You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Get a taste of bourbon country, in Kentucky and beyond

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 9/5/2022 Mary Ann Anderson, Tribune News Service
The George Washington Distillery in Alexandria, Virginia, is near Mount Vernon, the first president's home. The distillery often hosts events with "President Washington" and his farm manager, " James Anderson." At its height in the late 1700 s, the distillery was the nation’ s largest distiller of whiskey. © Mary Ann Anderson/TNS/TNS The George Washington Distillery in Alexandria, Virginia, is near Mount Vernon, the first president's home. The distillery often hosts events with "President Washington" and his farm manager, " James Anderson." At its height in the late 1700 s, the distillery was the nation’ s largest distiller of whiskey.

J.R. Ewing, the scoundrel oil baron of the prime time melodrama “Dallas,” was known to often enjoy a neat order of bourbon and branch as his tipple of choice. John Wayne fancied Wild Turkey, another bourbon whiskey. For Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, it was Jack Daniels. Mila Kunis likes Jim Beam. And Anthony Bourdain, traveler extraordinaire, in an interview on the Reserve Channel, called Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year “the most glorious bourbon on the face of the planet.”

In September, the spotlight is on celebrating bourbon. Again, that is. Short history lesson. In 1964, Congress declared bourbon as “America’s Native Spirit,” thus making it the only spirit distinctive to the United States. Then in 2007 when Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., introduced a resolution that named September 2007 as “National Bourbon Heritage Month,” it was supposed to be only a one-time thing. But glory hallelujah! For us bourbon aficionados, the tradition lived on and has continued every September since then, including this year.

The genesis of the distinctly American Bourbon, an ambrosially sweet, slightly spicy corn liquor aged in oak barrels to luminous hues of amber and topaz, was in Kentucky and has been around since the 1700s. The creation of bourbon has been attributed to many, among them a Baptist preacher named Elijah Craig, Daniel Boone’s cousin Wattie Boone, Evan Williams and Robert Samuels, whose lineage would produce Maker’s Mark, one of the more widely known bourbons today. And as if George Washington didn’t have enough to do, with being the first president, a soldier, statesman, surveyor, farmer and goodness knows what else, he embarked on a journey with his Scottish-born plantation manager James Anderson to become the nation’s largest distiller of whiskey, including rye whiskey, bourbon’s kissin’ cousin.

The historic St. Augustine Distillery in St. Augustine, on Florida’ s Atlantic coast, is one of the stops along the Florida Distillery Trail that represents 11 distilleries and 54 spirits. Shown here is former tour guide Cole Lacaze welcoming guests into the distillery in February 2022. © Mary Ann Anderson/TNS/TNS The historic St. Augustine Distillery in St. Augustine, on Florida’ s Atlantic coast, is one of the stops along the Florida Distillery Trail that represents 11 distilleries and 54 spirits. Shown here is former tour guide Cole Lacaze welcoming guests into the distillery in February 2022.

Trying to figure out the hullabaloo of just who the first inventor of bourbon was is akin to figuring out which came first, the chicken or the egg. Nobody really knows and will likely ever know. It’s just a good thing that bourbon, chickens and eggs are here to stay.

Here on this oblate spheroid we call earth, bourbon cannot be produced anywhere but America. It can, contrary to popular myth, be produced outside of Kentucky. In fact, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the number of distilleries in the U.S. has grown from a mere 50 or so in 2005 to more than 2,300 in 2022. The industry is growing faster than a field of corn in summertime.

If you draw — or drive, for you adventurous types — a huge circle around the country from Maine all the way down to Florida, and then crisscross over to California, up to Washington and back over the Maine, there’s at least one distillery, albeit some not solely for bourbon, in just about every state, including our faraway friends in Alaska and Hawaii. If you fancy seeing firsthand how American-made rye, Tennessee whiskey, single malt, moonshine, premixed cocktails, liqueurs and cordials, rum, vodka, gin, brandy or agave spirits being produced, here’s how to find it.

Jim Beam Distilling Co. is in Clermont, in Kentucky’ s bourbon country. Tours and tastings are offered in the newly renovated distillery. Shown here is Fred Noe, the seventh generation Beam family member to become Jim Beam’ s master distiller. © Mary Ann Anderson/TNS/TNS Jim Beam Distilling Co. is in Clermont, in Kentucky’ s bourbon country. Tours and tastings are offered in the newly renovated distillery. Shown here is Fred Noe, the seventh generation Beam family member to become Jim Beam’ s master distiller.

