Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour

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This is the second major Kentucky bourbon distillery I’ve visited, but the first on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Pay to play, perhaps? 

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Like Keeneland Race Track, part of the attraction of this visit was the drive through the beautiful Kentucky countryside.  We arrived about 15 minutes early for the 10:00 tour, which departed maybe 10 minutes thereafter.  The tours are offered by the hour, but it appears they cycle through about every 15 minutes.  The lobby, as expected, is beautiful, and they have a shop for your souvenirs and “end product.”

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The tour begins with an introduction on the reception center’s porch, then involves getting on a small bus to circle around to the distillery.  It’s not that far as a bird flies, but no doubt many people’s feet have flown down the fairly steep steps between the two.

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Observing the distillery, the tour guide talks about the history of the grounds – this the oldest of the nine (major) bourbon distilleries in operation in Kentucky (as of 2010).  The building was built for this purpose, but went through a series of ownerships until Brown-Foreman purchased in in 1941, then closed it in 1968 when public tastes moved away from bourbon.  They sold it in 1971 and repurchased it in 1993, after apparently being fully abandoned and left as a plaything for the kids of the idle rich who lived nearby.

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Inside, the facility has been beautifully restored and remains in operation.  They have a separate distillery elsewhere on the property.  You get the usual talking tour about mash and fermentation, the latter of which you can lean over for a whiff and taste from a provided sample.  Not good, not terrible and not to be repeated.  The tour is helped by speakers so you can hear the guide’s narrative over the background din.

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The distillery has been expanding and renovating since 2013, including these copper distillation pots.

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Our guide was a good entertainer, and if you aren’t familiar with distilleries, you would learn a good bit.  One thing you learn is that their barrels sit around for many years, on average seven for Woodford.  Adjacent is one of their warehouses, with thick stone walls that reportedly keep a fairly even temperature year round inside.

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The plugging and positioning of barrels was not reviewed, but it’s an interesting process to position them correctly because otherwise they just sit there, losing alcohol by volume over the years while accruing in value.

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Then, you get on the bus and go back to the visitor center which has a handy tasting room.  The size of tours are limited in part to the bus and in part to the number of seats at the table.  Everyone got two samples – their Distiller’s Select and their Double Oaked bourbons.

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What follows is a decent group instruction and discussion of how to sip bourbon and the flavors detected after your palate is acclimated (the first sip is to essentially burn, the second is more about the acclimation) and then… subtle notes of whatever fruits and veggies you care to observe – well, okay then.  Caramel, cocoa, oak, butterscotch, but you can say anything and get away with it.

The double oaked had more of the wood color and flavor, as it is aged in separate charred oak barrels, the latter “deeply toasted before charring.”  Smooth and great flavor, but, of course, it comes at a price. 

For those afraid of straight bourbon, there are ice urns positioned around the table, as shown above.  They also provide a bourbon flavored chocolate, which is delicious.  Overall, the tour was great and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed, despite the awkwardness of the buses.

We shortly after stopped at a local legend for our take home chocolates, “invented” when the namesake Ruth Booe “overheard a friend remark that the two best tastes in the world were a sip of bourbon and Miss Booe’s mint candy.” 

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