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Hi,

I’m back from ten days in Kentucky exploring distilleries and enjoying bourbon. I didn’t do the Bourbon Trail exactly but visited places that were both large and small, one very much off the beaten path. It was a fantastic experience!

This is a list of what I picked up while I was there, arranged by brand name/distillery and with information about age (often not available), proof, location and sometimes comments from sources such as The Bourbon Tasting Notebook by S. Reigler and Michael Veach as well as Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick. Both books, plus an excellent historical approach by Reid Mitenbuler called Bourbon Empire; the Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, offer interesting details about the bourbon industry, its mythologizing the “romance” of bourbon and the many outright lies by distillers about their origins and pedigrees. None of that diminishes the delicious end product however!

Angel's Envy (independent distiller); Louisville

Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 6 years old, 5.5 years in new charred oak barrels followed by 6 months in used port wine barrels. 86.6 proof. Mash bill: not available.

Name origin: “the 3 to 5 percent of bourbon lost per year due to evaporation, known as the “angel’s share”. Angel’s Envy is the whiskey the angels didn’t get."

“Angel’s Envy is perhaps the most noted barrel-finished product. Created by former Woodford Reserve master distiller Lincoln Henderson, who passed away in 2013, and his son Wes, Angel’s Envy is six year old bourbon finished in port barrels. Angel’s Envy has caught ire from the purists for bearing the label “Kentucky Straight Bourbon. How can you call something bourbon if it’s put in used cooperage?”

I learned that it’s a trend to finish bourbon in a unique barrel other than new charred oak (which is a federal requirement). Some are using wine and rum barrels, for example, for a different flavor profile.

Angel’s Envy is a new distillery in downtown Louisville, only one year old. It’s a gorgeous facility with an excellent tour and tasting room.

Barton’s Distilling Co. (owned by Sazerac Co.); Frankfort, KY

Very Old Barton 86 Kentucky Straight Bourbon. (age NK). 86 proof. Mash bill: not disclosed.

Name origins: “Upon Prohibition’s repeal, Oscar Getz and Lester Abelson started a whiskey company called Barton Brands which was one of the most powerful American-owned spirits companies of the 20th century. Very Old Barton was marketed as high-end bourbon with 1970s advertising championing its age: ‘Very Old Barton spends eight long years aging to become a smoother, mellower bourbon. So VOB gives you more bourbon flavor to give”. Today VOB is more of a value brand.

Blade & Bow (owned by Diageo, produced by Stitzel-Weller Distilling); Louisville

Kentucky Straight Bourbon. (age NK). 92 proof. Mash bill: not disclosed

Diageo is the largest alcoholic beverage producer in the world. Bourbons have been contract distilled in Kentucky and are aged in warehouses (called Rickhouses) on the site of the now-closed Stitzel-Weller Distillery outside Louisville.

Blade & Bow is a recent addition to the market. A suggestion by Tony at Total Wine in Louisville. Thanks Tony!

Blanton’s (distilled by Buffalo Trace which is owned by Sazerac); Frankfort, KY

Kentucky Straight Bourbon. (age NK). 93 proof. Mash bill: Buffalo Trace #2 which is high in rye.

Name origin: brainchild of master distiller Elmer T. Lee and named in honor of Col. Albert Blanton, distillery manager in the early 20th century.

Background: “Buffalo Trace is one of the most important and historic distillers in the U.S. but the facility suffers from a century-old identify problem. While the George T. Stagg Distillery was renamed Buffalo Trace and the brand launched in 1999, the facility was also formerly the Ancient Age Distillery and sections were the OFC Distillery. Locals continue to refer to Buffalo Trace as Ancient Age or Stagg. Nonetheless Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon ranks among the best introductory bourbons”.

Note: Blanton’s is scarce almost everywhere I’ve looked…Utah, Nevada, Kansas, Missouri. When I went to the Buffalo Trace gift shop, the clerk was stocking Blanton’s on the shelf and people literally were grabbing bottles out of her hand. A total feeding frenzy! You could only buy one bottle per customer (but I found a way around that).

Clear Springs Distillery (independent distiller); Louisville.

Two Stars Kentucky Straight Bourbon. (age NK). 86 proof. Mash bill: not available

Tony from Total Wine in Louisville recommended this. It tastes peppery so possibly has a high rye content for a bourbon.

Crown Royal Distilling Company (Canadian)

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. (age NK). 90 proof. Mash bill: not available

Another recommendation by Tony at Total Wine in Louisville. He knew I liked rye.

Glenns Creek Distillery, Frankfort, KY

I’d read about this distillery on TripAdvisor, listed as #20 of things to do in Frankfort. The reviews waxed ecstatic so I decided to check it out. After driving down a dark single lane in the hills outside of Frankfort, I came across a dilapidated looking group of buildings with shadows of much larger, older structures in the background. Very Transylvania! I’d read that the new owners of Glenns Creek had transformed the unused bottling plant of the Old Crow Distillery for their own distilling operation. Looming next door were the several huge old Rickhouses of Jim Beam. So far, so good.

The owner and master distiller David was the only employee on site and for the next two hours he explained his operation and how, with a background in welding and little knowledge of bourbon or the industry, he built his own still and started his own production with partner John. Talk about unpretentious. He let me take lots of photos, ask lots of questions and taste liberally of his conncoctions, both already bottled and those “in research”. It was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of my trip.

Here are the current offerings at Glenns Creek. They are only available in Kentucky at this time. “Hitch up the wagon Mildred and let’s go to Kin-tucky”.

Ryskey Rye Whiskey Single Barred Double Oaked. (distilled in Indiana, aged and bottled in KY) (aged “at least 6 months”). 118 proof. Mash bill: not known.

