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On the Trail of Bourbon

America's own original spirit shows off its rich heritage and craftsmanship in a lore-filled tour across the Blue Grass State
Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005

(continued from page 6)

Woodford was an immediate success, which had a downside as it wasn't clear what the pot stills here would create. Fans questioned what would become of their favorite quaff when that whiskey came of age and replaced the original Woodford Reserve. The answer may never be known. Instead of completely substituting pot-still whiskey for column-still whiskey, the company has progressively wedded barrels from the Woodford Distillery into its recipe, which also uses water from the spring at that distillery to cut the whiskey's proof to 90.4. Brown-Forman has never kept secret the origin of Woodford even as it evolved, and recently master distiller Chris Morris has said that it is doubtful that Woodford will become 100 percent a product of the Versailles distillery. Ironically, Old Forester has also been somewhat elevated in the process, in that Morris now creates one or two vintage bottlings of that product each year, selected from barrels filled on specific days about a decade earlier and called Birthday Bourbons.

Meanwhile, back near Bardstown, Greg Davis of Barton Brands, at 34 the youngest Bourbon master distiller, is bounding up the stairs to the top floor of Warehouse Z, pushing cobwebs out of his way. This is the source of a tasty elixir now known as Ridgemont Reserve 1792, a superpremium entry from this company known for lower shelf brands. Davis explains why such an exhausting ascent is necessary to source the barrels for Barton's preeminent Bourbon, and the reason has the familiar ring of "location, location, location."

The theory is a little different. It's the upper floor, not the middle, and the warehouse faces east and west, not north and south. Nevertheless, atop a hill, this spot has excellent air circulation, which creates an aromatic heaven, redolent with roasted caramel and vanilla. It's not all placement. Davis gives a little lecture on the importance of the medium-heavy char used in the barrels, and this special visit is over. (Sadly, Barton Brands offers no public tours, which is ironic because the Oscar Getz Museum, named for the Barton founder, used to be here.)

It is time for Davis to head to the Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which, as the maker of the official-toasting Bourbon of the festival, he will kick off. One by one the lions of whiskey—Jimmy Russell, Elmer T. Lee, Parker Beam, Jerry Dalton, Davis's mentor Jimmy Rutledge—arrive to honor, among others, Ed O'Daniel, the head of the Kentucky Distillers' Association, who has done so much to develop the Bourbon Trail.

All is right in the Bourbon World.

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