A Busy Day in Kentucky
I awoke to a beautiful August morning in Kentucky and made my way over to Lawrenceburg, a small town of about ten thousand that plays host to Wild Turkey Distillery—a stalwart of the historic Bourbon Trail. I was scheduled to meet with Eddy Russell at ten o'clock and I found myself right behind him in the parking lot as we both pulled into the facility a bit early. We shook hands immediately and made our way over to the guest center to check in, before heading out to the main warehouse to pop a few barrels.
I hopped in Eddy's pickup truck for the short drive over to the rickhouse. Naturally, we talked about business. I asked about the increase in Bourbon tourism, to which he said: "It's been just incredible. It's completely saved the main street in Lawrenceburg. Without it, I think a lot of those businesses would have shuttered up." I had read somewhere that Louisville had close to five million visitors last year, the majority of whom were interested in whiskey and venturing out along the Bourbon Trail. Eddy shook his head and confirmed that foot traffic was most definitely on the rise.
Once inside the building, we continued to talk about the changes within the industry and Eddy mentioned how excited he was to bring his son on board as soon as he moved home from Texas; hopefully to become the third generation master distiller at Wild Turkey. We mapped out a strategy for barrel selection and Eddy suggested certain barrels he liked in particular. I made a few inquiries into the type and location, and we began the process of digging them out. In the end, I wound up with six casks:
- Warehouse H - 4th floor - 118.4 proof
- Warehouse H - 4th floor - 117.4 proof
- Warehouse D - 3rd floor - 113.9 proof
- Warehouse D - 3rd floor - 113.7 proof
- Warehouse D - 4th floor - 114.4 proof
- Warehouse D - 4th floor - 113.6 proof
"You're about the easiest appointment I think I've ever had," Eddy mentioned as we left the warehouse. Don't you forget it, brother. I pride myself on making K&L business fast and easily manageable. You get more bees with honey, they say. And more barrels (wink, wink).
Cruising back into Louisville around midday, I met up with Joe Heron at Copper & Kings and we drove over to Royals Hot Chicken in Butchertown for lunch. The neighborhood around the distillery is continuing to develop into a food mecca. Royals was packed already at noon on a Tuesday and for good reason.
THIS is why! I could eat this incredible sandwich every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. Kentucky fried chicken on a bun with spicy hot sauce, pickles, and a cucumber salad. We ended up sitting next to a few other industry folk and talking shop while red streaks of salsa ran down our faces and crumbles of breaded goodness stuck to our shirts. Don't miss this place if you're visiting Louisville. It's a must-try.
After doing a few more "off the record" meetings (am I a journalist or a retailer? - I was given a gag order by one guy!), I headed down to Shively to meet up with the gang at Michter's and taste through some of their newer expressions. I was excited to see company head Joe Magliocco, a guy I really get a kick out of. He's an old school New Yorker and he and I have a lot in common in terms of our culinary interests. I stopped to take a few photos of the brick houses on my way through southwest Louisville. It's a real old school part of town with a lot of visible history.
Unlike my previous visit, the Michter's facility was in full swing this time around and I was able to taste some of their new-make rye off the still. Man...is that whiskey soft, creamy, and fruity on the palate right out of the gate! I'm not really a white whiskey fan, but I could see myself getting into that unaged rye if a bottle somehow found its way into my hands. The still at Michter's has 11,000 pounds of copper in it, which results in quite the clean and delicate spirit.
The more I learn about how Michter's makes whiskey, the more I like what they're doing. They're going against a lot of the whiskey intelligencia's check list items (big, bold, high proof, powerful) in search of a softer, more big tent style of whiskey that the greater general public can enjoy, but in a style that serious whiskey fans have to recognize as quality-oriented. They're doing it by filling barrels at a lower proof, making larger cuts when necessary, and creating legitimate "small batch" blends of twenty barrels or less per batch. While the boutique market continues to lust after high intensity whiskies, I think Michter's is quickly capturing a wider market of people who want a combination of concentrated flavor and easy drinking accessibility. As I told Joe during our tasting session, "You can't listen to what a small portion of the internet tells you is necessary. Those guys want what they want, but you've gotta go with what feels right to you" (something I've learned while writing this blog over the years). Then he poured me a glass of the Celebration Sour Mash, an incredibly expensive whiskey that I had never been lucky enough to taste. Wow. That's all I can say. A serious WOW......just wow.
After tasting at the distillery, it was back over to Butchertown Grocery for an epic dinner of charcuterie, seafood platters, pasta, and steak. We had cocktails, white wine, red wine, decadent desserts, and a whole lotta Michter's. I also got to spend some time with the Michter's team who taught me plenty about local Louisville customs and food culture. A big thank you to Joe and the crew for hosting me tonight and making me feel right at home. This was one of my more memorable experiences in town.