This is the first in a series reviewing the distilleries I visited last month, presented two at a time in the order I visited them.
George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill, Mt. Vernon, VA
We were going to the Kentucky bourbon trail by way of a wedding in D.C., so obviously I had to see this historical re-creation on the actual location of our first president's distillery. Ironically, the president whose taxes caused the infamous "whisky rebellion" also owned what was at one time one of the two largest producers of whisky in the country. The basic story is that Washington had so much excess grain that his head farmer, who was Scottish, was able to convince him that distilling some would turn a nice profit. This was a great first stop, as it is such a small scale operation that you really get an understanding of the process of making whisky. The water was brought in from a nearby creek. Check out how small the still is:
The gristmill part of the tour was neat, too. I could have done without the cheesy video at the end but overall this was well worth the $3 admission. They actually do make whisky, but have none on hand. Their first round of unaged, straight rye whisky sold out on the first day at $85 a pint. Yes, you read that right.
Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, KY
Our kayaking trip near Frankfort, which was supposed to be on a gushing creek, was rerouted to the Kentucky River due to low water on the creek. What was supposed to be a 4-6 hour trip was cut in less than half due to the not so fun affair called paddling upstream. My wife was disappointed but I quickly cheered up when I realized we could start the bourbon trail early and possibly add a distillery or two to our total list. The nearest to the river was Buffalo Trace, maker of many of my favorite bourbons. Their distilling operation was in summer shutdown, but we did get to see Blanton's bottling hall where they hand bottle their higher end products, as well as a rickhouse where we could smell the "angel's share" leaving the resting barrels.
We saw some of their experimental barrels, e.g. aging bourbon in wine casks, using both wheat and rye, etc. We also saw the country's smallest bond house, which contains one barrel under government supervision. Our tour guide, Frank, told me his favorite bourbon is the George T. Stagg, which they were bottling while we were watching. Of course, we didn't get to try any of that. Their tasting consisted of their flagship product, Buffalo Trace and also included Eagle Rare Single Barrel. They also had some type of coffee liqueur (I certainly didn't make that one of my two choices), Rain Vodka (a corn vodka they make on site), and their unaged, white dog whisky, called so because it's clear and it will bite you. My wife and I each chose two and shared. The white dog is not good, per se, but it was fun to try, and I bought a bottle of it for a whisky party I am planning. The tour was right in the middle as far as how much you get to see, but tour guide Frank was excellent (a retiree from Philly) and the architecture and overall feel of the place were great, too.
By the way, in case you don't know what bourbon is, look for a guest post from a resident expert soon.