on the (bourbon) trail

Every so often it becomes absolutely necessary to step outside the daily grind – to extricate your mind from the tediousness of the creative process and give the noggin’s contents a little relief.

Today was that day at i/A.  Our noggin relief? A scenic tour, a too-large bus, barrels, bourbon, and burgers.  It was bluegrass bliss.

We began the day by winding our way through farm country to the Wild Turkey distillery.  Though operations had long ceased for the summer (typical of most distilleries), we were given the private tour of the very large, VERY impressive campus in which the ‘Turk makes its nest.  We saw stainless steel vats so large that my living room could sit comfortably inside.  We observed a copper still column so tall and wide (50’h x 5’w) that it couldn’t entirely be seen from one, two, three, or even four floors.  We glimpsed one of the ancient looking barrel houses that smelled so sweet and savory that it recalled that feeling you get after sipping that first sip of good bourbon and slipping into a leather arm chair.  (Granted, I rarely do that).  We finished up the experience with a tasting of some very fine spirits in their new, award-winning, visitor and tasting center.  The Kentucky-based firm who designed the space, I must say, did a VERY good job.  Pulling inspiration from the barrels and barrel houses, you couldn’t help but feel that you were moving through rooms that contained, just out of sight, thousands of bourbon barrels.  (It doesn’t, which is why they did such a good job).

From there we hit up Four Roses.  Unfortunately Four Roses was largely closed down due to the “shut down” season, but also due to the construction of yet another few stills that will ultimately double their output.  On the other hand, we did learn a lot about what sets bourbon apart from other whiskies (you know, that Tennessee junk), and again got to imbibe some premium-oaked fire water.

With light heads and empty stomachs, we made a pit stop at Napa Prime, a Versailles favorite for gourmet burgers and, you guessed it, bourbon.  Let’s just say, after fair such as the “PB&J Bacon Burger” and the monthly special of Elk was consumed, nap time was rapidly approaching.  All in all though, a very satisfying break from the bourbon blast.

But not so fast… there was one more still to stir…

Woodford Reserve.  Where to begin? Seriously?

This place, especially from an architectural perspective, was beautiful. It apparently contains the oldest, still-functioning bourbon stilling building in the country.  Most of the buildings were crafted from hand-cut Kentucky limestone and were VERY old (in the best way).  You get the impression that there is no shortage of pride in heritage or product at Woodford.  They not only identify, but they celebrate every piece of the fairly simple, yet nuanced process of making bourbon.  Substantially smaller than the other operations we toured, what Woodford lacks in scale they certainly make up for in character and charm.  And this is an idea that goes right down to the tiny detail of serving a chocolate bourbon ball with the spirit sampling.  Just like the modern two-way fireplace anchoring the tasting room, the tasting was warm and comforting.  I again call upon the feeling of leather chairs following very long days.  (I honestly don’t know why that’s happening.)

In a nutshell.  Traveling even this small portion of the Bourbon Trail gave our entire team a much-needed chance to step away, play, and reconnect with one another as a group of people who actually enjoy their profession, their culture, and their community.  Personally – I went in with what I believed was an ample knowledge of Kentucky Bourbon and its place in our culture; I left knowing how much I actually DIDN’T know (but do now).

We ALL left a little more relaxed, a little more proud, a little more in need of water.

We can’t wait to hit the trail again.  Bravo, bourbon… Bravo.