Out in Bourbon Country
One of the evening distractions during my time in Kentucky last month was a drive out to the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky--not far from Lexington and Frankfort, the state capital. It was about a 60 mile drive, which ended up in the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country. It was a perfect afternoon and early evening ride out to the distillery, where the sun slowly fell across the horizon, flashing between the angular, criss-crossing branches of Blackgums, Silverbells, and Tulip Poplars. Theological librarians from around the country sat in their bus seats chatting about their libraries, their professions, their interests in librariana and beyond. As the hill country became more pronounced, we became transfixed on the mounds of earth rising and falling, dotted by a solitary oak or a line of planted trees along the country road or a gathering of horses on a ridge.
The clouds were spun high into weaves of delicate tendrils, wisps of airy air. On earth, the ground was fresh and grassy, closed off by a long running fence, further than the eye could follow.
We soon descended a long serpentine drive, which dead-ended along a hidden creek that gurgled and ran into the woods. Along its slight banks, one encountered several stately old stone buildings, which made up the distillery complex.
Dismounting the bus, the group waiting for direction and the tour. We were greeted by a 17+ year old cat, whose name I don't remember. But I think it was something like Elijah.
Barrels like these were lined up outside along an old train-style guiding rail. Once full of "new bourbon," these barrels are rolled to the aging house, where they are stored for up to 8 years.
Inside the distillery--the beginning of the tour...
Above the entrance, one will climb a staircase to an upper level and find massive vats of yeasty liquid: the early part of the distilling process that looks like soup from the green lagoon!
These vats are massive, some of them more than 20 feet deep. And they have coils on the inside, as you can see in this image above.
The various vats have "pre-bourbon" at different stages, so some have greenish looking "water," with calm surfaces, while others look like massive algae ponds, with ferocious bubbling surfaces, off-gassing at monstrous rates! Before leaving this area, the tour guide told us to stick our fingers in the brews and taste them. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't! Many of us did and tasted the delicate balance of sweetness with yeastiness, and all that's in between--a bit pasty! (Kids, don't try this at home).
The stills themselves were in an adjacent room and were thoroughly impressive. I believe the tour guide said that these were made out of copper. And they look like something out of a Victorian horror show!
Books!--Finally, books! Yes, I was very pleased to discover some old fashioned books in the distillery. It turns out that the notation system for taking care of the processing of the alcohol is still done by hand in an old notebook! There are no computers doing this. And the company, we were told, is rather proud of this old-style processing.
Above and below: more images of the notebooks and the stills.
Corking tools and corks for plugging the barrel holes.
In the building where the bourbon is aged on high-stacked racks. Below, in the testing and packaging area.
The end of the tour brought us to a patio with tables and chairs nestled above the creek. Here, we were treated to samples of the precious firewater of these hills, pumped out from 90 feet below the earth's surface, from subterranean streams, processed with yeast and other natural ingredients, distilled, and aged. Now, I'm not a drinker of these hard liquors, and I admit that I could barely survive the high-grade fumes of this Reserve, but I sat relaxed with my fellow librarians while tending the gentle warmth of an evening bourbon. It was a fine entree before the specially catered meal of whiskey glazed chicken, seasoned green beans, and a spinachy lasagna. Oh, and I can't forget the bourbon'd bread pudding for dessert! Books, bourbon, and theological librarians--now that's a combination.