Because the distillery tourism business is so huge and continues to grow by bottles and bounds, DISCUS this summer launched Destination Distillery, a website that provides a tourism-driven experience and educational journey into the cultural heritage and history of spirits in America. The site is extremely visitor-friendly, and you can locate distilleries based on the type of spirits they produce or by location. Categories of spirits are also listed, so if you would rather search for, say, vodka instead of bourbon, the site makes it easy. Click on each category of spirit for an in-depth history of the category. Another unique part of the site is the “Stories” section, which features information on historical milestones related to the spirits industry.

“Distilleries are becoming key destination spots for tourists in state after state,” said Lisa Hawkins, who is senior vice-president of public affairs at DISCUS. “While Kentucky is clearly the epicenter of bourbon tourism, there are now more than 40 distillery trails across the country where visitors can sample locally-made spirits, learn about the distilling process and experience the local culture and heritage of the area.”

I do like bourbon and learning about it, and I’ve been to quite a few bourbon distilleries, including Jack Daniels in Tennessee. In Kentucky my stops included Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. Most recently, I visited the St. Augustine Distillery in St. Augustine, Florida’s oldest city on the Atlantic coast. Like wineries and vineyards, the fun factor in discovering what’s in your glass is that each distillery has unique offerings, plenty of local flavor and, my favorite part, the tastings.

What can you expect at a distillery visit? At St. Augustine Distillery, for example, where my husband and I toured this past February, the atmosphere was festive and lively. More than 170,000 guests a year pass through the historic distillery that’s a tumble of buildings, old and new. Although the tours are self-guided, we fell in behind a group that was led by the affable Philip McDaniel, CEO and co-founder of the distillery — the other co-founder is Michael Diaz — and learned first off, after a welcoming sampling of sumptuous cocktails, that the 1907 building is part of St. Augustine’s first power and ice complex. McDaniel then led us through the distilling, fermenting and bottling process, along the way offering another sample or two of his products before leading the group into the colorful gift shop.

The American Stillhouse at Jim Beam Distilling Co., in Clermont, Kentucky, is a popular stop on the American Whiskey Trail, one of the many distillery trails outlined at Destination Distillery, a top site for researching distillery visits. © Mary Ann Anderson/TNS/TNS The American Stillhouse at Jim Beam Distilling Co., in Clermont, Kentucky, is a popular stop on the American Whiskey Trail, one of the many distillery trails outlined at Destination Distillery, a top site for researching distillery visits.

Tours and tastings at St. Augustine Distillery are free. The distillery produces not only bourbon, but also rum, gin, vodka and some stunningly delicious mixers made in-house. My particular favorite was an old-fashioned mix made with Florida cane sugar — there’s that local flavor — that perfectly complements their bourbon. Among the distinctive experiences of St. Augustine is that you can fill and personalize your own bottle of cask strength bourbon. Oh. That part’s not free.

Every distillery tour will be different from another, especially when it comes to the sheer variety of spirits. A vodka distillery tour will not be the same as a visit to a bourbon distillery. Too, some charge for tastings, while others don’t. Some focus on their heritage, others on their culture, or even the flavor profiles that are offered. The primary differences are in the details.

Bourbon is a great whiskey that began as Southern as mint juleps and magnolias but has metamorphosed into an adult-style national treasure that Americans can call their very own. Kentuckians have been celebrating it for as long as anyone can remember, but now with so many distilleries popping up, you don’t have to travel to the Bluegrass State to enjoy the true spirit of bourbon. Destination Distillery has done all the research for you, so take a day or two in September to take a journey and raise a glass to National Bourbon Heritage Month.

———

Helpful information

Visit Destination Distillery at www.DestinationDistillery.com, the Distilled Spirits Council at www.DISCUS.org, George Washington’s Distillery at www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/distillery/, St. Augustine Distillery at www.staugustinedistillery.com, and the American Whiskey Trail at www.AmericanWhiskeyTrail.com.

If you choose to toast bourbon at distilleries in Kentucky, plan your visit around the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Sept. 16-18 (www.kybourbonfestival.com) or Bourbon and Beyond celebration in Louisville, Sept. 15-18 (www.bourbonandbeyond.com).

———

©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon