Take a sip of bourbon. A sip, I said! The first taste may burn a bit. Always does, for me. But each sip after is a confluence of farm-grown ingredients, limestone-filtered water, precise atmospheric conditions, proprietary aging secrets, and tradition that can only be experienced on and around the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. I mightily recommend that you make the trip.
Like anything experienced first hand, I walked away from my recent tour of Kentucky distilleries with a new appreciation for this uniquely American product. The colors, aromas and flavors now have context. They're a little grittier, a little more hands-on. I have seen the oak barrels, walked through canyons of them as they slowly age white lightning into a more mature carmel-colored, woody-flavored distillation. I’ve watched as empty bottles are filled and labeled on surprisingly small production lines, overseen, guarded and finessed by people committed to producing a distinctive concoction that is as much a part of this patch of earth as the dirt beneath their feet.
I’ve never been one to do shots of life's finer beverages. I’m more a sippin’ man. And since my Bourbon Trail tour, I now pause just a second longer before taking that first drink, deeply inhaling a fragrance that brings back visages of bubbling sour mash, the slow movement of young whiskey in and out of porous charred barrels, the rustic wood structures on which this cocktail aged for 10, 15, 20 years or more, layer after layer of striatic Kentucky limestone, the waters of the Kentucky River, and the people in ball caps, t-shirts, jeans, boots, watching carefully as decades-old liquor is poured from those casks into the very bottle in front of me.
In an impersonal world of automation and gotta-happen-now impatience, I take solace in the slow, meticulous, artful creation of bourbon, as American as the dirt beneath our feet.
November 13, 2015