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Bourbon- The True American Whiskey; Lexington- The Horse Capitol of The World
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor

Lexington Map
New York, NY - According to Perry Luntz, author of Whiskey & Spirits For Dummies (Wiley), "Most people who know anything about bourbon distilling know the story of the Baptist Minister, Elizah Craig, who established a distillery in Bourbon County, thus giving a name to his whiskey. It's a good story but it's not exactly true. In 1780, as the Ohio Territory was cut into smaller units, the Virginians claimed a piece of it. They named it Bourbon County after the then-current French ruling family to honor the support of the French during the American Revolution. In 1792, when Kentucky became a state, Bourbon County was divided into 34 of the present existing Kentucky counties, (in fact, no bourbon is actually made, or sold, in Bourbon County today), one of which, was Bourbon, with its famous whiskey. In 1840, Mr. E.G. Booz, a liquor dealer in Philadelphia, gave his name to alcoholic products and they became known as Booze. Now you know the whole story and have a great trivia series of questions for you next party or wine-tasting.

By law, bourbon whiskey can be produced anywhere in the United States where it is legal to distill spirits, although 95% of the world's bourbon is distilled and aged in Kentucky where bourbon production has doubled since 1999. In 1964, Congress declared bourbon America's only native spirit. It must be produced from a grain mixture containing a minimum of 51% corn and must be 100% natural with nothing besides water added. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years and any bourbon aged less than four years must list its age on the label. Bourbon has to be distilled at less than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume). If all the above requirements are met the bourbon may be called Straight Bourbon (but it is not required to be so labeled).

In real life almost all bourbons sold today are made from more than two-third's corn (the remainder being wheat and/or rye) and have been aged at least four years. This mixture, called the mash, is fermented using the sour mash method. This means the mash saved from a previous distillation is added to ensure consistency from year to year and batch to batch. The fermented mash is then distilled, which produces a clear liquid. When placed in charred oak barrels, at no more than 125 proof, the clear liquid soon imparts color. After aging, the bourbon is removed from the barrels, diluted with water and bottled. The Kentucky soil is rich in phosphates, perfect for growing grain and the rivers are filled with calcium, where the water is very pure. Hot summers and cold winters are ideal for aging whiskey in casks and the nearby oak forests provide the wood for the casks. Most whiskey is sold at 80 proof but there are 86, 90, 94 and 100 proof examples. Higher proofs than these are often called "barrel proof" and have not been diluted when removed from the barrels. The term Bottled-in-Bond is used to refer to bourbons kept under federal government supervision in bonded warehouses for the four-year minimum aging period. Now, any 100 proof bourbon can carry that designation. Small Batch Bourbon refers to craft distilling. It is similar to the wine term, Reserve. The term originated in the 1980's by the Jim Beam Company, but every distiller has his or her own interpretation of what constitutes a "small batch." I received answers that ranged from less than 100 barrels to more than one barrel. Single Barrel Bourbon is bottled from one particular cask. The term Vintage Bourbon means the whiskies are older than four years. Look for hints of banana, burnt sugar, caramel, honey, butterscotch, hazelnuts, leather, hay, cedar, tobacco leaf, and tar. Remember all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon.

I traveled to Lexington Kentucky to learn more about bourbon and the city of Lexington. and, while there, visited Bardstown, the Bourbon Capitol of the World and, shortly thereafter, followed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which led me to Buffalo Trace, the oldest continually operating distillery in the US. I encountered Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and the newest member of the trail, Tom Moore. It was interesting, to say the least, to tour and taste, adding a few non-Bourbon visits that you might want to see. Although I did not visit Louisville I have included parts of "The Urban Bourbon Trail" as provided by the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Everything I mention can be seen in 4 days, dividing your time between Lexington, Bardstown and Louisville.

Let's change from the usual and go right to what, where, when, how and why.

Non-Drinking Sites - Lexington and the areas that abound nearby. Founded in 1795 and named for the initial battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts.

Kentucky Horse Park - The number one attraction in Lexington with 1,200 acres with an industry (horses) that means $4 billion for the Kentucky economy. This is an educational theme park with carriage and trail rides as well as farm exhibits. The Hall of Champions is where one can "visit" with retired racehorses. The International Museum of the Horse and the American Saddlebred Museum are located there. In 2010 the World Equestrian Games will take place there, the first North American facility ever to host this event. Over 600,000 visitors are expected.

