While every place we visited had something of interest to offer, of the other distilleries and retailers we saw, three stood out; Buffalo Trace, Limestone Branch and Barrel House. We’ll say a little more about why, plus taste the white whiskies we picked up from them.
Buffalo Trace was interesting due to its history, and the scale of the operation. It is actually home to many brands, including Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, Thomas Handy and Pappy van Winkle to name just a few. Their campus is enormous, comprising many acres and over a hundred buildings. We actually got to see them bottling the Blanton’s while we were there, which is indeed hand bottled. One fun fact that we learned was that the same distillate is used in both Blanton’s and Buffalo Trace bourbon – the difference is all about the location and aging of the barrels.
We also got to tour a couple of micro-distillers, Limestone Branch and Barrel House. These distillers are more along the lines of what we’re used here in Washington. They’re labors of love with maybe one or two employees, that are doing batches of maybe 100 gallons each. Their tours are quick because the entire operation is usually one room where everything happens. However, they’re definitely making some interesting products. Both are making moonshine, but are heading in different directions with it. Limestone Branch is working on various flavored moonshines. We got to taste several and they are very nice though not really our typical spirit. Barrel House is doing an oak-aged rum in addition to moonshine, which is quite tasty. We picked up a bottle of that as well while we were there.
- Nose: Malt! Sweet corn with some corn silk/corn husk, like when you shuck it. Hint of graham crackers or sweet biscuit.
- Palate: Very sweet intro, notes of dried corn, like corn meal. Sweet biscuit, with hints of floral and vegetal notes on the mid-palate, plus a tiny bit of anise. Fairly hot finish, though not as hot as you’d expect.
Barrel House Devil John Moonshine (45% abv, 92% refined sugar, 2% corn)
- Nose: Malt plus subtle grassy or hay notes, almost like a rhum agricole.
- Palate: Nice easy mouth feel, fairly smooth, clean and sweet, not so much with the grain flavors. Some tropical fruit peel (decent amount of bitter notes) and a touch of honey on the mid-palate. Wine-y notes like a pisco or grappa on the finish.
Limestone Branch T.J. Pottinger Moonshine (45% abv)
- Nose: Very strong cut-grass notes, newly turned earth (like potting soil), tobacco, little bit of malt.
- Palate: Very nice mouth feel. Less sweet and hot than the other. Celery/savory notes to start, then a grassy flavor with a slight astringent herbal quality, almost like dill. Woody corn flavor on the mid-palate somewhat like the corn cob. Celery seed as an aftertaste.
- 2 oz moonshine (We used the T.J. Pottinger)
- 1/4 oz Triple Sec
- 1 tsp Fernet Branca
- 1 dash celery bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir with ice, strain into a glass. Garnish with a caper berry.
- Nose: Sweet-sour like apple cider vinegar (not unpleasant), grassiness, cedar.
- Palate: Subtle sweetness on the intro followed by celery and a hint of coconut. Cedar notes, orange peel, celery, as well as a little bit of cola and some brininess at the mid-palate. Cola on the finish or aftertaste for Shaun. Christa gets celery there too. Green aftertaste similar to edamame.
If we had to narrow down the places we visited, we’d definitely choose Limestone Branch and Barrel House of the remaining places we stopped at, because we enjoy the young upstarts doing things differently. That’s not to say that the tours at Buffalo Trace and Barton’s weren’t interesting they’re just, well, more industrial. Which was interesting in it’s own way. However we’re more interested in the spirits rather than the industrial machines behind them. Overall, it was a great trip and we had a blast. If you can swing it, we highly recommend going to Kentucky and touring your favorite distillery or distilleries.