Friday, December 16, 2022

Turning 31 on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Last year, I took a trip for my 30th birthday and I was convinced it was the best idea I’ve ever had. Since my birthday fell on a Saturday this year, and I was itching for a solo adventure, I decided to take a trip up to Louisville for the weekend. I had an eye doctor appointment in the morning (new glasses, yay!) then headed north.

Friday, December 9, 2022

My first stop was the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. I’ve done a handful of distillery tours already, so I’ve heard the general process plenty of times. I’m always curious what makes each place different!


Something special to Jim Beam is that they only use White Oak barrels. (Not that other brands don’t, but JB uses them exclusively).

The brand originally began in the 1700s and was run for 3 generations before James B. Beam took over the company. He ran it though WWI, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. Though it closes during Prohibition, they reopened right after.


Another fun fact is that Jim Beam brought home some of the yeast every night, and encouraged other employees to do the same. The reasoning was that he wanted to make sure that if some sort of natural disaster took place and wiped out the distillery, they would still have their yeast left to rebuild.

Something else unique to JBD is that they use covered stainless steal vats for their mash. Usually when visiting a distillery you can see the mash from the top, but not here. They do this because their brand is so big that they need their process to be quick with a large volume produced each round. The lid keeps the steam in which helps with the speed.


The premises holds 36 warehouses, each holding 60,000 barrels of bourbon. Once the barrels have aged their bourbon, they’re typically shipped off to Europe to be re-used for other spirits and wines. 

Our tour guide also mentioned how they paint their buildings black because there is a very invasive black mold that grows in places with high contents of alcohol. It’s is all over the buildings, and even the trees! They paint the buildings that tours see black so they’re less of an eye sore. They do have a couple white buildings further back, and they power wash them 3-4 times a year to get rid of the mold. They also pressure wash the surrounding houses because the houses get the growth on the outside as well.


For the tasting, we got to try four bourbons - Jim Beam, Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, and for the last one we had a choice between three others. 

I liked all of them! I’ve never intentionally had Jim Beam before (though I can’t say someone has never gave me a drink with it), and it has a nice vanilla/carmel taste. The Basil Hayden tasted similar, but it’s made with 2x the rye as the Jim Beam. The Knob Creek is made with the same mash as Jim Beam, but is aged 9 years I believe he said, whereas Jim Beam is typically 4 years. With the Knob Creek, one guide had us take a sip, then use a pipette to drop a SINGLE drop of water in what was left and taste it again to see the difference. I’m not quite cultured enough in whiskey yet to explain the difference in flavors, but I could definitely tell there was one!

The one I chose to try for my fourth was called Legent. Legent is unique because it is a whiskey bourbon that after aging, is finished in wine and sherry barrels, then blended with straight bourbon. It was more tame than the other bourbons I thought, and would probably be a good starter whiskey for people still developing their liking for whiskey and bourbon products.


The guys who sat next to me told me they were up for the week from Savannah, GA for one of their 32nd birthdays. The lady across from me was celebrating what she said was her 30th birthday (but was actually probably her 80th).

From there, I finished the drive to Louisville and dropped my car with the valet before heading up to my room. Holy cow this room was nice! I got a king-size suite at the Embassy Suites Downtown Louisville (thank you, credit card points!) and it had a balcony over-looking an indoor courtyard! 

I deposited my things and walked a minute down the street to Guy Fierri’s Smokehouse for a late lunch/early dinner. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and mac-n-cheese. The mac wasn’t done yet, so the lady said she would bring it out to me in 5-10 minutes. Well, after 20 minutes I finally went to get it because they never brought it. Even though there were only 2 other groups there. And I was sitting right in front of the counter. But I digress. They also forgot to put the cole slaw on my sandwich that it was suppose to come with. That being said, the meat was delish!




I walked back to the hotel and crawled into bed to watch my favorite show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, while waiting for the hotel happy hour to start. 

At 5:45 I took my book and headed downstairs to the bar for free drinks and apps. The drink options weren’t very diverse - I just had a whiskey coke. The snacks were only veggies and ranch, bags of cheez-its, and chips with this dip that was super tasty. I miss the Houston apps from last birthday - those were amazing!


On the elevator back to my floor I was talking with another lady about how confused everyone seems to be with the elevators. In order to move floors, you have to swipe your room key. There is a sign that says to do so, but no one reads it. She mentioned that she was a teacher and I said that I was too. She, band, and me, math and science. No wonder we didn’t read the sign right away!

Saturday, December 10, 2022

I slept in until 7 this morning (6 o’clock central, but that’s besides the point). I showered and went downstairs for breakfast. I’m not normally one to eat hotel breakfasts, but I can never pass up Embassy Suites breakfasts. Also, I don’t like eggs, but they special make your omelets and I DO like hot sauce, so it’s worth a shot!


