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Bourbon Trail

Erin and I took a trip to Kentucky this weekend (2.5 hours or so from Nashville) to tour whisky distilleries the way they're meant to be toured .. with tastings! I say this, as Tennessee's two big ones, Dickel and Jack Daniels, are in DRY counties, so good luck getting a tasting there. Cheers to you, Maker's Mark and Heaven Hill Distilleries (makers of Evan Williams and Elijah Craig).

The spellcheck on this just flagged "whisky" above, asking that it be spelled "whiskey." I did a quick look-up on history and culture, with Irish and American whiskeys being spelled that way and Scottish, Canadian, etc. being spelled whisky. Bourbon, we learned, must have the following attributes:

-at least 51% corn (most are 70% or so)
-made in America
-no more than 160 proof / 80% alcohol by volume (ABV)
-finished in charred white oak barrels

In fall 2008, we visited Isle of Arran Distellers, where we learned that Scotch is ironically finished in used, oak barrels, often from the Americas! So, a white oak tree in a Kentucky forest may eventually make its way to the west coast of Scotland for a wee bit more work. ; ) For a second act, the barrel, known as "cask" in Scotland, is putting out a product that's at least 98.4% ABV!! "Water of life," indeed! (Irish Gaelic uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha)

Despite this being the 21st century, it's amazing how relatively simple and unchanged the whiskey distilling process is - it's mostly time and temperature that does the work. In fact, we learned that Elijah Craig was a minister, who, after a house fire singed his oak barrels, decided to use them anyway. The result? A beautiful, sweet, smooth product that customers downriver in New Orleans and beyond began demanding after his experiement in 1789.

Speaking of charred things, we finished the day in Bardstown at The Old Talbott Tavern, where we had some mediocre food. I got a Hot Brown and Erin had a chicken marsala. My meal came as expected, yet with a bit too much cheese and not enough bread, at least for my tastes. Erin's meal reminded me of cheap Chinese food, as the chicken was so fried it crunched - gross! Still, after a day of wondering around the Kentucky countryside, any meal was appreciated at that point.

Overall, the day-trip was fun and I'd recommend the Bourbon Trail to anyone wanting a mix of history, scenery and drinking.


  1. aah the Isle of Aaran story and Steve during our max patch camping trip. he just thought that was the coolest thing ever!


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