From there, we headed straight to Heaven Hill distilleries, home of Evan Williams, the first to distill and sell Kentucky bourbon commercially back in 1783.
The entry to their theatre contains the old fashioned way of distilling, with an old time still on a fire. After a short movie about this distillery being the only family run operation in Kentucky and the second largest holder of bourbon in the world, we had a taste test of two varieties. I immediately poured most of mine into Barbara's glass. Oops!!! That was a mistake ... she's driving!!! I added water to the last few drops which made it drinkable ... sort of. My apologies to everyone who loves bourbon, it's just not for me. The process of making it is very interesting however!!
There are small batch varieties and single barrel bottlings. Here's an example of a rack house where the whiskey is stored during aging on ricks, or the wooden structures they sit on. Single barrel bourbon comes from those are are lit up mostly near the top ... very few barrels out of 20,000, make it to single barrel status. Unfortunately, that didn't exactly make it taste any better to me, but people swear by single barrel, saying it's MUCH tastier, and of course more expensive!!
Our guide said they had 52 rack houses that look like this, each holding 20,000 barrels. The two newest ones hold over twice that much. With 450 employees and the Distillery Master (a cousin of the Jim Beam bourbon family), they have a hard time keeping up with the demand. The black stuff on the bottom of the buildings is mold from the bourbon coming through the barrels. In the old days, people who distilled alcohol when it was illegal, painted their barns black so you couldn't see the telltale signs. As we drove around, most of the barns in this area are still black.
The second taste test was Elijah Craig "Small Batch" 12 year aged bourbon. Yikes!!! It failed my taste test. Again, my apologies to bourbon aficionados ... Barbara and Tom said they were both delicious!!!
If you want the REALLY good stuff, here's Elijah Craig's 22 year version for $350.00 a bottle.
When the Master does HIS taste test, he uses a nosing glass. It looks like a small lamp chimney. I purchased one at the store with their hallmark on the side. Not that I intend to drink bourbon out of it, it's just a cute glass, maybe good for fruit juice or moscato!!
Our next stop was Maker's Mark, with their signature colors on every building. In 1958 Bill Samuels started this distillery which has been steeped in controversy regarding the percentage of alcohol. Sold and resold many times, recently Maker's Mark and Jim Beam joined together and were purchased by a huge Japanese Corporation Suntory for $13.6 billion. Bet you didn't want to hear THAT!!! As was Budweiser ... who knew???
We were met at the door by Whiskey Jean, a blue-eyed beauty who couldn't decide whether she was siamese, grey tabby or just plain jane. She put on quite a show for us, showing what attitude really is!!
Barbara knew that Chilhouly had collaborated with Maker's Mark (the grandson actually) to make this amazing piece of art in the ceiling of one of the rack houses. Since my foot isn't up to par, we passed on the long-walking tour, but the nice lady at the desk said to ask Aggie for a peek at the ceiling. Aggie was a sweetheart and took us on a quick tour once I told her about my broken bones.
These beautiful glass works of art are in the ceiling above barrels, aging on ricks ... which smelled VERY nice by the way.
The entire work was maybe 40 feet long, with many individual pieces, including this cherub.
It started with the water at one end, as does bourbon, and moved through the process, turning amber, with the last panel being all red, like the Maker's Mark wax label, the final bourbon product.
Even if you aren't interested in how bourbon is made and aged (all on-site), be sure and take the tour to see this amazing art piece. You get a free taste test along the way!
In the Maker's Mark gift shop, you can dip anything in their signature red label wax, including your own bottle of bourbon or this sign I bought to hang on my wall!! The red wax (actually a polymer nowadays) came from Mrs. Samuels, who heated it up in her kitchen fry cooker.
They also had an awesome looking signed-by-the-chef cookbook that I couldn't turn down. I read the entire thing last night. Yes, every recipe has bourbon in it, but that doesn't mean I have to actually add the alcohol!! In cookbooks, you usually find 3 or 4 good recipes ... every single one sounds good in THIS book ... including menus prepared by Maker's Mark for their family and Kentucky Derby celebrations ... and cookbooks are something I collect!!
On the way to Maker's Mark, we passed this tobacco field, blowing in the wind. Most farmers around here grow corn for the bourbon.
A few doors down was one drying in the same wind, just before the rains are expected. They cut the stalks and stand them up teepee-like, to dry, I suppose before hanging them in the barn. This was another first for me, as I've never seen tobacco in the field. Unfortunately for them, the rains came last night and are continuing as I type.
On the way to dinner, we stopped in at a nursery so Tom could get some new plants for his terrarium. He and Barbara picked out several while I walked around taking pictures and talking to Princess, a little Yorky whose mom was shopping. Princess was camera shy, I'm sorry to say.
Dinner was at Kurtz, a German influenced restaurant. I had pot roast with red potatoes and beets. For the first time in 65 years, I actually thought the beets were pretty good!! Barbara had a vegetarian plate of corn pudding, sweet tomato casserole and broccoli while Tom had fried chicken and Kentucky ham. The Chef actually gave us the tomato casserole recipe, since Barbara fell in love with it. Dessert was Biscuit Pudding with bourbon sauce, which turned out to be another version of bread pudding. A little too bourbony for me, but Tom and Barbara LOVED it!!
The perfect end to a perfect day of Kentucky Bourbon tasting ... that is until I saw this lady dragging a pour scared kitty around the park. SOAP BOX TIME!!
People ..... there may be the extremely rare kitty that likes to walk on a leash, but most are scared to death!! They slink around, try to bury themselves in the grass so they can't be seen by the dogs barking at them, and HATE to be outside. Can't you tell?? You, literally dragging them around the park is NOT fun for the cat!!! Please leave your poor baby kitties in the rig where they feel safe. This was the second one I saw outside. I'm sure you get lots of attention while dragging your kitty on the asphalt, but you can tell the cat HATES it!!! I don't understand why you can't see that!! Get a dog ... they love being outside and going for walks!!! Sorry, I couldn't help it .. I'm a cat lover and I felt terrible for this scared baby!! End of Soap Box ........
And end of another awesome day of the Great Adventure!!!