Keeneland - World famous racetrack with 3 1/2 week meets in April and October. The real money comes from the four yearly horse auctions in January, April, September and November. I would suggest breakfast at The Track Kitchen, which is open to the public, and then urge you to take a moment or two to watch the morning workouts. Lexington is known as the Horse Capitol of the World with almost 1,000 horses living there and a history dating to 1779. .

Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. This 19th-century statesman ran for president and lost three times. Not an enviable record. Interestingly enough, Abraham Lincoln based his political ideology on the ideas of Clay and quoted him often. And, speaking of "Honest Abe," there is the Mary Todd Lincoln Home sine she was born in Lexington and her family was friendly with Henry Clay. Her home was built in 1803 in the Georgian style and is the first museum in honor of a First Lady.

Lexington Center & Rupp Arena - Hotel, retail, convention Center and home of Kentucky Basketball...University of Kentucky and Transylvania University, the oldest college (1780) west of the Allegheny Mountains.

For More information

  • www.visitlex.com
  • www.kybourbontrail.com
  • www.keeneland.com
  • www.henryclay.org
  • www.kyhorsepark.com
  • www.lexingtoncenter.com
  • www.mtlhouse.org
  • www.uky.edu
  • www.visitfrankfort.com
  • www.shakervillageky.org
  • www.buffalotrace.com
  • www.woodfordreserve.com
  • www.gratzparkinn.com
  • www.billysbarbq.com
  • www.jagp.info
  • www.hollyhillinn.com
  • www.woodfordinn.com
  • www.justaddbourbon.com
  • www.wildturkeybourbon.com
  • www.fourroses.us
  • www.whiskeymuseum.com
  • www.talbotts.com
  • www.liquorbarn.com
  • www.visitbardstown.com
  • www.myoldkentuckyhome.com
  • www.makersmark.com
  • www.heaven-hill.com
  • www.bartonbrands.com/tommoorebourbon.html
  • www.jimbeam.com
  • www.rebeccaruth.com
  • www.threechimneys.com
  • www.transy.edu
  • www.kybourbonfestival.com
  • www.greatbourbon.com
  • www.kybourbon.com
  • www.straightbourbon.com
  • Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill - Harrodsburg - 3,000 cares, 34 original buildings and the largest Shaker community in the US.

    Three Chimneys Farm - Versailles, a working farm with 12 thoroughbred stallions available for stud at the piddling cost of upwards of $150,000 for every foal produced. Do not go where you are thinking, not for this feature.

    As for where to stay and eat in Lexington, I would recommend the Gratz Park Inn with 41 rooms and the most comfortable beds (Posturepedic) one is likely to find in any resort.

    Dining runs the gamut - Billy's BBQ for Western Kentucky-style hickory pit barbecue or Dudley's Restaurant, in a restored 19th-century school building. Not a place where one would expect to find one of better wine lists I have encountered of late. One more option is Jonathan at Gratz Park, undoubtedly the best and most innovative restaurant in town. Why? Go and find out.

    As for restaurants outside of Lexington, if you have the time...head to Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory in Frankfort, the state capitol and 30 miles from Lexington. Try their Bourbon Ball Chocolates and make sure you have a designated driver. Also, the White Light- Frankfort - a CIA Chef (Culinary Institute of America lest you think you will find a meeting of agents there), but it is a place where you are likely to run into any one of a number of politicians. Get some background, as I did, on Wallace Station (Versailles) & Holly Hill Inn (Midway), about 11 miles from Lexington with more. CIA trained chefs.

    Make sure, in the midst of all this, that you try Ale 81 Ginger Ale while in Kentucky. It is a Ginger-flavored soft drink that has been popular since 1926.

    The Bourbon Trail - You can use Louisville, Bardstown or Lexington as your headquarters while visiting the eight distilleries (producing 98% of all the bourbon) that make up The Bourbon Trail. Bardstown is about 40 miles south of Louisville and 54 miles west of Lexington. Louisville is the home of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs, Louisville Slugger and Mohammad Ali. It has eight bars that use the moniker- The Urban Bourbon Trail. Makers' Mark Bourbon House & Lounge pours 70 bourbons while Bourbons Bistro - 130. Proof on Main and Blu both have 50 on their list. The winner is Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar & Lounge with 165. Liquor Barn has three stores in Lexington and three in Louisville. The store I visited carried 160 bourbons. I did not visit Jim Beam, which is located in Clermont about 25 miles south of Louisville. It is the world's largest Bourbon distiller with its eponymous Jim Beam the world's number one selling Bourbon. Fred Noe is the seventh generation member of the Beam family and has taken over as master distiller after the recent passing of his father Booker Noe. Beam draws over 100,000 visitors who also come for the 1800 Cooperage Museum and to visit the Jeremiah Beam home. Their Small Batch Collection includes: Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden.

