Adventures in Bourbonland, Part 3

I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories of my trip to Bourbon Country last week. In Part 1, I wrote about exploring downtown Frankfort, Ky., with my brother Matt, while in Part 2, I shared the unique experiences we had on Friday.

I know it’s a cliché to save the best for last, but we had some of the most fascinating experiences on Saturday. Here are the incredible stories from my last day in Kentucky.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

I was looking forward to visiting Woodford Reserve Distillery the most. Woodford makes my favorite bourbon, so I was definitely interested in seeing how it’s made. Our GPS gave us bad directions to the distillery, but it wasn’t a problem because we were early enough and the scenery while we were lost was incredible.

Woodford’s facility is handsome and elegant, and the waiting area felt luxurious. We saw some obnoxious people in the waiting space, and I prayed that they wouldn’t be in our tour group. Thank God they weren’t.

Related: Adventures in Bourbonland, Part 1

Our tour guide was a senior studying marketing at the University of Kentucky. He knew his stuff, and his enthusiasm was obvious. 

As you can see from the photo above, Woodford’s tasting was exquisite. Mini coasters, recipe cards, branded water and napkins, and even a sample of the company’s bourbon ball chocolates made the experience extra special. Our guide walked us through tasting every variety and asked us what flavors we noticed. I jokingly told some friends that it was nearly a religious experience.

The gift shop was lovely as well, and I violated my “don’t buy something I can get at home” pledge and bought a bottle and had them engrave my name on it. My favorite bourbon distillery gave me a truly memorable experience.

Castle & Key Distillery

After lunch at Burger King and a trip back to the room, Matt and I headed back down the road to visit Castle & Key Distillery. I first heard of Castle & Key when it was a startup in the documentary “Neat: The Story of Bourbon,” so I was interested in how the company was doing.

The grounds there are exquisite, and I had two distinct impressions of the property. The first was that it made me think of a distillery combined with a state park, and the other was that the grounds gave me strong Walt Disney Main Street USA vibes.

Related: Adventures in Bourbonland, Part 2

Castle & Key occupies the grounds of the distillery that Col. E. H. Taylor built in 1887, taking inspiration from his trips to Europe. It’s gorgeous in all its Gilded Age glory, but it’s still a working distillery. Taylor designed the property to be a place where people could enjoy themselves, and Castle & Key has maintained that vibe with the sunken gardens and meandering trails on the property. There was even a wedding taking place while we were there!

The tour experience was distinctly different from Woodford. Instead of an enthusiastic young marketing whiz, Lea Ann was a laid-back woman in her mid-50s whose passion for the property — some of her family worked there under different ownership — was more evident than her love for the brand. She also interacted more with our tour group, which included a bachelor party group and two older women who dressed way too young for their age, and she told us more “insider” stories about the beautiful complex.

The tasting was glorious as well; it took place in a beautifully appointed bar that suggested a steampunk vibe. After exploring the gift shop, Matt and I took a leisurely stroll through the trails on the grounds. It was hard to leave such a lovely place.

Glenns Creek Distilling

After we left Castle & Key, we turned to the right to see the warehouses our tour guide told us to look for — even though we should’ve turned left to head back to our hotel. I’m glad we went a different way because we had a fun, unique, and spontaneous experience.

We passed two large warehouses that were marked as the original home of the Old Crow Distillery, and next to them was another building with signage that read “Glenns Creek Distilling.” Matt said the place looked sketchy, and I agreed that it was rough around the edges. We stopped anyway. 

The guy working the front desk offered us and the people who walked behind us into the narrow, crowded foyer three tastes for $10. I tried their original bourbon, called “OCD #5” (OCD — Old Crow Distillery — get it?), as well as a bourbon made with chocolate barley and another made with a 100% corn mash. They were good whiskeys, but the prices were a little higher than I wanted to pay, particularly at that point in the weekend.

But the real magic happened after the tasting was over. The employee told us about one of the bourbons (which I would’ve tried if I’d heard the story before) that the company believes is the only bourbon using the original Old Crow recipe. They call it ¡Cuervito Vivo! (The Little Crow Lives!).

Here’s where the story gets even better. Glenns Creek received a cease-and-desist letter not too long ago, but it wasn’t from Jim Beam, the current owner of the Old Crow brand. The letter came from Jose Cuervo, which wants Glenns Creek to avoid the Cuervito branding, even though Jose Cuervo makes tequila and not bourbon. Oddly enough, Jim Beam sent Jose Cuervo a trademark warning in 2011 over the crow in its branding. 

After hearing that story, Matt and I both had to buy a bottle of ¡Cuervito Vivo! It was our way of sticking it to the man.

On our way out the door, another employee met us in the parking lot and struck up a conversation. When he asked us what we bought, we told him about our ¡Cuervito Vivo! rebellion. I told him that I was going to work the story into one of my columns, so he asked me who I write for. When I told him, he revealed to us that he’s a somewhat regular PJ Media reader as well as a volunteer in GOP politics and Tea Party activism in Kentucky.

And that’s our trip (in other words, I won’t bore you with our drive home). But before you go, I want to take a minute to let you know how much I appreciate your support as a PJ Media reader. Your loyalty allows me to write deeper dives and longer pieces like this.

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