Wanderings: Kentucky Bourbon Trail

At Jim Beam

At Jim Beam

As I mentioned yesterday, the Mister is a bourbon man.  Years ago, when we were first dating, he asked me to go away with him for a long weekend to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  I wasn’t much of a bourbon drinker, but I love going anywhere new and Kentucky sounded like as good as any place.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve

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Maker's Mark

Maker’s Mark

It was breezy and overcast, and as we drove along winding gravel roads and grassy green hills, the countryside felt moody and romantic.  We spent that Saturday hopping from distillery to distillery, learning about bourbon making and sampling batches.  Most of the distilleries are closed on Sunday, so we spent that day exploring Kentucky wine country, which was amazingly fun.  My favorite winery had a tasting menu with 23 wines and for just $3 you got to try them all(!) and keep the glass.

Sampling the mash at Maker's

Sampling the mash at Maker’s

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Sealing his own bottle at Maker's

Sealing his own bottle at Maker’s

Wild Turkey store house

Wild Turkey store house

Corn and rye at Woodford Reserve

Corn and rye at Woodford Reserve

Wild Turkey distillery

Wild Turkey distillery

When we weren’t sampling Kentucky wines and bourbons, we indulged in amazing barbeque for lunch, and went for dinner at a restaurant in Louisville that was attached to an art gallery.

Kentucky BBQ

Kentucky BBQ

Dinner out in Louisville

Dinner out in Louisville

We rented rooms in a couple of little B&Bs in Bardstown, Kentucky.  My favorite was Springhill Plantation and Winery.  The rooms were beautiful, the wine was plentiful, and we really enjoyed having breakfast with the owner, who entertained us with Civil War and ghost stories about the area over spicy grits and coffee.  In our downtime it was lovely to wander around vineyards and act like the goopy young lovebirds we were.

If I’m being honest, I can’t say I had the highest expectations for this trip, figuring at the least it would be a few days off of work and some quality time with my guy.  To my surprise, it turned out to be an incredibly fun time, and we both loved how unpretentious and friendly everyone was.  We chatted with bourbon makers, vintners, and plantation owners just as easily as fellow travelers and bar tenders.  Of all the domestic trips I’ve taken, this is probably the one I recommend most often, at least to friends who have any interest in bourbon.

Springhill Winery and B&B

Springhill Winery and B&B

Wandering the vineyards.  Who wouldn't fall in love with this guy?

Wandering the vineyards. Who wouldn’t fall in love with this guy?

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Burnt sugar Old Fashioned

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The Mister is a bourbon drinker; has been for as long as I have known him.  In terms of flavor, he likes that its sweeter, smokier and bolder than, say, scotch, another high quality whiskey.  Philosophically, he likes that bourbon is American-made, both in product and in process.  Not being imported helps keep the price reasonable, but more than that, he finds it endearing that bourbon isn’t presented as refined or pretentious.

One of our first trips together was a long weekend to visit the Kentucky bourbon trail.  I’ll revisit that trip a little more tomorrow; today l’d like to share a local take on the bourbon Old Fashioned.  We first had this drink at our favorite bar, Room 11.  The Mister wasn’t exactly sure how they made it, but this is his best approximation:

Ice, tangerine, maraschino cherries, bitters, bourbon, sugar

Ice, tangerine, maraschino cherries, bitters, bourbon, sugar

Making the burnt sugar syrup

Making the burnt sugar syrup

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Burnt Sugar Old Fashioned inspired by the amazing bartenders at Room 11.

  • 4 ice cubes
  • 2 tbsp burnt sugar syrup
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 3 maraschino cherries
  • 1 orange or tangerine wedge
  • 1 orange or tangerine peel, about 2 inches long

Use a cocktail pick to skewer the citrus wedge and three maraschino cherries, then set in a glass tumbler.  To the tumbler, add 3-4 ice cubes, syrup, bitters and bourbon.  Give it a stir with a spoon or with the fruit skewer.  Take the citrus peel, twist, then add to tumbler.  Enjoy.

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A few tips:

The Mister often likes his bourbon with nothing but an ice cube, and there are usually a variety of bourbons on our liquor cart for sampling.  For mixed drinks, he prefers Knob Creek.  It’s bottled at a higher proof and not too expensive, so he doesn’t mind using it in a mixed drink and likes that it retains a good bourbon taste despite being diluted with the other cocktail ingredients.  If you still want to spend a little less, he recommends Wild Turkey, or a rye whiskey like Bulleit’s Rye or Old Overholt.

A citrus twist makes a pretty garnish, but its important to actually give the peel a twist before you drop it in the glass.  Twisting it helps release the natural oils in rind, which is important to the flavor of the drink, and the aroma on the nose.  Room 11 actually lights the twist on fire.  I’m not sure about the chemistry of doing that, but it was pretty cool.

For this drink we used Peychaud’s bitters, but think it would be fun to experiment with different kinds.

If you are making your own burnt sugar syrup, take extra care to stand back when you add the boiling water to the hot sugar.  It will release a pretty intense puff of steam, and you won’t want your face anywhere near the pan.  Maybe wear a shirt with long sleeves, too.

These maraschino cherries came from a jar, but in the summer we often make our own with real sour cherries and Luxardo maraschino liqueur.  Next summer, I’ll try to do a write up on that process, but if you have access to cherries right now, they are worth it!

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