Who goes to Kentucky and doesn’t drink bourbon? I do, apparently, and I’m a HUGE bourbon fan. We only had two days in Louisville before I needed to ship out to my summer homestead in Taos, NM (a writer’s paradise), so we had to pick and choose.
Turns out, the distillery tour I signed up for didn’t have a lick of bourbon. Instead: brandy.
Brandy has a pretty neutral reputation in the booze world. I get the sense it’s the little brother whose siblings keep forgetting him and leave him behind. He’s in the woods right now, crying because he’s lost and alone…
Okay, maybe it’s not that bad. But considering apple brandy was the liquor our white forefathers made — well, it should be higher on the scale. It might not be the type of drink you sip on by itself, like whiskey or bourbon (I’m a purist), but thankfully the Kentucky laws are less stringent than North Carolina’s, and when we tasted it at the end of the tour, our guide offered lots of mix-in options.
The distillery itself was very cool. The place is so big — multi-level — so we started on the ground floor and learned about the distilling process. I’ve been on enough tours to know the basics, and this tour was, in my mind, just the right amount of info to be educational without being overwhelming. They have three big stills (copper, of course) that they use for brandy, gin, and absinthe. The brandy gets its own still; the gin and absinthe share a still that gets cleaned in between batches when they switch off from making one to the other.
But that’s not all! In the basement, the barrels lie in wait, aging. Some barrels come from breweries, like the experiments they’re doing with Sierra Nevada’s chocolate cherry stout barrels. (You, too, can have your very own bespoke bottle of their experiments for only $65!)
The coolest thing, though, and I’ve heard of breweries doing this before, is the sonic agitation. They play loud, bass-heavy music on speakers so they don’t have to quarter turn the barrels themselves. Lazy, or fucking brilliant?
On the day we went, they had made a playlist in memory of Anthony Bourdain, and when we walked in, Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” was playing — fading into Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” after a while.
They keep the music playing overnight, and apparently the neighbors were none too happy when they first set up shop in 2014.
Our last stop on the tour was the magnificent, orange-themed tasting room. Talk about hip. This place didn’t feel pretentious, either, which made me wish we could sit up there with our tiny drinks for hours. They recently opened up a bar on the third level, and now I’m wishing we’d gone just to experience the atmosphere.
They had some interesting gin combos — I’m not a big absinthe fan because I don’t like licorice (i.e. anise) — but my favorite of all was the reserve brandy. Now that’s something I really could sip on with nothing else added.
Next time I go to Kentucky — and believe me, there will be a next time — I’m gonna get a bottle to bring home. And I’m actually gonna try some Kentucky bourbon. Just somewhere else.