Bravo offers some great small batch bourbons but I wanted to make sure we had the latest. Bourbon sales have increased by 40% in the last 5 years and our guests know many of the small batch bourbon distilleries, so I decided it was time for another tour of the Bourbon Trail. I drafted two bourbon aficionados to take the tour with me, my wife Whitney, who grew up in Tennessee, and Dean MacVicar, who has great palate for whiskeys and his wife Linda, our navigator extraordinaire.
The drive to Louisville is about five and a half hours so we decided to stop for brunch at Milktooth Restaurant in Indianapolis. This building is a former gas station converted into an amazing breakfast and lunch restaurant. I had met the chef at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. He was selected as one of their top 10 Best New Chefs. Bon Appetit also named Milktooth as one of the 20 Best New Restaurants in the country and they are only open for breakfast and lunch. It was amazing!
We drove to Louisville for dinner and a hotel for the night. We made a stop at The Haymarket Whiskey Bar which has been written about in Malt Advocate and Bourbon Review magazines as well as being named one of Thrillist.com's Top 22 Whiskey Bars in America. It's a dive bar but has over 250 Bourbons, many of which are limited and not available in Michigan. Dean sampled a Four Roses limited edition bourbon. They have the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 available but the price per oz. is not cheap. Then it was on to Rye Restaurant with exceptional mixologists before dinner.
Dinner was at 610 Magnolia, a converted house in the heart of Old Louisville. Chef/Owner Edward Lee of "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef" fame offers great urban/southern cuisine.
The next morning we hit our first distillery. Stitzel-Weller Distillery was opened by Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle and run under his ownership for much of its history. When Pappy died, his son Julian II took over. We did a tasting of Bulleit Bourbons & Ryes. The tour started with the basics of distilling. The three stages are: First, "the Heads" which is the 1st vapor that forms, mostly Methanol and best used for aftershave or hand sanitizer; Next, "the Hearts" which is what is used in the best Bourbons. And finally "the Tails" which is too watery and thin for good Bourbon.
Most trail users would now head for the distilleries near Bardstown which include Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Maker's Mark, but we decided to go off the trail and make a pit stop in Nashville, Tennessee for the evening. Nashville is home to Nelson's Greenbrier Distillery, the producers of Belle Meade Bourbons. These are very small batch bourbons that are not yet available in Michigan. Whitney knows the Nelson family and has met Andy and Charlie Nelson, who revived their great, great, great grandfather's distillery. Their distillery is marked "DSP5TN" which means Distilled Spirits Producer #5 Tennessee. Their award winning Belle Meade Bourbon aged 8 years is the smoothest Whitney has ever sipped. This distillery is just a few buildings away from Antique Archeology, the shop made famous from the "American Pickers" television show.
While in Nashville we stopped at Husk Restaurant for a drink. The bar was voted one of the Top 10 Bourbon Bars Of The South and the food under Chef Sean Brock is great upscale Southern cuisine. Nashville has many great restaurants, and after cocktails we decided to go to Adele's Restaurant which is run by Chef Jonathan Waxman, one of the leaders in American cuisine. We enjoyed great food in a converted gas station and took in a few Honky Tonks on Broadway.
The next day we had to get back on the Bourbon Trail grid. We headed toward Lexington and stopped at Four Roses. We learned about the three main ingredients in Bourbon and how they affect the taste:
- Malt = cocoa , coffee, dough
- Rye = spice, cereal, caramel
- Corn = sweet, nutty, earthy
Then on to Woodford Reserve, which is a beautiful facility in the midst of horse country. The Bourbon industry helped establish this area with Thoroughbred horses. Most distilleries would raft their products to New Orleans via the Kentucky, the Ohio and then the Mississippi Rivers, a journey that would take up to 6 months. The crews would then buy the fastest horses to travel back to Kentucky before winter, creating many horse farms in the Lexington area.
We visited another distillery near Lexington that is not on the official Bourbon Trail Map called Buffalo Trace. This beautiful facility requires reservations for their free tours. We chose the National Historic Landmark Tour, which was conducted by a gentleman named Freddie, who is a third generation distillery worker. Buffalo Trace was one of the few distilleries in the country able to produce alcohol during prohibition for "Medicinal Purposes Only." During this period the State of Kentucky was struggling financially due to the loss of tax revenues, so Buffalo Trace made a deal that for every barrel produced for "Medicinal Purposes," they would distill a barrel to be stored in the event that prohibition would end. The state received the tax and Buffalo Trace had a 20 year supply of aged bourbon at their disposal.
We had a beautiful trip with delicious food and great bourbon. The leaves were just starting to turn colors and it's a great way to spend a long weekend with friends. Don't forget to pick up a passport at your first distillery and get stamps at all of your stops.
Bulleit (5 miles from downtown Louisville)
3860 Fitzgerald Road
Louisville, KY 40216
Tours: 10 – 4, on the hour, Wed. – Sun.; on the hour (every ½ hour on Saturday); $10/per
1414 Clinton Street
Sunday: 11 – 5; Tours every ½ hour (last tour @ 4:00) ;$10/per (Closed Monday)
1224 Bonds Mill Rd.
Tour times: Mon. – Sat. 9 – 3, on the hour; Sunday 12 – 3; $5/per
7855 McCracken Pike
Tour times: Mon. – Sat. 10 – 3, on the hour; Sunday 1 – 3; $10/per
113 Great Buffalo Trace
National Historic Landmark Tour booked for Oct. 6 @ 11:30
528 W. Main Street
Tour times: Mon. – Thur. 11 – 5:30, etc. $5/per
Town Branch (suggested in Kal. Gazette article; new in 2012; beer & bourbon)
401 Cross Street
Tour times: Mon. – Sat. 10 – 4, on the hour; Sunday 12 – 5
Milk Tooth (Top 20 restaurant in Bon Appetit)
534 Virginia Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46203
9:00 – 3:00 Full Service Brunch
Haymarket Whiskey Bar:
900 E Market St
Louisville, KY 40206
610 Magnolia Avenue
Louisville, KY 40208
Adele's (Jonathon Waxman)
1210 McGavock Street
Nashville, TN 37203
Middle Fork Kitchen Bar
1224 Manchester St.
Lexington, KY 40504
Proof on Main
707 W. Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202