Kentucky: a road trip through the state - Part 21 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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When master distiller Drew Kulsveen gets you to walk from the bright sunshine of a Kentucky day into the darkness of one of his storage barns, or rick houses as they are known locally, he asks a single question, “Can you smell that? ”
Inside the dusty and what seems to be dim light illuminates thousands of oak barrels stacked five storeys high. The air in the rick house is ripe with the smells of musty wood and ageing spirits. He then explains what causes that unique smell.
“We call that the angel’s share. It’s the vapour of the bourbon as it seeps through the barrel. ” he says while moving deeper into the darkness of the barn. As he leads the way past bubbling vats of grain mash and a gleaming copper still Drew recounts an old saying about whiskey making. It goes, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon”.
If you want to make bourbon then you have to use at least 51% corn mash, produce a distillate of less than 160 proof, and age the spirit for at least two years. The nearest comparison is quite close as it’s just over the state border; the big difference to Tennessee whiskey is that in Bourbon there is no use of additives. The taste comes purely from the distilled spirit which is call ‘white dog’ and the natural sugars and the charring inside the barrel.
You get to see this when they roll out a new barrel for you to look into. The inside has been scorched from the original pale oak to a deep charcoal black. The amount of time and a number of other factors determines how the inside of the barrel finishes up. As Drew explains “You can put the same white dog in three different barrels, and a year later each one is different”. Then it all comes down to the skill of the distiller to know when to continue ageing and when and with what it should be blended. ’
Part of this tour is a tasting and you find a ‘flight’ of vintage bourbons, poured in shot glasses, waiting on an upturned barrel. They range in colour from light amber to a walnut brown. He then gives everyone what he calls his connoisseur’s tip, which is to add a tiny drop of water. This it seems will ‘open up’ the aromas in the spirit and make it both taste and smell better. As the liquid slips down your throat you feel both the heat and sweetness as it travels.
According to Drew “There’s no such thing as perfect bourbon, only a bourbon that’s perfect for you. ” He reckons it something that can take a lifetime to find but it’s fun searching.
After that to tour is over and heads back to work, while you can head for the distillery shop.
The next set of distilleries on our tour continues in part 22.
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