Although Woodford Reserve stands on a site where they’ve been making whiskey since 1812, it’s anything but old-fashioned. The road to Woodford winds through rolling bluegrass pastures and Thoroughbred farms. On the property’s grounds in Versailles, grasses and wildflowers line crushed gravel pathways, and structures built in the 1800s stand along an old railroad track. When the wind blows just right, the aromas of fermenting corn and caramelized oak overtake the senses.
“It’s the quintessential Kentucky destination,” says Woodford’s master distiller Elizabeth McCall, one of the youngest female distillers in the industry. She’s working with local farmers to grow grains on the terroir around the distillery, the way it used to be done, and aims to combine historic practices with contemporary expertise.
One step onto the fermentation floor, and you’re hit with peach, citrus, apple, and banana bread scents steaming up from old cypress vats. Sour mashes of corn, rye, and malted barley bubble like pots of cooking grits. Clear distillate liquid, not at all reminiscent of the caramel-toned spirit found on bar carts, flows through small glass bowls as it moves from one copper still to the next. It’s not yet called bourbon, as it awaits the final step of aging.
Once filled with distillate and branded, the barrels roll down the old railroad track straight to the warehouse to begin the aging process. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the “Woodford Wobble,” as gravity takes the vessels to the four-story ware-house. Thousands of barrels line the shelves and wait around seven years before they’re bottled.
Tours include bourbon tasting, and a visit to the Woodford Reserve Welcome Center comes with excellent cocktails and expert pours, as well as sweeping views from the veranda. “Other distilleries have their own unique features, but Woodford, it’s the perfect place,” says McCall.
woodfordreserve.com , 859-879-1812, 7785 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY 40383