Stave & Barrel Bourbon Single Barrel Double Oaked. (distilled in Indiana, aged and barreled in KY) (aged “at least 6 months”). 121 proof. Mash bill: not known.

OCD #5 Cask Strength Triple Oaked Kentucky Bourbon. (distilled and bottled in KY) (aged “at least 6 months”). 112.6 proof. Mash bill: not known.

Prohibition Rum. (distilled, aged & bottled in KY; aged in bourbon barrels). (age NK) 109 proof.

Heaven’s Hill Distilleries; Bardstown, KY

Evan Williams Black Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon. (5.5 years old). 86 proof. Mash bill: not known

Note: I purchased this at the gift shop in the Evan Williams Experience, a Disneyesque walk-through simulation of Mr. Williams from colonial times through his influence on the production of bourbon. It was well done but a bit over the top in the mythology department, IMO. Enjoy the bourbon though.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon, “Bottled in Bond”. (10 years old). 100 proof. Mash bill: not known

Fred Minnick of Bourbon Curious writes: “I’ve never found two Henry McKenna 10 year olds that smell the same. That’s the beauty of a single barrel—each product will vary from one before it no matter how hard the distiller tries to keep them consistent”.

Heaven Hill Old Style Kentucky Straight Bourbon, “Bottled in Bond”. (6 years old). 100 proof. Mash bill: not known (Only available in Kentucky and Indiana).

I.W. Harper (owned by Diageo); Tullahoma TN

Kentucky Straight Bourbon. (age NK). 82 proof. Mash bill: Proprietary

“Proof is an interesting choice. A couple of degrees stronger than the export version. Label states it was distilled in Kentucky. No source named.”

Perhaps a dubious choice of my own choosing. I liked the look of the bottle.

Knob Creek Distillery (owned by Beam Suntory); Clermont, KY

Fact, not myth: the Beam family has been distilling in Kentucky since 1795. James B. Beam opened a distillery at the end of prohibition and Jim Beam Bourbon was introduced at that time. In 1992, the company introduced the “Small Batch Collection” of which Knob Creek is a part.

Single Barrel Reserve Small Batch. 9 years old. 120 proof. Mash bill: not known

Part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection. “Look for retailers’ single barrel selections. They are often superior to the standard bottling”. My new friend Tony from Total Wine in Louisville recommended this as Total Wine’s single barrel offering at 120 proof.

Michter’s Distillery (owned by Chatham Imports); Louisville, KY

Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Small Batch. (age NK). 91.4 proof. Mash bill: not known

Bottle label: Distilled in small batches according to the Michter’s pre-Revolutionary War quality standards dating back to 1753. (Myth alert!)

Established: “Like many things in whiskey, Michter’s original founding date is complicated. The original Pennsylvania distillery site began in 1753, but the Michter’s brand was not created until 1950.

Name origins: A combination of the names Michael and Peter, the founder’s sons.

Union Horse Distilling Co. (independent distillery); Lenexa KS

One year ago I sat in a restaurant in Kansas City and ordered a Union Horse Small Batch rye on the rocks. It was so evocative of my 20s when my drink of choice was rye. Why had I switched to wine? 40 years later I’ve rediscovered both rye and bourbon and discovered that my grandfather was from Kentucky. So my roots are in those hills….that’s my mythology and I’m sticking to it.

Union Horse Reserve Straight Bourbon Small Batch. Age: over two years old. 92 proof. Mash bill: not known

Union Horse Reunion Straight Rye Whiskey Small Batch. age: over 2 years old. 93 proof. Mash bill: not known

Willett Distillery (independent distiller); Bardstown, KY

The Willett family of whiskeys includes Johnny Drum, Kentucky Vintage, Old Bardstown, Noah’s Mill, Pure Kentucky, Rowan’s Creek and Willett. “These products don’t sit on shelves long for they evoke the same sense of emotion and consumer loyalty as the greatest bourbons ever made.”

Johnny Drum Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Private Stock. age NK. 101 proof. Mash bill: Not known

Old Bardstown Kentucky Straight Bourbon “Bottled in Bond”. (age: NK). 100 proof. Mash bill: not known

Beautiful distillery property and very nice tour/tasting. Next door to Heaven Hill’s many brick houses.

Woodford Reserve Distillery (owned by Brown-Forman); Versailles, KY

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Distiller’s Select. (age NK). 90.4 proof. Mash bill: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley.

Background: George G. Brown and his half-brother J.T.S. Brown, Jr. entered the whiskey business in 1870 and created the Old Forrester brand as the first bourbon to be sold only by the bottle. This whiskey was aimed at sales to the medical market and sold bottled to guarantee the quality of the whiskey being prescribed by doctors to their patients. During the depression, Brown-Forman was one of the six companies with a license to sell “medicinal alcohol” during prohibition.

In the 1990s, Brown-Forman repurchased the Oscar Pepper distillery site it once owned and commenced a $10 million dollar rebuilding project and named it Woodford Reserve Distillery. Woodford Reserve Distillery’s two bourbons and one rye are the official adult beverages at Churchill Downs.

The setting at Woodford Reserve is iconic Kentucky: beautifully restored brick buildings surrounded by rolling hills and manicured woods. Not to mention the hundreds of acres of Woodford Stables with gorgeous thoroughbred horses. Absolutely stunning.

Note: I was fortunate enough to be in town when Woodford Reserve held its Kentucky Heritage Southern Supper with “Roasted and barrel stave-smoked Stone Cross Farms Whole Hog”, gratin of Happy Jack’s squashes, slow cooked collards, kale and mustard greens, Kenny Mattingly’s farmhouse cheese pasta and to top it off, pecan pie. OMG!

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