After breakfast I went down to the valet to get my car. As I stood there waiting, I smiled so big because it felt like a Christmas movie. Above me Christmas music was blasting. People were hustling and bustling around. The building across the street is gorgeous stone. All that was missing was the snow! (And a Ryan Reynolds look-alike coming around the corner and falling in love with me)

My first stop of the day was Angel’s Envy for a tour and tasting. It was about a mile from the hotel, but since I don’t know the area, I didn’t want to risk walking. Parking was confusing because I went to a lot directly across the street but the pay station wasn’t working. An Angel’s Envy employee happened to be parking too and she told me I probably don’t have to worry about it, but there was still street parking (free!) available if I felt more comfortable with that, so I moved to the street.


The Angel’s Envy tour was only 45 minutes, followed by the tasting. Our tour guide was hilarious. Also, he picked on me the whole time, but it was funny so I didn’t mind. It was also funny because after yesterday's tour, I kept trying to remember what my tour guide's name was. I knew it was either Tony or Terry, but wasn't sure which. I got to this tour only to find out my guide was named Terry!


After the wash is put into the still, the still vaporized the alcohol which makes the moonshine/white dog/whatever the particular distiller calls it. Our tour guide dumped some from the bottle into each of our hands so we could taste it. WHEW! 


Something that I noticed was different today from yesterday’s Jim Beam tour was that they only char their barrels for 35 seconds instead of JB’s 55 seconds. Since the whiskey/bourbon making process is pretty standard, its interesting to see the little variations distillers make to make their product taste different.

Also, they finish is a second barrel. The rules of bourbon says you can only use one barrel, but they found a way to make it work using the term “finishing.” 


I enjoyed the tasting. We tried two (technically three) samples with two chocolates. First was the Angel’s Envy bourbon. We tried it first at room temperature which was good, and then tried a second sample with an ice cube in it. I prefer the flavors that come out once the water is added. Also, we paired it with an orange chocolate and that pairing was DELICIOUS. The last sample we tried was the Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey. This was also pretty good, and had a very mapley flavor to it. This one we paired with a white chocolate, which was also good.


From there, I headed to get lunch at Biscuit Belly. I went here (at a different Louisville location) this past summer on my way to Dayton, Ohio. This time, I ordered fried green tomatoes and bonuts (which were free because I signed up for the rewards program. Which I’ll never use. But free food 🤷🏼‍♀️). It was all delicious!


Next, I went to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. This tour was unique from the other tours I’ve been on in that it had A LOT of history in it. We began in a room that showed a video reenactment of when Evan Williams began his distilling process. In fact, he made the first commercial distillery in (what would be) the state of Kentucky (it was still Virginia at the time). 


We tried four samples of the Evan Williams products during the tasting. First was the Evan Williams Black Label which is the 2nd largest selling in the world (falling behind Jim Beam). This is a 5-year blend and is best for using in cocktail. The second was the Evan Williams Master Blend, and to be completely honest my brain was wandering when he explained this one and so I don’t remember anything about it! The third one was called Square Six by Evan Williams. It was named this because the plot of land where the distillery sits was called square six when it was bought many, many moons ago. This one was interesting because it smelled like cornbread! It had a higher rye content than the other samples in our tasting. Lastly, we tasted the Evan Williams Red Label, which is aged 12 years or longer. Something interesting about this one is that until 8 years ago, it wasn’t sold in the states. It was distilled, and then all of it was shipped to Japan! Everyone toasted me “happy birthday” before drinking this one, which was very sweet. (The tour guide knew it was my birthday!) Lastly, we sampled a chocolate that was made here in Louisville. The tour here was really good, but sadly, I didn’t care for any of the bourbons.


I wasn’t really sure where to go from here. I had thought about doing another tour, but I hadn’t pre-booked it because I didn’t know how long this one would take, nor if I’d be up for it. I’m glad I didn’t, because I was spent and needed a nap. My plan was to get tacos for dinner, but at this point it was only 2:30. I wandered the streets for a bit, then decided I would go pick up the tacos and take them back to the hotel. Well, parking by the taco place was $15 and I was not about to pay that just to run in and grab food, so I decided to head back to the hotel. 

I ended up watching Home Alone 2 in my room until the hotel evening reception, then took my book down for drinks and snacks and called it dinner.


Hotel Thoughts:

Overall, would I stay here again? Yes.


• For 1-2 people, my suite was perfect. It even had a little balcony that overlooked an indoor courtyard. The bed was big, and the bathroom was enormous.

• The valet was always very quick. They didn’t answer the one time I called to have my car ready, but as soon as I went down they were quick to get it, even on Sunday when everyone was checking out.

• The snacks were pretty good at the evening reception. They were minimal (veggies and dip one night, cheeses and crackers the next, different type of chips and dip each night). The dips both nights were SO GOOD. I wish I knew what they were. I also liked how they put out some pre-packaged snacks. The first night they had bags of cheez-its. The second had rice krispy treats and Chex mix, then peanuts.

• Breakfast had a decent assortment of things. The special-made omelets were ginormous! The breakfast potatoes were delicious, as was the bacon.

• It is located right across the street from the Fourth Street Live complex


• Both mornings when I got sausage it was kind of cold. I also wish they would have had waffles.

• The drink choices at the evening reception were disappointing. Also, they have Pepsi products.

• The pillows were too soft for my liking. 

• There is no hotel parking lot, so you either have to use city lots and pay or pay for the valet





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