Thursday, July 12, 2007

We met the internets, part 3 (and then went home)

Due to our late Friday cavorting, we all slept in late Saturday, and ate some cereal and made some sammiches to bring with us on our trip to Lexington. EEK was scheduled to speak and also to receive a Major Award at a GSA event, so we decided to tag along. Between Louisville and Lexington lies the Bourbon trail, several bourbon distilleries holed up amidst the horse farms of Kentucky. We decided to stop at the Woodford Reserve distillery to take a tour, learn more about bourbon, and get a free tasting.

Like I said before, I'm not a huge fan of bourbon (or whiskey in general, for that matter), but I wanted to try to be in the spirit of things (so to speak) when I was in Kentucky and was really interested to see how a bourbon distillery would be different than a winery in terms of a tour, tasting, and actual process of creating bourbon. The tour at Woodford Reserve was excellent, starting off with a short video and then progressing onto a little bus to take us down to the buildings where they make, distill, barrel, store, and bottle the bourbon.

When we first got down to where the bourbon happens, the smell of alcohol in the air was nearly palpable. Granted, it was in the 90s temperature-wise and quite humid, so maybe that had something to do with it, but it seemed to me that the very air around the stone buildings was filled with the scent of bourbon. Through the tour, I felt a little buzz or maybe contact high from all the fumes, and before we were taken into the area we were warned to turn off cell phones and, if taking pictures, not to use flash. The tour guide explained how horrible bourbon fires can be, and that when one starts the best they can do is try to contain it to one building - there's no putting it out. If, say, the building where the bourbon is stored were to go up in flames, they'd basically go out of business because a) they wouldn't have any product, and b) it would take 4-6 years before they had more product to sell. Dan thought they were being a little paranoid, but me being the pyrophobe that I am I didn't blame them for being cautious.

Bourbon is made a little like beer (and in fact, in one of the steps they call it beer), grain fermented in giant vats with yeast and then distilled. The distillery we visited is apparently the only one that uses copper distillers and distills three times before barreling. The barrels used must be new white oak that's been toasted and then charred on the inside, and the tour guide said that after their barrels have been used once they get sold to other countries for making other kinds of whiskey. The bourbon gets stored for at least 4 years (Woodford generally does it for six) in a stone building, and the barrels are tapped a few times over the course of the aging process to be checked for quality. Their master taster decides when a barrel's ready to be bottled, and it then gets bottled on site and shipped out to the distributor. What surprised me more than anything were the strict regulations put on the bourbon making process, without which the product could not be called bourbon.

When the tour was over, we got to taste a thimblefull and hurried on our way to Lexington to watch EEK's speech and reciept of Major Award. After the event, we met up with A Smart and Rowdy Bitch, who recommended going out for pie (I like pie!). It was lovely to meet her and chat about reality teevee and eat pie (and cheesecake). Alas, all too soon we had to drive back to Louisville to prepare for our trip home - EEK was kind enough to take us to a grocery store so we could stock up on supplies, and we also finally made it to White Castle which I'm sure was the highlight of the entire trip for Dan (he restrained himself and only ate six of their miniburger things) (I had a mini chicken sandwich and some fries. EEK had fries.) (The fries were just OK. In and Out is still tops in my book.)

Dark and early Sunday we loaded up the last stuff into the car, woke EEK up to say adieu, and headed west again. We drove the entire trip with only a few stops for gas/pee with the exception of about 45 minutes in St Louis (I wanted to give it another chance). Turns out we would have gotten a discount on the trip in the dryer up to the top of the arch with our National Parks pass, but we decided it wasn't worth another hour in St Louis, so we got back in the car. It didn't get dark until we were pretty much back in Colorado, and I proved once again that my previously unknown superpower is far more powerful than I would have liked (I wished for rain or perhaps clouds during the really hot part of the afternoon driving across Kansas; we got a big thunder/lightning/wind/rainstorm at the Kansas-Colorado border which lasted an hour or so). Dan said that I'd wished for a white Christmas and cursed Colorado with days of blizzards, but I figure this was an improvement over that because at least it didn't shut down the airport or anything.

Finally, late on Sunday night we were home, and the kitties told us how much they missed us (Loki) and how much they were mad at us for leaving them alone (Petra). We fell exhausted into bed after the most necessary shower I've had since coming home from Burning Man. Because seriously, 17 hours in a car in 90+ degree weather, no A/C, across the humid midwest in July = seriously sweaty and stinky people. All in all, we had a wonderful trip, with a wonderful host who showed us some of the best things about her hometown, and we got to meet all kinds of awesome people. But I think it will be a while before I'm ready to get in a car and go that sort of distance again.


Monkey McWearingChaps said...

The Woodford's tour looks awesome. We never got around to wine tasting this trip-but do you know of any Sonoma wineries where you actually get the same type of tour as you got for Woodford? I'm not as interested in the tasting part as I am seeing the wine-making process and the science of it.

The "bourbon" regulation reminds me of how there's "champagne" and the rest of it is all "sparkling wine". Did you read in NYT about the cheese wars going down in France over the same labelling issues on pasteurised and unpasteurised cheeses and what can be labelled this and that?

MLE said...

I think tours in wineries where you actually get to see something interesting are probably limited to crush time (so early-mid fall). Most of the time you won't be seeing a whole lot. I've done the tour at Simi winery in Healdsburg and I bet some of the other ones give/have tours, too - I'll look into it and get back to you. I'm not at all familiar with any of the wineries in the Sonoma area; I'm much more familiar with the Healdsburg/Geyserville and Forestville areas.

The bourbon label is even more restrictive than Champagne - it has to be made with at least 51% corn, it has to be aged in brand new barrels of a particular wood, it has to be aged a certain period of time, all these different regulations for how it's made and not just where it comes from. Crazy.

Matt said...

I really like your picture of the arch. It's sweet.

Also, for Monkey, when we used to frequent Sonoma (and Healdsburg and Napa) wineries, we did so many tours where you see the big wine vats and barrels and machines that they all blend together. I know Mondavi has a pretty extensive tour, but there are a lot of other cheaper ones, too. I think if you hit three or four of the big-name wineries, you'd almost certainly get at least one "science of wine" tour.

yournamehere said...

I think you guys should move to Louisville. You'll be able to afford a nice house.

EEK! said...

Bourbon fires are pretty scary. Back when I was in college, the Heaven Hill bourbon warehouses caught on fire and the roads around their campus were pretty much rivers of fire. It was kind of amazing to watch on teevee, but I imagine very scary if you lived in Loretto.