At the Maker's Mark bottling facility
There are about 6-8 bourbon distilleries in nearby Kentucky towns that are part of the official and unofficial Bourbon Trail. We went to two official Bourbon distilleries, Maker's Mark and Heaven Hill, and one unofficial, Tom Moore. It seems that what makes a distillery an official part of the Bourbon Trail is that they pay into some sort of joint marketing campaign. The distilleries are all located in the area of Kentucky that's between Nashville, TN, Knoxville, KY, and Cincinnati, OH.
We started with Maker's Mark Distillery. The bucolic setting amazing, and the person who gave the tour was really clear, interesting, and knowledgeable. James got a bit antsy during the tour and we were trying to keep him quiet so as not ruin anyone else's tour but it wasn't too hard to just take him outside at most of the tour stops. I even let him around around outside while people were in the section where the barrels were stored. The tour itself was pretty cool. Among other things, you could stick your hand into the bourbon in a huge distillery barrel which for some reason made me feel like a kid on a field trip.
Outside at the Maker's Mark Distillery
Making bourbon in a huge barrel
The barrels go past the floor and are very deep
James playing outside during his tour break
Bottling the bourbon
The ladies who personally seal the bottles with wax
After the tour, we went to a bourbon tasting. The tour guide explained the difference between bourbons that are aged for a very short time (Maker's White) and which are aged too long (Maker's Mark Over Matured). If they're not matured for long, they don't taste good at all. The regular Maker's Mark, aged 6 years, is sweeter than over-matured bourbon. The tasting rooms were all enclosed in glass, so I was able to take James to the hall and still see and hear what was happening inside, and Kevin and I would swap so I could run in to taste the bourbon. Yeah. it was a lot of work, but hard work fun as a parent is still better than no fun as a parent- at least for me and Kevin.
Plus, throughout all this, there was a guy from Mint Julep Tours that kept helping us. He took a photo for us, brought the stroller around once, told me how I could skip around the small barrels with James. It took me a while to figure out who he was- at first I thought he worked at Maker's Mark, then I thought he was just a guy who had done the tour before, then that he was a guardian bourbon angel sent to desperate parents (there should be one right?). Finally, at another distillery, I realized he drove the little tour bus for his company, so he'd probably done all the tours tons of times. I'd recommend them to people because it's easier than driving around trying to find the places yourself, and obviously the tour guy is great. Anyway, that's my shout-out to our guardian bourbon angel.
The four samples at our Maker's Mark tasting
That brings me to another thought. It was at this point, during the tasting, that I realized I don't like straight bourbon. I like bourbon in cocktails like mint juleps. Yum! I felt bad about this for a short while because our next stop was the Tom Moore Distillery, where that told us that bourbon had regained popularity in the 90's because women started drinking it in cocktails. You're welcome, men.
At the Tom Moore/ Barton 1792 Distillery
This distillery was more industrial and we weren't as interested in the tour, which we were told would last an hour, so we just did about 10 minutes and then dipped out for a private tasting. In any case, James had just napped for an hour in the car so he was in no mood to be held for a long stretch. Plus there was a weird vibe on the tour, where for example, they wouldn't tell you the formula of the bourbon even though Maker's Mark had told us their's, and in all likelihood the ratios at this distillery were similar. The woman at the tasting counter was nice and gave James some wooden bourbon toy thing for James to play with while he ran around their tasting room.
Tom Moore/ Barton 1792 bourbon ingredients
"World's Largest Barrel" at the Tom Moore/ Barton 1792 Distillery
Then we went to our third and final distillery, the Heaven Hill Distillery which also fancies itself a bourbon museum. If you're not taking the tour, which we weren't, you're a bit of a second-class citizen there. I had to talk them into a little mini-tasting though because we weren't on the tour, and the person giving us the tasting insisted we stand outside the huge half barrel tasting room, because James is underage. Um? James probably could have gone for a swim in Maker's Mark bourbon barrels, but we couldn't hold him inside a visitors center/ gift shop?
Heaven Hill Distillery Visitor's Center and Bourbon Museum
The outside of the tasting room, "The Tasting Barrel"
I actually liked one of the bourbons we tried there, but I don't know what it was because the lady giving us the two little sample mixed them up.
Luckily the visitor's center had history, little dioramas of the making of the bourbon, and a few interactive toys like the one where you could push a button to smell the bourbons.
How to read a bourbon barrel
James and Kevin at Heaven Hill
All in all, we felt like our little Bourbon Trail trip had gone pretty well. Unfortunately, our short drive to Cincinnati, OH had to happen at a time when James didn't have a nap scheduled because Jason's father generously got Cincinnati Reds tickets for Kevin and Jason. I'm not even going to discuss the details of this horrific car ride because I'm sure Kevin is writing about it in his post. My version would just be scary and sad. At least with Kevin's version you can laugh at our misery.