Where it all began (maybe). Did a Baptist minister invent Bourbon whiskey? Maybe, maybe not, but it sure does make for a great story.
In Georgetown, you can see Royal Spring Park, where the Rev. Elijah Craig―described as an “argumentative,” “worldly,” and “cantankerous” preacher―reputedly mixed up the first batch of bourbon in the 1780s.
While it’s known that Craig definitely produced whiskey (and paper) at the site, some observers of bourbon lore believe that calling him its inventor was simply a late 19th-century marketing ploy to counter the temperance movement.
Royal Spring Park is located at Main and Water streets in downtown Georgetown. The Georgetown/Scott County Museum at 229 East Main Street, includes some exhibits about Craig and his papermaking operation.
Rev. Elijah Craig also founded Georgetown College. Legend has it that a quart of bourbon reposes under each of the six Ionic columns of the portico of the oldest building on campus, Giddings Hall, built in 1839.
Interest in bourbon is booming all over the world. Bourbon sales have increased more than 40 percent over the past five years domestically with the industry investing more than $300 million in operations over the past two years.
Stretching from Louisville to Lexington, then southwest along the Bluegrass Parkway, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a trademarked destination made up of nine member distilleries. Over several days, we toured four of the chosen nine and then veered off to a new craft distillery. Like the one that we feature here, each had a unique story to tell, interlaced with a rich history and distinctive style.
Tours range from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on distillery, and are followed by the breathlessly awaited tastings. Guides typically pour two or three single shots, often topped off with a lip-smacking chocolate bourbon ball, before sending samplers to the gift shop.
Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort
In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years.
Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. During Prohibition the distillery was permitted to remain operational making whiskey for “medicinal purposes”.
Within the past decade, Buffalo Trace has won more awards than any other distillery in the world, including an unmatched seven “Distillery of the Year” titles. The distillery’s rich history includes such legendary distillers as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee.
The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.
The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons—Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farms, Hancock’s Reserve, and Elmer T. Lee—are bottled and sealed by hand. Buffalo Trace introduced the single-barrel bourbon concept in 1984. As the name implies, this is a bottling of whiskey drawn from one carefully selected barrel, instead of being mingled with whiskey from other barrels.
Our Trace Tour offered a glimpse into the history of the Distillery and the different stages of the bourbon-making process and began with a video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery. We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses.
Then we toured inside the Blanton’s Bottling Hall and saw signature bourbons being filled, sealed, labeled, and packaged—all by hand.
All tours are complimentary and include a tasting of Buffalo Trace Small Batch Bourbon, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon, and Bourbon Cream Liquor.
Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.