We started with a tour of the Distillery, where we learned about the grains -- corn, rye, and malted barley -- that go into the Woodford Reserve mash bill. We also learned a little about the yeast fermentation process, the distillation, and the maturation in charred barrels. One of my favorite things about distillery tours is the way that a very standardized process varies in small ways -- grain varietals, yeast recipes, wood type -- to produce very different bourbons. I always learn a little something new, even at distilleries I've visited before. This time, Elizabeth explained the barley-malting process to me!
Another fun fact I learned on this tour is that while we typically assume that all Kentucky bourbon stills were produced by Louisville-based Vendome Copper & Brass Works, the iconic triple stills at Woodford Reserve were actually produced by Scotland's Forsyths of Rothes, the company that produces stills for many famous Scotch whiskeys. The Woodford Reserve stills had recently been shined up and were extra-pretty for our tour!
There's nothing like a trip through a rickhouse. Getting a whiff of the "angel's share" just never gets old!
We then sat down to an amazing dinner prepared by Woodford Reserve chef de cuisine Nat Henton who is, in the words of Ouita Michel, Woodford's chef in residence, "one hell of a chef." The four course meal didn't disappoint. Shrimp and grits made a perfect appetizer, while the greek salad with local heirloom tomatoes and a Woodford Rye-infused salad dressing was amazing. The main course was osso bucco with a Woodford Reserve jus and, in the most creative and tongue-in-cheek touch, a Woodford Reserve Mash Bill risotto! We finished with a dessert of Midway Bakery Lemon Love, a light and delicious lemon curd pie. The entire evening was paired with cocktail and wine selections -- very well-timed and moderated for responsible enjoyment and flavor enhancement! After the event, Elizabeth introduced our group to Chef Nat; he was so cool and humble, and we learned that his family farm is on the road to Woodford Reserve!
One of the coolest touches of the evening was that Kentucky native singer-songwriter-cellist Ben Sollee provided music for the event. Ben actually had dinner at our table. It was so wonderful to talk with Ben, he's so funny and personable and knowledgeable. We had a really great conversation about the problematic origins of My Old Kentucky Home, and how the song has evolved. I may have embarrassed a couple of my dining companions by asking Ben what holler his family is originally from; turns out that his roots are in Whitley County's hollers!
As Ben played our state song, I sipped on our after-dinner drink, Woodford Reserve Double-Oaked, and thought of my own Kentucky Home in the hollers of Floyd County. I thought of my grandfather, who played old-timey mountain music on a Martin guitar. Maybe I just had my grandpa, who always kept those little yellow butterscotch candies around, on my mind, or maybe the temperature hit the whiskey differently. Whatever the reason, I pulled a really strong butterscotch note for the very first time on the Double-Oaked, a bourbon I've tried several times before. It was truly a perfect Kentucky evening!