to limestone water, integral in the flavor profile of bourbon. Indeed, boubon is made only in the U.S., and 95% of bourbon is made in the state of Kentucky.
I hope you’ve learned as much as I have from this trip.
And as you know, Kentucky is not just about bourbon. Be sure to visit the beautiful and historic horse Keenanland Race Course during the famous Kentucky Derby in early May or the bands at the Festival of the Bluegrass in June. To learn more about what Lexington has to offer, go to http://www.visitLex.com. For more on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, visit www.kybourbontrail.com.