    Heaven Hill is located in Bardstown and fire destroyed the distillery in 1996. They then purchased the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville where their products are now distilled. This is America's largest independent family-owned distillery. The aging warehouses located here hold the second largest supply of Bourbon (Beam is #1) and the Bourbon Heritage Center has interactive exhibits of the birth of Bourbon and the distillation process. Some of their brands include: Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna and Old Fitzgerald. While in Bardstown, should you go there, make time to see the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. It houses a collection of rare artifacts and documents dealing with the American whiskey industry dating from pre-Colonial times to the post-Prohibition years. There are rare antique bottles, advertising art and a moonshine still. It is a must visit. If time allows, stop at My Old Kentucky Home. This was where Stephen Foster was inspired to write My Old Kentucky Home. If you venture down in September, the third weekend ere is a 5-day Kentucky Bourbon Festival with over 20 events scheduled.

    About 1/2 hour from Bardstown is the Maker's Mark Distillery in the town of Loretto, the oldest working Bourbon distillery on its original site (1805) in the nation and a National Historic Landmark. If you have time for lunch the tiny Toll Gate Caf? is right outside the distillery. Make sure to try the bourbon cookies. This is a small distillery producing only one brand- Maker's Mark. Founder Bill Samuel's Sr. (bought the site in 1953) is still involved although the company has been sold to Beam Global. They sell 840,000 cases annually, including 70,000 internationally and still hand-dip every bottle in that distinctive red wax. It is not a misprint but they spell whisky without the E, as do the Scots and the Irish. They use more winter wheat (16%) that adds sweetness (instead of rye) plus 70% corn and 14% malted barley. The tour takes visitors through every step of the distilling process and you are so close to it that it often seems like visitors are actually the workers.

    The other three distilleries I visited are all within 1/2 hour of Lexington...Woodford Reserve is in Versailles, which boasts two restaurants right next to each other, and they carry over 50 bourbons. Cleveland's at Woodford Inn is on the National Historic Register and Park Street Bourbon Bar is inside the Woodford Inn. Woodford Reserve is owned by Brown Forman (Jack Daniels, Early Times, Old Forester) and receives over 80,000 visitors. They claim to be the smallest distillery in America and started using copper pot stills in 1812. It is a National Historic Landmark and uses the only surviving stone aging warehouse in the US. Their blend is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. If you want to learn more about bourbon sign up for the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Academy. The cost is $150 and it includes a bourbon inspired lunch as well as a day (10AM-3PM) with Chris Morris, their Master Distiller, and learn the art of production. For more information call (859) 879-1934.

    Wild Turkey and Four Roses are both in Lawrenceburg and each is unique. The legendary Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell (54 years working here), took us on a tour of this distillery overlooking the Kentucky River. It is owned by Pernod Ricard, who has wisely left Jimmy and the rest of the employees alone. There is no mention on the Wild Turkey bottle of the Pernod Ricard ownership (Absolut, Beefeater, Chivas) and Jimmy told me that his formula for Wild Turkey is less corn and more rye and barley malt. Four Roses has an interesting history since most easterners know it as a blended whiskey that Seagram's bought in 1943. Master Distiller Jim Rutledge has worked there for 40 years (distillery built in 1910) and told me that they always produced bourbon that was not sold in America due to Seagram's push to sell the less expensive blend. Owned by Kirin Brewery Company of Japan since 2002 they have reintroduced the Four Roses Bourbon slowly to the US. On the National Register of Historic Places they use spring-fed Salt River famed for its limestone water and have had the same grain source for 50 years.

    One thing for certain is that you can combine bourbon and horses, plus food, history and sports. A word of caution - this should not be a short trip of 4-5 days. You will need more so I hope that you have the time.




    For more information on Ron Kapon, please go to www.RonKapon.com or email him at VinoRon@yahoo.com.