In our November/December issue released last year, we took a closer look at the US state that simply lives and breathes bourbon: Kentucky. The following is an extract from that feature.
Kentucky lives and breathes bourbon; with the number of bourbon barrels easily outstripping the human population, Kentucky is undoubtedly the spiritual and physical home of the amber liquid. 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made in the state, and with many of the top distilleries easily reachable from Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, a visit to the area is a must-do for any serious aficionado of America’s official native spirit.
Start your bourbon journey at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in the state capital of Frankfort – around 90 kilometres from downtown Louisville. Set on the banks of the winding Kentucky River, the lush green grounds of the distillery are home to more than 300,000 barrels of liquor aging in red-brick rackhouses.
“No other distillery in the world has won more awards than Buffalo Trace,” says Kris Comstock, Bourbon Marketing Director at Buffalo Trace. “Writers, enthusiasts, and spirits competitions around the world have awarded more than 500 accolades to our brands. The title of ‘world’s most award-winning distillery’ has been earned through the uncompromising dedication of our craftsmen for well over 200 years.”
As proof of its heritage, in 2013, Buffalo Trace Distillery became a National Historic Landmark, recognising the distillery and its people, builders, preservers and protectors. More recently, in 2016, Buffalo Trace unearthed what has come to be known as ‘Bourbon Pompeii’ – the foundations of a previously lost distillery from 1873, which was uncovered as workers prepared to renovate an old storage building close to the river.
Flagship bourbon, the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, has been referred to by Jim Murray (author of the influential Whisky Bible) as “one of the world’s great whiskies”, and took home the ‘Best Straight Bourbon’ category at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It’s known for its balanced, pleasantly sweet taste and complex aroma of vanilla, mint and molasses.
Buffalo Trace also recently took out World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017 for its small batch Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain Bourbon – a fact that was not lost on James Johnstone, Senior Brand Manager of the Sazerac Portfolio at SouthTrade International, which distributes Buffalo Trace in Australia.
“It was a huge honor to win such a prestigious reward that is recognized internationally,” Johnstone told BARS&clubs. “Sazerac as a company and Buffalo Trace as a distillery have had a long-standing tradition of producing award-winning brands, something we are immensely proud to be a part of. For us, the win is immeasurable, with not only EH Taylor Four Grain but multiple products produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery – the worlds most awarded distillery – winning awards.”
Next stop on the trail is the Woodford Reserve Distillery, tucked away in the rolling hills near the town of Versailles. The distillery here is one of only three in Kentucky that have gained the title of National Historic Landmark (joining Buffalo Trace and Maker’s Mark). It’s a scenic little spot, and the oldest and smallest on this tour – with iconic copper pot stills, the longest barrel run in the USA (at over 500 feet, entirely powered by gravity) and 100-year-old cypress wood fermenters that are still in use.
The distillery’s flagship liquid, the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is rich and chewy, and has earnt a swathe of awards over the past two decades, while the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is an innovative, twice-barreled bourbon, with the second barrel deeply toasted and treated with a light charring, extracting more oak character. There’s also the Masters Collection series of small batch products, which honour the pioneering work of early owner Oscar Pepper and Master Distiller James Crow way back in the 1800s and apply their handcrafted techniques.
Woodford Reserve is also the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, and is used to create some seriously lavish mint juleps on race day at Churchill Downs – pricing starts at $1000 for ‘Noble Cup’ (of which 90 are available) all the way up to $2500 for a gold-plated ‘Royal Cup’ (of which only 15 are made).
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