Monday, June 22, 2009

bourbon immersion, pt. 2

Day two was a rough start...we awoke too late to tour the Four Roses rickhouses near Bardstown, and had to hightail it to Louisville to make our appointment with Heaven Hill. Upon pulling into the parking lot we were met by Jim Land, a 30-year veteran of Heaven Hill. He started the tour by pointing out the brick aging warehouses all around us; they were built in the 1930s and were currently used solely to age Christian Brothers brandy, the moneymaker brand for the company. He was quite candid about every aspect of the whiskey-making process; for instance, the company uses one mash bill for practically every whiskey they make; the differences come strictly from the barrel and mingling processes. He also gave us the precise proportions they use, explained the relationship between fermentation--they prefer a 3-5 day fermentation--and temperature--as low as 64 F for a 7-day fermentation. Heaven Hill was amazing in its level of automation; we were introduced to two operators who, using a simple graphical interface, were controlling the mash cook, cooling, fermentation, column distillation, doubler distillation, and transfer to holding tanks. Uniquely, they ship their uncut white dog out to their rackhouses in Nelson County, where it's cut to 125 proof and aged.
The fermentation tanks were covered; the first of that style I'd seen. The operators stressed that we had to look inside them, very important...we discovered why when Jim opened up a tank and bade us stick our heads in to smell...and a concentrated blast of carbon dioxide almost knocked me off my feet! With the open-top fermenters I'd seen before, there's a layer of CO2 above the tank, but nothing as intense as the rush we got there. This was immediately after tasting the white dog, which was delicious, if a little less interesting than that of Maker's or Woodford, but a little more complex than that of Buffalo Trace. After a breakfast of white dog and carbon dioxide, we were directed to walk down three flights of curving stairs...Those folks have a heck of a sense of humor, I'll tell you.
Jim then showed us the receiving area where the grain is dumped, and pointed out the trucks that are constantly on the move to and from Wisconsin, hauling the stock for their whiskey. Around back he pointed out the bullet holes in another set of fermenters...Yeah, bullet holes. Kentucky, right? His words, not mine.

At this point our lack of breakfast was fast becoming a serious issue, so we saddled up for Mike's Feed Store, and tucked into some of the best damn ribs and worst damn cornbread I'd had in a while. A cold glass of root beer and we were on the road for Lawrenceburg, for an appointment with Wild Turkey. I'd toured this distillery the last time we were in Kentucky, and wasn't expecting much, but still game to learn a little more...Unfortunately the last tour was at 2.30, not 3.30 as we'd thought...a fact that was to prove fortuitous in the end. We bummed around the gift shop for a minute, then split for downtown Lawrenceburg to see the sights...and ten minutes later were on the road again. No disrespect intended to the town; there just wasn't much going on for out-of-towners.

So back to the hotel for a quick nap, then dressed in our Sunday best and off to Basa, in my opinion the best restaurant in Louisville. Full disclosure: the owners and chef are good friends of ours, and so we feel incredibly warm and welcome whenever we go, but even so, the food is just plain amazing. Authentic, classic Vietnamese done with French sensibilites and technique. Perfect seasoning, execution and presentation. Fine food in the company of good friends, washed down with Rittenhouse Bonded, then off to 732 Social, their new hot spot on Market Street. Great spirits and cocktails--one in particular called a Dirt Funk, which recipe unfortunately escapes me at the moment--again in the company of good folk. The bar closed, we repaired to Nachbar once again, for more Old Fitz and Barton. Note: every bar in Louisville has a great whiskey selection.

That's about where things get hazy, so we'll continue tomorrow with Woodford Reserve, really Wild Turkey, Old Taylor, Pendennis Club, Nachbar (notice a theme here?), and Seidenfaden's.


1 comment:

  1. Great travelogue, Mike! Looking forward to the next update.


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