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Jack Bettridge

What I'll Do on My Summer Vacation

Posted: Jul 20, 2009 4:38pm ET
My wife wants to vacation in Niagara Falls this summer.

And I don't.

It’s an argument that I won’t win, but it goes something like this:

"But, honey, Niagara Falls is for honeymooners and we're already married with kids."

"That's why I want to go there—for the kids. They should really see the Falls. It is like a miracle."

Then I quote Oscar Wilde (which I realize doesn't make me sound exactly anymore like the man of the family): "The miracle would be if the water didn't fall. We should take the kids someplace really educational."

She just stares at me and asks: "And where would you rather go?"

"Ken..."

"And don't say Kentucky.”

But I do say Kentucky just like I have so many times before, but this time I think I have a compelling argument. And predictably it all centers around the Bourbon Trail.

In the interest of full disclosure, Kentucky has many other things to offer—historical sites, great cuisine, rolling hills full of race horses, Churchill Downs, etc.—but I couldn’t go without a tour of the great Bourbon distilleries. In my case that may seem like a bit of a busman’s holiday, but consider this: lots new has been added to the Tour since I last wrote about it a few years ago. And what with my cigars and spirits seminar being on Bourbon at the Las Vegas Big Smoke in November, I could do with a refresher course.

 
   
The newest wrinkle is that Brown-Forman, maker of Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Bourbons and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey just opened its cooperage to tours within the past few weeks. Formerly called Bluegrass Cooperage and Brown-Forman Cooperage, it is the only barrel-making facility owned exclusively by a distillery. For this reason, most distillery tours (and not just in Bourbon Land) don’t key too much on this aspect of making spirits, but it is essential. Most of the flavor of aged spirits come from the barrel, which you learn when you visit the rick houses where they are stored. But this is the chance to see them actually assembled using a craft that has been passed down for generations. The first oak barrels were actually made by the Ancient Romans. To be used for Bourbon aging, they must be made with no glue, nails or screws, which would leech into the liquid. That leaves wooden dowels and metal hoops to keep them together, with help from reeds that plug the seams.

To me, fascinating. My wife would rather watch millions of gallons of water pour over rocks.

Another recent development is the opening of the Tom Moore distillery of Barton Brands to tour. Last time I wrote about the Bourbon Trail, I had to arrange a private walk though with the master distiller and go through security to enter. Now tours can be arranged by anyone.

All the other major Bourbon makers have a presence on the Bourbon Trail, including Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, and you can choose to tour your favorite brand individually. However, if you want to be comprehensive about it (and I always do) a service called Mint Julep Tours will take you different junkets, which include the Bourbon Trail South and the Bourbon Trail East, as well an “All Woodford, All Day Tour” and customized trips. (Call 866-986-8779 or visit www.mintjuleptours.com.)

This, I point out to my wife, holds the added advantage of being able to sample as much Bourbon as you want because someone else will be doing the driving through those rolling hills.

Sounds convincing doesn’t it?

Yet, we’re still going to Niagara Falls as of this writing.


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