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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Kentucky, USA

My third stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was not the actual distillery tour, but a visitor's center in the midst of their warehouses dedicated to the numerous brands produced at Heaven Hill.  At least I didn't have to stand in a noisy bottling plant.  Our knowledgable guide mentioned Heaven Hill currently produces 83 different brands including the Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Old Fitzgerald lines.  Most of these are made from the standard corn / rye / malt recipes but they did make  5 wheated bourbons which I believe would be the Old Fitzgerald whiskies. The tour I chose was brief and focussed on the history of bourbon (as you might expect for a heritage center) rather than the specifc brands of Heaven Hill (unlike Beam and Maker's) and again was free and concluded with a tasting of Evan Williams Single Barrel.... which I really liked.  The guide tried to give a mini lesson in tasting bourbon, adding water or ice etc but to be honest was a little hampered by use of plastic cups and very small pours.  Interestingly the Beam family made another appearance... Jim's Beam's brother, Earl Beam, was hired by Heaven Hill as Master Distiller and Craig Beam is the current Master Distiller.  That made it 3 distilleries out of 3 with a Beam connection.

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Woodford Reserve, Kentucky, USA

Woodford Reserve, Kentucky, USA

A distillery was opened on this site by Elijah Pepper in 1812 and according to legend (or the marketing department) is the site where Dr Crow "perfected" bourbon.  Now owned by Brown Forman (of Jack Daniel's fame) you could literally pick up this distillery and drop into Speyside and it would not look out of place, with it's picturesque setting, stone stillhouse and copper pots stills from Forsythe's of Rothes.  This was exactly what I had imagined a bourbon distillery to be.  They had picked up a  few other ideas from Scotland as well, such as charging $7 for a tour, the first and only time I was charged on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and having a convenient lunch / coffee shop in the visitors center.  The tour was well organized with a short video and then a bus ride from the plush visitor center down to the actual distillery and a guide equiped with a mini PA system so all could hear him.  The tour focussed on the components that make up the distinctive sweet taste of Woodford Reserve, the grains, the yeast (one of many distileries that mentioned criticality of yeast) the stills and distillation process (Woodford Reserve uniquely triple distills their bourbon), the casks and of course the maturation.  Seeing the still house wtih three pot stills was definately unique on the KBT.  Another highlight was seeing the fermentation process because the day we toured they were actually making an unusual mash which will be part of a future Masters Collection and included chocolate roasted rye so it was much darker than usual yellow corn mashes I saw on the tours.  Then the mandatory bottling hall part of tour to watch Collingwood Canadian Whiskey being bottled... (something to do with similar bottle shape and Borwn Forman plant capacity).  After the highlight of watching and hearing some Canadian whiskey being bottled the tour concluded back in vistor center with a shot glass of Woodford Reserve (you get to keep the plastic shot glass!) and a chocolate!  All in all a very good tour and along with Maker's Mark was one of the highlights.

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