America’s Great Homegrown Spirit
Rich, amber-colored bourbon, a kind of whiskey distilled almost exclusively in nine Kentucky distilleries (down from twenty-two before Prohibition), is the intoxicating product of native corn and limestone-rich local spring water.
About 95 percent of the world’s bourbon comes from the state, and each brand boasts its own unique taste and character, defined mostly by the charred new-white-oak barrels where it must be aged a minimum of two years (though most are aged at least four). A whiskey renaissance that began in the 1980s has garnered bourbon newfound attention and respect, with exclusive small-batch premium bourbons helping to elevate the drink’s image; they usually boast a higher strength than the normal 90 proof, and are generally aged six to eight years.
Seven Kentucky distilleries are open to the public. Bardstown is the de facto capital of Bourbon country, with distilleries such as Barton’s and Heaven Hill right in town; Jim Beam is just 12 miles west and Maker’s Mark 17 miles south (and 65 miles south of Louisville).
The latter, now a national historic landmark and the nation’s oldest working distillery (dating back to 1805), is tucked away on more than 1,000 pastoral acres; its product has been available nationwide only since 1982. World-famous Wild Turkey and Four Roses are 40 miles east of Bardstown near Lawrenceburg, and in nearby Versailles is Labrot & Graham, dating back to 1812: Its elixir has been the subject of praise by everyone from Mark Twain to Walt Whitman.
Bourbon buffs should not miss the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, a five-day event full of live music, dancing, historic tours, tastings, great food (including many bourbon-flavored specialties – and not just desserts), and a huge dose of Kentucky hospitality.