Wednesday, March 7, 2012

101 Update

Thinking that I had failed gloriously at doing anything on my 101 list lately, I started scrolling through to see if I could check off even the smallest project. Somehow, I've been more productive than I thought. Today, I'm covering #12: Attend Picnic on the Porch at Woodford Reserve Distillery.

Here's a tip...if you have your own 101 list and would like to motivate yourself to do the touristy things around your hometown that you've listed, invite out-of-town friends to come stay with you. Creating an itinerary loaded with activities from your 101 list is a win-win all the way around. Shana did it when I visited her in NYC and I returned the favor when she and Hutch were bound for the Bluegrass State.

Although I only knew about Picnic on the Porch through Woodford Reserve's website (and the information there was minimal...listing only days and times), in my head we would be treated to an al fresco dining experience, where we would sip mimosas and graze on Kentucky hot browns while breathing in the wafting aroma of sour mash cooking down the hill. The crisp table linens would be white, the waiters decked in tails (or, at the very least, bowties), and people would see a group of finely spirited ladies enjoying a luncheon near the grass and think I want to dine with THEM. I contemplated wearing my Derby hat because there's nothing worse than being under-dressed for this type of southern meal.

Fortunately, I settled for jeans. Because Picnic on the Porch involved Ale-8-1 (our very own Kentucky brand of ginger ale...not for the weak of heart. Literally. The amount of caffeine in each one would put your dark roast coffee to shame) and whoopie pies.

You place your order at a lunch counter where a couple of very pleasant ladies jot it all down and call it in to the kitchen, which is somewhere else. I never really understood where...downstairs maybe? Or the building next door? You pay, receive a number to set on your table for when the order arrives, and find a seat. There is seating on the porch, giving credibility to the title Picnic on the Porch, but the typical breezy rain that settles in around the first of October chased us inside, to the wooden tables and chairs in the lobby.

Although it is not quite the grand dining experience that I had envisioned, our grilled veggie sandwiches (and the PB&J that Shana ordered to satisfy her craving) were actually delicious. And, really, can you ever go wrong with a red velvet whoopie pie? I think not. To be quite honest, it was more enjoyable than if we had been served mimosas in crystal flutes and steaming plates of country ham by men in bowties.

Unless you are absolutely time-crunched, staying for a tour of the distillery is almost essential. With the exception of July/August during a drought and December-February of any winter, the grass is golf-course-green and always well manicured around Woodford Reserve's grounds. And the process of cooking sour mash to create Kentucky bourbon is complex and time consuming. I usually follow along for the first 4 or 5 steps, but by the time it reaches its final stages, I've lost track of which drum it's in, where it's coming from, and where it's headed next. It's a miracle of chemistry. It used to hold true that only bourbon could come from Kentucky. Everything outside of our state lines was whiskey. However, our tour guide told us that some distillers are using our process, thus creating bourbon. Although...a large part of bourbon is the use of water that flows over our naturally occurring limestone rock and you can't find that just anywhere. It's along the same lines as New York City water, I would think.

Since I can't remember all the steps of distilling bourbon, please just enjoy the photos of the tour and make a mental note to stop in should you find yourself in the rolling hills of my home state.

Visiting a distillery during the week means witnessing the actual work of making bourbon. These heavy barrels full of bourbon roll at a leisurely pace from one building to the next on a barrel track. The building above houses the lobby, offices, and kitchen of Woodford Reserve.

Barrels of bourbon roll along to their next destination. 

Our gracious and knowledgeable tour guide explains the process of cooking bourbon. These open barrels are full of hot, bubbling sour mash that will open up even the stuffiest of sinuses if inhaled at close range.

Hutch can drink bourbon like a man. Truly, if you ever decide to leave Sacramento, there is always a home for you in the Bourbon State, darling.

The multiple stages of making liquid awesome. 

My Kentucky fillies-in-training.

Barrels of bourbon are aged, turned, and tasted before they are released for bottling. The barn-like structure where these thousands of barrels are stored until they've matured is breezy and cool and smells of sweet bourbon. I could live there.

Bottling! The last step before distribution. Woodford Reserve is considered a "small batch" bourbon so even though there is some automation to the process, there is still a team of employees back there, packaging by hand.

Ready for distribution...from their house to ours! Woodford Reserve is actually Neal's favorite bourbon so when we finished with the tour, the girls convinced me to have a bottle engraved with "Welcome Home, Captain Miller!" on it in the gift shop. I had to wait almost 2 months for him to see it, but his reaction was worth the wait.

Please excuse the pornstar mustache. November...Movember...I blame Cathy. And prostate cancer, of course.

Most of our distilleries in Kentucky are not only open to the public, but included on The Bourbon Trail, which you don't have to do in order but are mapped for convenience when traveling to each. Maker's Mark is pretty much in the middle of nowhere while Woodford Reserve is perfectly situated between Lexington and our capital, Frankfort. The Bourbon Trail is not a day trip. But it could make for a lovely and...uh...intoxicating way to spend the weekend!


  1. I need one of those Ginger ales...when I'm not nursing

  2. How cool!! Woodford Reserve is my FAVORITE!

  3. Oh how I wish I was back there with you two lovely ladies. Sadly, I'm stuck here in my office. Booo! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  4. Well now I'm REALLY excited about our trip to bourbon country next summer! JT loves Makers Mark and I know he really enjoys Woodford Reserve. When I do get there I'll also be able to cross something off my 101 list!
    I had no idea that the barrels rolled from building to building on a track. I just like the idea of seeing barrels rolling all over the place!

  5. Sounds like a lovely visit, but has raised an issue that I hope will not be a deal breaker in our relationship [now, everyone things we are lesbian lovers!]

    Seriously, I can be an adopted Wildcat during March [and it looks like that is a great decision this year!], but i, too, grew up in sourmash territory. The only problem is that it was also whiskey territory, and a bit south of you ... like, Jack Daniels territory. Can't help it, Ally. My blood is 40 proof Black Jack [well, when it's not wine!]

    Can we still be friends?

  6. I want to come!! What the hell is a Kentucky hot brown??

  7. Capt. Miller looks mighty pleased indeed!!! I love doing these kind of tours! Sounds like fun!

  8. Love your pictures and looks like you girls had a really great time. This is a great review and something I'll be sure to visit if my travels take me to bourbon country :) XOXOX

  9. We have "bourbon trail" passports that we're doing with my parents whenever they're here...we've got 3 to go (one being Maker's Mark in the middle of nowhere...we've been, they haven't yet)'s a fun thing to do with them when they're here though.


That's it, let it all out....