Lexington KY | Wild Turkey and 4 Roses Distilleries | Kentucky Bourbon

Wild Turkey Distillery, The Fermentation Room, Kentucky Bourbon Collection (pc: @just.me_cathy)

Lexington KY is somewhat well-known for being a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The trail was created in 1999 to promote the art and science of bourbon production as well as showcase one of Kentucky’s greatest industries. The trail includes 9 distilleries, and if you get stamps from each of them in your bourbon passport, the program will send you a free t-shirt! Now, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail attracts 5 million visitors a year!

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Lunch — Heavens to Betsy — Lawrenceburg KY

We just missed the cutoff for the Wild Turkey Distillery tour, which starts every hour on the hour, so we had just enough time to stop in downtown Lawrenceburg ky at a sandwich place that the distillery employees recommended: Heavens to Betsy! And that’s what you’ll be saying if you eat here!

Heavens to Betsy this is good! (pc: @just.me_cathy)

The sandwiches are under $10 and they fill those beautiful, shiny brioche buns with what seems like almost a pound of meat. It appears to be a mom and pop shop kind of place, and the atmosphere is super playful. From the outside you could hardly tell it’s a deli. They have paintings displayed in the front like an art gallery. Inside there’s an array of cute and eclectic decorations including 2 giant table-top checkers games and large prints of classic and local Kentucky bourbon.

This is a MUST TRY if you’re anywhere nearby. Such a gem.

Wild Turkey Distillery Tour and Tasting

When I was in Oklahoma, I tried one of the Wild Turkey Kentucky Bourbons they offered, and I loved it, so when I found out that the distillery was near Lexington KY, I had to check it out! The tour lasted about an hour and gives a high level overview of the process of making Kentucky bourbon.

One of the first things you notice when driving onto the property is all these giant industrial barn-like buildings that look like they’ve been around since before the civil war. Everything is covered in this black residue that is highly dense at the bottom of the object and lighter towards the top. It makes the buildings look much older than they are, and in fact they look like they are totally abandoned.

Kentucky Bourbon “Ricks”

The black stuff on the building is not from a fire. (pc: @just.me_cathy)

We later learned on the tour that these apocalyptic barns are known as “Ricks,” as our tour guide explained was the proper southern pronunciation of “Racks.” They are large warehouses that are used to store barrels of Kentucky bourbon as they age. Sometimes those barrels can be there for 20 years! Each one of these rick houses is 7 stories tall, and there are a few small factors that creates a large diversity in product.

For instance, the temperature can vary as much at 40-60 degrees from the bottom of the rick house to the bottom. They store shorter-aged bottles near the top because the heat will not harm those barrels as much as it harms barrels that will be aged for 20 years. There’s also a difference between barrels that are exposed to the sun through the windows and barrels in the middle of the building.

Deep Inside the Ricks of Wild Turkey Distillery (pc: @aaron_yih)

The black stuff growing on the outside of the ricks are attracted to the process of evaporating alcohol. Over the course of 10 years, the barrels actually lose around 40% of the liquid they started with!

Bourbon Tasting at Wild Turkey Distillery (pc: @aaron_yih)

The tour concluded with a tasting of some of their more premium bourbons including Russel’s Reserve Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof, Russel’s Reserve 6 year Rye, and American Honey. We learned proper Kentucky bourbon tasting technique, which is used to get the optimal flavors and scents from the drink.

Russel’s Reserve Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof, Russel’s Reserve 6 year Rye, and American Honey (pc: @aaron_yih)

Here are the steps in the proper order:

  1. Smell the Bourbon Twice. The first time, do it with your mouth closed. The second time, do it with your mouth open. Apparently they produce different results. I’m not 100% sure what the difference is, but to me it seemed like smelling with your mouth open gave your nose more access to the alcohol portion of the drink, while mouth closed gave you more of the flavorful notes like vanilla and floral.
  2. Take a Sip and Swish It Around. This gives your mouth the chance to acclimate to the alcohol. Most of these alcohols are approaching or over 100 proof, meaning that they have more than 50% alcohol content. That’s quite a bit, so you have to make sure that you’re ready to taste and don’t just shock your taste buds.
  3. Feel the Bourbon. Take a deep sip and feel the bourbon pour down your throat. Enjoy the sensory experience. Feel the warmth. Pay attention to how it enters your body.
  4. Taste the Bourbon. The last 3rd sip is for flavor and “the tail.” Now that you’ve prepared your tastebuds, got a sense for the feeling of the bourbon, it’s time to taste it. Take a normal sip and let it roll over your tongue. Try to appreciate the different flavors. Just enjoy. Let yourself have a gut reaction.

4 Roses Distillery Tasting

4 Roses is also in Lawrenceburg KY and it’s also on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We only had enough time to do a tasting, and it was super different from Wild Turkey.

Four Roses Tasting (pc: @just.me_cathy)

We tried 3 different kinds of Kentucky bourbon that displayed different production approaches to bourbon: regular, small lot bourbon, and single barrel. The pours were not exact, and we were not coached in proper tasting. Regular bourbon come from a large pool of barrels mixed together. Small lot bourbon is made up of a smaller pool of barrels, and single barrel bourbon is poured straight from one barrel into the bottle.

Single barrel is less consistent because all the barrels don’t average out. It also has a more narrowly focused flavor profile. This was my favorite. It’s also on the bourbon bucket list!

We did learn about what makes bourbon bourbon though, which is important because it explains why bourbon tastes the way that it does. There are basically 3 requirements for bourbon

  1. Charred Barrel is only used once.
  2. At least 51% corn.
  3. Produced in America.
  4. No more than 160 proof.
  5. Bottled at 80 proof or more.

The tour guide was super entertaining too, so she made the whole experience a lot of fun. I wish we had time to tour the facility. Maybe next time, we’ll do the whole trail!

Dinner — Azur — Lexington KY

Dinner was just okay, so I’ll just include some photos for those interested!

Azur Restaurant (pc: @aaron_yih)

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