This morning we left early for our appointment at Jim Beam for our tour.


Again the tour was pretty typical.  Jim Beam is arguable the largest producer of bourbon in the world and is distributed all over the world.  Their brands include not only Jim Beam, but Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s, and Booker’s… It is a huge industrial plant, all controlled by computers and other machines.  Once the fermented mash is pumped into the still it takes about 90 seconds for one barrel of whiskey to be produced.  Also, we learned that Jim Beam and their other bourbons are about 70% corn, plus rye and malted barley.  (Remember, Makers Mark uses wheat in lieu of rye…)

One VERY fun thing we did is fill our own bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon.  We started by rinsing a bottle (with Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon), then putting our initials on the bottle, and setting the bottle on the bottling line…


The final product:


We dipped the bottle into the wax (twice) then once again just enough to allow us to put our thumbprint on our bottle…!


This was a unique experience for us!

We asked why the barrel Houses are black.  The tour guide denied that the barrel houses have mold.  She claimed they were painted black out of tradition, but they also have them in all colors… Also, they do not rotate barrels like Makers Mark does – they select 1,000 barrels from various locations in the barrel house to blend and bottle…


At the tasting our guide selected for us the Single Barrel Knob Creek and Jim Beam Black.  Lynda selected Baker’s and I selected the Jim Beam Devil’s Cut for our third choice.

As most of you know, Angels’ Share is the term distillers use for the bourbon that evaporates from the barrels while they are aging.  After 5-6 years a 53 gallon barrel will contain only 35 gallons (at best) of bourbon; the rest has evaporated and is called Angels’ Share.  But the bourbon also soaks into the barrel staves; to make Devil’s Cut they empty out the barrel, add distilled water, and put the barrel in a shaker for several hours.  The water, after absorbing the bourbon from the wood, is added back to the bourbon to reach the final proof.  It was excellent! Very rich and smooth!

We also learned what makes their super-premium bourbons special:

Basil Hayden’s has a high percentage of rye and a unique aging process; Baker’s is aged at least 7 years; and Booker’s, always my favorite, is always made at barrel strength (about 115 proof); what sets it apart is that the barrels are taken from special areas (on the 5th and 6th floors) of select barrel houses, where the aging is known to be extra special…


This was Booker Noe’s house; he was the last of the family to live on the property…


Next on the day’s agenda was a visit to “My Old Kentucky Home”.  It is actually called Federal Hill, and it was the home of three generations of the Rowan family from 1795 to 1922.


The grounds are beautiful.  No interior photos were allowed…


Worse house tour ever.  The house was very grand and elegant, similar to plantation houses we saw in Louisiana, but the colors and patterns of wallpaper and carpets were from the Victorian period and they hurt my eyes… We heard almost nothing about features of the house, but just an hour’s worth of family history and gossip.  Sorry, not my thing.

The park is named “My Old Kentucky Home” after the song of the same title by Stephen Foster, who was a close friend of the Rowan family.  It is the Kentucky State Song and is sung at ALL civic events in Kentucky, including sports games, political rallies, and, of course, the Kentucky Derby.  Everyone in Kentucky LOVES this song.

Ironically, the song is NOT about the joys and beauty of Kentucky; the song tells of the hardships of slaves, and all about the difficult lives they had, and heartbreak of being sold to an unknown owner.  It was used by abolitionists like Frederick Douglas in their anti-slavery work.  It seems odd that most Kentuckians seem to think it is all about the loveliness of their state, when it is telling the dark history of the state and our country…

We escaped as quickly as we could, and drove to Heaven Hill Distillery, named after Mr. Heavenhill, who owned some adjacent land that once held a distillery before prohibition.


Never heard of Heaven Hill?  Maybe you have heard of some of their brands:


Larceny, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, McKenna, Rittenhouse…???

Heaven Hill is the largest independent, family owned distillery in the country.  ALL other large distilleries are owned by the multi-national holding companies like Brown-Forman, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Fortune Brands (Suntory), etc.  Heaven Hill is still owned by the descendants of its founders, the five Shapiro brothers.  Interestingly, Earl Beam, of the Jim Beam family, was the first master distiller, and there have been MANY Beam family members in important positions at Heaven Hill over the years.

We saw a short film about the distillery; apparently they buy up small brands from around the country and make re-make them in their own image.  Many of the brands I’ve never heard of; many are regional brands of very small production…

We tasted three of their bourbons, plus one rye whiskey.  Nothing spectacular, and we didn’t buy any.  We did learn more about the different processes in making different whiskeys…

I’ve concluded that the mash bill, which grains are used, and what percentages are used, have little effect on the final taste of the bourbon.  Ninety percent of the flavor comes from the barrel.  In my tasting experiences this week all the taste and nuance comes from the aging process and the selection of the various barrels that have aged differently.  We will test this theory further when we visit Buffalo Trace next week; stay tuned…

After we were done tasting we hurried back to the campground, where our leaders were pouring Mint Juleps using Buffalo Trace, which the distillery had provided to us.

Mint Juleps gave way to our 4th round of GAMS…


And an enjoyable time was had by all…