Monday, November 05, 2007

Kentucky Bourbon and Bluegrass

We fashioned our itinerary in the style of a bluegrass song: a defined structure but with ample room for improvisation. During the first part of the trip, we would hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a whiskey version of California’s Napa Valley made up of seven distilleries (Maker’s among them) that are open to the public. Our final stop would be the sixth annual Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration in Rosine, the birthplace of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. It was in the central part of the state, in the rolling hills between Lexington and Louisville — where a layer of limestone filters the iron from the water, making it ideal for bourbon making — that Scotch-Irish distillers settled in the early 1800s. They had fled west to the area of Bourbon County, Kentucky, from Pennsylvania and Virginia in the wake of George Washington’s imposed tax on whiskey in 1791 and the subsequent Whiskey Rebellion. One such early distiller, the mellifluously named Elijah Pepper, began operating in 1812 in an area west of Lexington that is now thoroughbred country. Today, the distillery, a cluster of old stone buildings nestled in a shallow valley along a creek, is home to Woodford Reserve, the easternmost point on the Bourbon Trail.

In a clever bit of marketing, Woodford calls itself “Kentucky’s most historic distillery,” but the brand dates only to 1996, when Brown-Forman (which also owns Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee) decided to create a small-batch bourbon, having earlier restored the buildings. Woodford allows visitors to see the entire bourbon-making process, from mash to bottle; our tour began in earnest in the fermentation room, in a 200-year-old limestone building at the foot of a hill.

Read the entire article in the New York Times.

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