Out of the five distilleries we visited (since we toured Buffalo Trace Distillery for a non-bourbon making tour, I’m not including it in this count), Woodford Reserve was probably my favorite. Most of it had to do with its beautiful location in Woodford County, which I’ll be writing more on later. But after turning off of McCracken Pike and into the entrance of the distillery, I was taken aback by how completely stunning the grounds and buildings were. While some of the distilleries were located in more rural, basically uninspiring locales (just vast acres of nothingness), Woodford was completely surrounded by thickets of trees and wide stretches of greenery. The buildings, too, reminded me of a winery and not necessarily a place where whiskey is made.
The building that houses the visitor center features a slew of rocking chairs out on the front porch where one can wait before her tour begins or simply gaze out onto the pleasant views in front of her. I had read that tours for Woodford sell out quickly and sometimes early, so I made plans to visit Woodford first; our hotel where we had stayed the night before was only a 20 minute drive. There had been terrible storms with lightning in the Frankfort area on the morning we were to visit. We arrived at the distillery about quarter to ten and learned that since there had been lightning, a 30 minute waiting period was required before a tour could set out. While tours do go on rain or shine, they can be temporarily grounded when there’s lightning. We received a tour number and were told that once the 30 minutes had passed we could then go and buy our tickets; we ended up being on the first tour of the day. Although I was worried that there might be more lightning and thus cause major havoc on our plans, since I assumed other distilleries would have the same policies, thankfully the weather gods came through and the tour started only about 10 minutes later than the scheduled 10 AM start time.
Tour groups are on the larger size but everyone is given his own personal headset to be able to hear the tour guide. Tours do cost $7 but the headset was a nice touch since we were on other tours where if you weren’t standing very near to the guide, it was almost impossible to hear. As the visitor’s center is at the top of the hill, shuttles run down to the facilities.
Woodford Reserve is a brand of premium small batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that is produced by the Brown-Forman Corporation (we discovered that most of the distilleries are in fact owned by some larger corporation). Each bottle is stamped with both a batch and bottle number. Woodford Reserve’s alcohol content is 45.2% alcohol by volume (90.4 US Proof). The distillery is one of the oldest in Kentucky that is still in operation. Distilling began on the site in 1780 and many of the buildings still used today in the distilling process date from the early 19th century.
Woodford was our first distillery tour we went on so I think my interest was also captivated by that fact. The neatest thing about Woodford was that it was in operation when we visited. While almost all of the distilleries shut down during the summer months (and a Kentucky summer is most brutal), since it can be an extremely costly endeavor due to climates and temperatures that are needed in the bourbon making process, Woodford keeps going. This is due to its being the smallest distillery on the Bourbon Trail; year-round distilling is necessary in order for it to keep up with the larger distilleries like Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Other tours we went on included seeing empty vats and peering at machinery from behind glass windows, but at Woodford we witnessed the bourbon making process live.
The tour lasted just over an hour and upon our return to the visitor’s center, samples of the bourbon were offered. To me, the non-bourbon drinker, it tasted like fire. We were allowed to keep the shot glasses they came in, although they weren’t real glass so no chance of breaking. Bourbon balls (chocolatey goodness) are available for feasting upon as well. For those who are really into the taste of bourbon, D was slightly disappointed with the tasting aspect of the tour. Just one type of shots were poured with no staff around to really talk with and ask questions; at some of our other tastings we were at, the staff was extremely informative and chatty. That was a letdown for those with questions and wanting to learn more.
All in all though, Woodford Reserve was a great first stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Tips for visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail