For a long time I have wanted to visit places along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. When my travel plans allowed some time, I chose to tour the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Definitely a good decision, it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Woodford Reserve Distillery is located in beautiful Kentucky horse country, you pass by meticulously groomed horse farms to get to the distillery. The modern visitors center and friendly staff makes you feel welcome and comfortable. I signed up for the tour and we were shortly on our way by bus to the distillery proper. The buildings dating back to 1890, now National Historic Landmarks, were refurbished in recent years yet retain their historic look and feel.
Our first stop was the still house. This historic limestone building is permeated with the sweet smell of the newly fermented mash. Our guide, James, did a fine job showing us the process by which grain is turned into bourbon.
Corn, rye, and malted barley are ground to fine meal and go into the “mash cooker” were starches are turned into sugars. The mash is then fermented in large, cypress wood vats, where yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. Fermentation takes several days at carefully controlled temperatures.
Now comes the distillation part of the process. Woodford Reserve used three large batch copper stills to extract the alcohol from the fermented mash, called “beer” in the trade.
The fermented mash goes first into the “Beer Still”, the largest of the three. Next comes the “High Wine Still” and the desired portion of the distillate goes to the final “Spirit Still”.
The “Spirit Safe” allows for testing of the output from each still and controls are provided for directing the liquid to the desired destination. You can see the clear liquid flowing in the third window. The final step is to fill the fresh “bourbon to be” into new, charred, white oak barrels.
The filled barrels go outside where the go on the “Barrel Run” to be rolled to the next building.
The next building is the “Barrel Warehouse”, also called rickhouse or rackhouse in the trade. It is here where the barrels age for many years and the bourbon takes on its final character. This building too is permeated with the smell of bourbon, the “angels’ share”, that works its way through the wood of the barrels. The product is periodically tested until the master distillers declares it ready.
The barrels are taken to the adjoining bottling building where they are emptied, and the now golden bourbon is run through a final charcoal filter bed.
It is Woodford Reserve bourbon now. The final steps are bottling and packaging.
The tour then returned to the visitors center for the final part, tasting the product and learning the finer points of bourbon and how to drink it.
My final tribute here - a couple of “café art” creations.
The horse sculpture greets visitors at the entrance. It was created by James Burnes from CorTen steel and cherry wood as “Western Tears” for the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Locally it is referred to as “Rusty” and I have called the painting “Yippie”.
Finally an artistic tribute to the masterpiece from the Woodford Reserve Distillery.
If you have not already found out, clicking any image brings up a larger version from my OneDrive album. The album contains many more photos and can be viewed as a slide show. If you wish to see the collection from the beginning click here: Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour.
© 2015 Ludwig Keck