Five Hours in Lawrenceburg, KY
Finally, after weeks of failed attempts to get together, my friend David and I managed to find some spare time to meet up and try to have a little fun visiting the bourbon distilleries in his hometown, Lawrenceburg, KY. As it turned out, the May day we settled on was worth the wait; low seventies, low humidity and barely a cloud in the sky meant there was a good day in prospect. Needless to say, I'm in a pretty good mood as I set off on my seventy mile journey north to Lawrenceburg where Wild Turkey and Four Roses produce some of the world's best bourbons.
With a population of about 10,500 folks, Lawrenceburg is actually smaller than the small town I live in. You might wonder what David and I could possibly find to do for five hours. The tiny town just happens to be home to two of Kentucky's world-class distilleries; Wild Turkey and Four Roses.
I make my way downtown to David's office around lunchtime where he's conveniently located just across the street from Heaven to Betsy's Deli, where they make a mean Reuben sandwich. After enjoying our exceptional sandwiches, and some small talk with some of David's local friends, we head to Wild Turkey for some deep background on the local bourbon trade.
Wild Turkey - Rare Breed
We've both been excited finally getting to Wild Turkey. Even though David lives in town, he's been so busy he hasn't had a chance to check out their new ultra-modern visitor center that's perched on top of a sheer cliff wall high above the Kentucky River.
We enter the distillery grounds and follow the signs to the old visitor center where we'll be ferried by small bus to the working areas and the new visitor center. We're far from alone and the bus is almost full when we take off. The popularity of bourbon brings in people from around the world these days.
Once we get an up close and personal look at how they make and age their whiskey, we get shuttled to the new visitor center. To say it's impressive is an understatement. It manages to be both modern and Kentucky traditional at the same time, a fair reflection of the state these days. The open and airy space, thanks to its huge windows, gives the feeling of being part of the surrounding landscape, including the winding river below.
Our tour guide tells us about the unlikely origins of Forgiven, one of Wild Turkey's newer whiskey releases. It seems a distillery employee inadvertently mixed a batch of rye whiskey with a batch of bourbon just prior to bottling. What could have been a horrific waste of whiskey turned out to be a new release once master distiller Jimmy Russel got a taste of it. The employee was forgiven, and a new whiskey was born.
We culminate our visit with a tasting of the local product. We're both reminded of just how unique and special Kentucky bourbon is. All bourbon is made under very strict protocols that mandate how it goes from grain to bottle, and the minimum for how long it ages. Of special importance, no additives are allowed in bourbon making. What we all end up with is a pure unadulterated whiskey that has earned the right to be called bourbon.
We're both once again reminded of how Wild Turkey 101 is one of the best ways to experience what Kentucky bourbon in all about. The intense flavor, helped along by the high alcohol proof, also carries all the subtleties of the heavy char layer of the oak barrels along with the characteristic corn and rye mash made from high quality grains. There's also a hint of the unique micro-climate produced by the Kentucky River that influences the entire aging process. There's a lot of what makes Kentucky such a good place to make great bourbon.
What Do You Think of Bourbon?
On the other side of town, down a narrow country road, is the very recognizable Spanish Mission styled headquarters of Four Roses Distillery. Also reacting to consumer demand and increased interest, they've also added a striking new visitor center that's filled with Four Roses bourbons from their standard "Yellow Label" to limited small batch and single barrel releases.
After we tour the facilities, we get to enjoy a sampling of their impeccable whiskey. Our tour guide reminds us that master distiller Jim Rutledge pulls from a resource of several yeast varieties that allows him to come up with some spectacular releases. As we can tell by our post-tour samples, the proof is in the bottle.
As an added and surprising twist, David takes me down the road to his place where we sample some of the annual Four Roses limited edition single barrel releases he's accumulated over the years. It's not always easy to detect the nuances in bourbon unless they're sampled side by side. As we taste very small individual samples of the 2008, 2010 and 2011 single barrels, the subtle changes assert themselves. Each release is absolutely wonderful in its own unique way.
For some deeper understanding of what goes into Four Roses bourbons, the distillery's website details ten grain recipes and the bourbons made from each one. This is a rarity in the world of bourbon where mash bills are almost always closely guarded secrets.
Another unique aspect of Four Roses is the way in which they warehouse their barrels for aging. They are the only distillery in Kentucky that uses a one story warehouse method to better control the seasonal temperature and humidity deviations through the seasons in Kentucky. There are tours and tastings offered at their Cox's Creek warehouse facilities just south of Clermont, KY.
Four Roses - Small Batch
The Four Roses Story
The Old Owl Tavern
OK, we didn't spend the entire five hours in Lawrenceburg. After our single barrel tasting, we decide to drive the short distance south to the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg for dinner at the inn's Old Owl Tavern that just happens to have a serious inventory of bourbon.
The Beaumont Inn, tucked away off of Harrodsburg's main drag, has quite a history. It began life as a school for young ladies when it was built in 1845 before morphing into an inn in 1919. The inn became renowned for its hospitality that included its Southern influenced cuisine. Today, in addition to the Old Owl, there's the cozy Owl's Nest Lounge adjacent to the main dining room. Not a bad place to hang out or spend the night.