Kentucky Bourbon Trail Part 3

We awoke to singing birds and thought that we had perhaps dodged the predicted rain storm. Much to our chagrin, as soon as we got the car loaded the rains unleashed another fury, making the drive back to Lexington a challenge.

Kentucky Horse Park

We were scheduled to make a stop at the Kentucky Horse Park, a 1200-acre location dedicated to horses of all kinds. The rain however had brought with it a cold front and some nasty winds, making for a one-two punch that knocked us off our feet; with few horses even out of their stalls, we disappointedly left the park. We did however, make an early stop for lunch at an interesting place on the northeast side of Lexington called Sam's Restaurant (no longer open).

Also affectionately referred to as Sam's Truck Stop, this is a place that is sure to please anyone with an appetite for a good old-fashioned home-cooked meal. The food is fresh, served hot and the portions are ample. Sam's is open every day except Sunday and serves breakfasts, lunches and dinners... all made to order. We sampled Sam's version of the Hot Brown, a salad with excellent homemade bleu cheese dressing and a piece of their heavenly cream pie -- also a must; you simply cannot take a pass on Sam's if you are in the area.

Whisky For My Horses

The 'Kentucky Thorourghbred foal

By now the whisky was calling me instead of my horses; we had two distilleries that we wanted to check out in the Lexington area.  Unfortunately we only had time for one tour today, and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg would have to wait for our next trip. 

Woodford Reserve

We had made an appointment at Woodford Reserve in Versailles (pronounced differently from the French city of the same name -- say: Ver sails) and headed there.  The rain had taken a break and the jonquils and forsythia along the road on the way to the distillery made it seem almost as if the sun had actually come out.  There were also numerous horses out feasting on the grass they hadn't seen for months and wobbly-legged foals following close to their mothers' sides.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford Reserve is a small batch distillery located in the heart of Kentucky Bluegrass and in the midst of some of the most scenic and picturesque thoroughbred horse farms in the country. Originally built by Elijah Pepper in 1812 and purchased by Labrot & Graham in 1878, this is the distillery where Dr. James Crow refined his craft of producing consistency and quality in bourbon, earning him the affectionate title "the Father of Bourbon." Read more about the history of bourbon.

As is the case for any high quality bourbon, water is the key and Woodford Reserve sits atop a limestone formation from which its water for the bourbon making operation is derived. Limestone, after all, removes the nasty impurities that will forever disallow a fine bourbon and imparts the calcium that not only helps the yeast do its work, it also helps create strong bones for Kentucky's superior thoroughbreds.

The unique copper stills at Woodford Reserve

Our Tour of Woodford

The tour itself may have been similar to other tours, but as is the case with different distilleries, each not only has its own proprietary recipe, each has a special twist that allows it to lay claim to a bourbon superior to the rest.  Woodford is no different.  They have fermenting barrels made from cypress, and that is the way "it was originally done",  making whiskey essentially the way it was made in the early 19th century, using cypress-wood tubs to ferment the grain. 

Tasting bourbon straight from the barrel

They also had custom-made copper stills imported from Scotland to distill the mash, aging the final spirit in stone warehouses -- as opposed to the wood or metal preferred by others in the industry.  Whether a result of the cypress, the copper or the limestone warehouses, Woodford is unquestionably an excellent example of a premium Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky -- one that you should put on your list of bourbons to sip.  By the way, Woodford Reserve has been The Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby since 1996; perhaps you will now understand better the "Whisky For My Horses" phrase above...

We ended our tour of Woodford and -- after sampling some excellent "bourbon balls" -- met Niki and Mary from the Lexington Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Cheapside Bar and Grill, an upscale restaurant in downtown Lexington serving excellent food from a menu loaded with varied and interesting items (like Chipotle Meatloaf, Harley Hog BBQ, Pan-Fried Whisky Rib-Eye and Duck Enchiladas).

As we supped on succulent sandwiches, Niki and Mary shared with us some interesting facts about the area. Seems as if this section of town was quite infamous during the forgettable period of US history that embraced slavery. This area of Lexington -- known as the "Cheapside" -- was a huge slave trading locality in Kentucky, as well being one of the most well known slave markets in all of the south.

Lobby area of the Gratz Park Inn

Even President Lincoln supposedly once observed as Africans were beaten and families were forever separated as they were auctioned and sold in the courtyard. The conversation drifted to another topic of interest that involved Kentucky in another deeply-divided dispute: the Civil War.

Not far from Lexington is the small town of Perryville, the site of one of the fiercest battles of the war, with casualties in excess of 7,500. We would be journeying there tomorrow, to witness for ourselves the pristine condition of the battlefield, almost exactly as it appeared on a fateful day in October of 1862.

Restful night on a comfortable Temperpedic bed

For now though, it was time to retire to the Gratz Park Inn (now called the Sire Hotel - a Hilton Tapestry property) for the evening.  Here is some well-preserved Kentucky hospitality and southern charm in a building that was originally the first medical clinic west of the Allegheny Mountains; it has been meticulously restored to period splendor.  With large and comfortable suites and guest rooms, a small and cozy library, and a five-star restaurant, Gratz Park is a slick example of luxury in a boutique type inn.  We enjoyed a nightcap -- bourbon, neat... of course -- in the on-site restaurant, Jonathan's, along with some homemade ice cream. 

Adding Jonathan's to our growing list of places to revisit on our next foray into Kentucky, we headed to our room and collapsed into the king bed and its Tempur-PedicĀ® mattress.  My brother-in-law has coined a phrase that fit like a glove in this instance and I feel free to use it regarding the occasion at Gratz Park Inn: "This is really livin'!" 

Read about the next leg of our Bourbon Trail trip: The Mark of a Maker