We previously recapped days one and two of our road trip from Austin to Pittsburgh. Day three was the most fun for us, as we visited Jim Beam and toured Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace.
Our first stop of the morning was to Jim Beam, the Disneyland of American whiskey tour facilities. In addition to the distillery, there is a beautiful show room for the many, many Jim Beam releases, a delightful barbecue shack, perfectly white rocking chairs, and a wonderfully manicured lawn with bean bag toss. It was our dream backyard, complete with rolling Kentucky hills and warm summer morning.
We enjoyed playing bean bag toss with the smell of barbecue in the air so much we never actually made it inside the distillery.
We next visited Four Roses. Andrew was intent on visiting Four Roses because he is so bullish on the brand. Four Roses is currently in the midst of a monumental product and image makeover and the early results have been outstanding. The brand is certainly up and coming and we expect it to achieve its former glory before long.
Touring Four Roses was a wonderful experience. The California-style architecture of the distillery really sets it apart from others in the area, but somehow the whole operation fits seamlessly into the Kentucky landscape. While we were excited to see Four Roses’ famous cylindrical continuous still, we found ourselves completely blown away by how welcoming the staff was during our visit. Our tour guide was locally born and raised, extremely knowledgable about the product, and a whiskey convert who formerly preferred vodka. Her passion for the brand was contagious. It’s one thing to hear about how the whiskey is created and what aroma it has, but it’s quite another to have someone simply say “my dad always used to bring this bottle fishing with him.”
No sooner had we left the Four Roses tasting room than I noticed the master distiller standing quietly in the corner of the visitor’s shop casually signing bottles for customers. I was completely sold on the people behind the brand and Andrew and I both picked out a bottle to bring home.
We then drove across what seemed like endless fields bound by white picket fences until we found Woodford Reserve. The Woodford Reserve visitor’s center brings back memories of when my family would visit rural Virginia during my childhood. The beautiful, spacious hardwood floors, the short, forest-green grass, and the rocking chairs made me want to grab a G.K. Chesterton book and stay a while.
The front desk told us that the distillery tours were sold out for the rest of the day, but for half the price we could go out to the back porch and have a glass of whiskey and eat bourbon balls. We would have paid extra to do just that.
Our final stop of the day was to Buffalo Creek. We arrived a few minutes past the last tour, but after speaking with one of the shopkeepers, he agreed to take us through the warehouse and show us around. Our personal tour of Buffalo Creek — given by a man who had worked at the distillery for 20+ years — allowed us to learn a great deal of off-script details about the history of the operation. For example, he showed us which barrels in the warehouse were going into which product, and why. He told us the details of a 2006 storm that ripped the roof off the warehouse, exposing the top rack of barrels to direct sunlight. Those barrels would become especially valuable to the distillery, and would serve as the impetus for the building of a new open air warehouse that will attempt to recreate the flavor.
We got the impression that the master distiller is something of a mad scientist — taking a barrel from here and a barrel from there to create totally new flavors and pushing the envelop on what an American whiskey distillery can achieve. We found his willingness to get creative, and the distillery’s willingness to financially back him, a breath of fresh air.