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Kentucky Bourbon Trail


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Ditto what Parrott opined; they're my favorites too. You'll have to head towards Versailles for Four Roses, but the people couldn't be friendlier, and their (tiny) operation is incredibly charming, even if the cachet of "Kentucky-only" availability is dissipating.

The BT hardhat tour remains my absolute favorite, and is also the most comprehensive...it'll take half a day, but it's worth it. Even if you can't reserve in advance, call up to the night before to see if they've had any cancellations. You follow the process completely from grain truck to hand-bottling, and about the only thing they don't show you is the hammer mill setup, because that's located at the top of a five-story warehouse. This would be my one "do not miss" pick.

Heaven Hill mainly directs you to their visitor center displays, which are better than most, but no substitute for either of the above tours. However, HH's tasting room conducts one of the most educational tastings around, complete with scent vials and round lightboxes built into the bar for judging color. And while you're in Bardstown, you should check out the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, if it's open.

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Hit the bourbon trail this weekend and was not disappointed. Unfortunately, many of the recommended tours are not offered during the summer months when production at most distilleries comes to a halt. In any event, my group hit Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill. The standard tours at Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill were good. At Buffalo Trace you spend some time roaming the grounds, which are very nice, and also get an extensive presentation with a good amount of history and facts about the bourbon and whiskey making process. Then, you tour Buffalo Trace's small batch/single barrel (low volume) bottling line (not in operation though when we visited) where they bottle Blanton's (the U.S. and several international versions), the Van Winkle line, and several others. Following the tour, the tasting includes samples of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Rain (Buffalo Trace's organic vodka), root beer (quite good), and a bourbon ball.

At Four Roses we watched a short DVD (required, but not great, especially when you get more descriptive information from persons at the other distilleries) and then tasted the distillery's large volume, small batch, and single barrel blends. The outside of the main building is very nice, but unfortunately we did not get to see much of the grounds. That being said, I think we were fine with the in-and-out tasting and not having a third tour/history session that day.

Finally, Heaven Hill took us through a warehouse, which we hadn't seen from the inside at the prior distilleries. As with Buffalo Trace, the tour guide was very informative and entertaining. Afterward, we sampled Evan Williams Single Barrel and Elijah Craig 18 year in the bourbon barrel tasting room. The visitors' center at Heaven Hill is the nicest and offers a variety of products, including Evan Williams 23 year (offered only in Japan and at the distillery) and Parker Beam's Heritage Collection.

For those who like bourbon, I'd make a pilgrimage. You may want to time it during months when the more extensive tours are offered (the hard hat tour sounds great), but I wouldn't hit too many of those as they probably could be quite repetitive. Planning is also important -- I would not wing it once you get to Kentucky -- as some of the distilleries are quite a ways part. Thanks to jparrott and ol_ironstomach for the advice and helping me with my tour.

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