There is a lot of good old-fashioned Kentucky hospitality anywhere you go on the famed Bourbon Trail, so I’m certain that the good time I had with Ken and Suzi Orwick of Ken Tucky Tours was not unusual. Between Ken, a bourbon salesman for 27 years, and his wife of 50+ years, it’s hard to imagine more knowledgeable guides, or any that have a better time running the show.
Our itinerary was flexible, and we missed a stop because of how long it took to get lunch at Mammy’s in Bardstown, but we got plenty of bourbon education, tastings and souvenirs in four stops — at Jim Beam in Clermont, Four Roses nearby in Cox’s Creek, Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, and Makers Mark in Loretto. We left J-town at 8:30 a.m. and got back before 6.
Now, I do have some bourbon touring experience, so much of the education was not new to me — we all know that bourbon’s Kentucky heritage is owed to the water in the limestone shelf the Commonwealth sits upon, that corn must make up 51 percent of the grain used, that it must be aged in new charred oak containers, and that the process includes aging in a warehouse in which the temperature fluctuates and that aging takes at least a few years.
But I certainly learned a few things. For instance, at Beam, they do NOT rotate the barrels among floors, while at Maker’s they do. If you get a single barrel product, it’s normally a random selection from a certain year, while other bourbons are a mingling of many barrels.
At tastings, you will be expected to sample the product, and if you’re used to drinking, say, a bourbon and Coke, your taste buds are in for a shock. A lot of people can’t handle a sip of bourbon neat, as is obvious when you look around a room during a tasting. At Maker’s, you get four products, and the first is unaged whiskey, a.k.a. “white dog,” that might be tough for any palate, but that’s where bourbon begins.
At Beam, you get a card for three tastings, and can choose from about 20 different products, ranging from long-aged Knob Creek to the flavored whiskeys like Red Stag, accented with black cherry. We saw the spot where the famed Mila Kunis commercial was filmed, and saw Mila’s barrel, but I was surprised there was no video welcome from the actress/spokesperson.
Of course, every tour ends at a gift shop. At Beam, we had the opportunity to customize our own bottle of Knob Creek. I had them etch “Rusty Satellite” into mine, which also has my thumbprint in the wax seal. At Maker’s, they’ll put red wax on almost anything you buy there. I got a mold for round ice spheres and a magnet.
For the tour (Paula generously bought it as a birthday present for me), we were joined by two couples visiting from North Carolina and Virginia. The eight of us, plus the bus driver, got along nicely on our road trip.
Yes, we could have done a trip like this on our own, but it sure was a lot more fun sharing it with like-minded tourists and knowledgeable and fun guides.