After spending most of the brutal winter thinking about visiting the distilleries of the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Tour, I took advantage of the first warm and sunny spring day to make my way to Wilderness Trace Distillery in Danville, KY. As an added incentive, Wilderness Trace is only about 45 miles north of my driveway so now I can get to where bourbon is made in little more than a half hour if the traffic isn’t too heavy. Given the explosion of boutique craft distilleries all over Kentucky, I have to wonder if someday there might be a distillery even closer to me.
To be honest, I really didn’t expect all that much out of Wilderness Trace since they had only begun putting distilled whiskey into barrels just over four months prior to my visit. I knew they’d been making some vodka and rum but, as a bourbon guy, I wasn’t all that interested in any alternate spirits. As it turned out, my visit exceeded my expectations by a long shot.
Shortly after entering the lobby, a very enthusiastic Jerod Smith greeted me and walked me back to the tasting room/gift shop to wait for the next tour to begin at the top of the hour. It just so happened, one of the distillery owners , Shane Baker, was in the room when we got there and had a sample of the latest batch of white dog that would soon be put in charred oak barrels to age into bourbon. I was also fortunate to get a small taste of the sample batch. Now, being born and bred in Kentucky, I’ve sampled some distillery produced white dog from time to time and I can honestly say there was a distinctive smoothness and flavor that was impressive in the Wilderness Trace product.
I also got to sample their Blue Heron Vodka, made from locally grown wheat, that was as good as any I’ve ever had and their Harvest Rum, derived from locally produced sorghum, was delicious too and it gets aged in used bourbon barrels that give it a nice hint of Kentucky’s spirit.
The Scientific Approach
After the impromptu tasting, Jerod explained that they were putting a lot of effort into putting the best product they could in the barrel with the objective of aging a superior product resulting in a superior finished product that ends up in the bottle. He went on to explain that the engineers at Fermsolutions, the distillery’s parent company, are using their scienticfic acumen to develop a premium distilled whiskey to age in the barrel with the expectation of a unique and nicely matured premium bourbon to be bottled when the time is right.
Production and Aging
Jerod then took me into the production room where the mash is cooked and then transferred into the beautiful Vendrome copper column still to be distilled. He also told me they’re using the sweet mash production process that doesn’t incorporate part of the last batch of mash that’s known as the sour mash process. The objective is to give a full representation of the grains that make up the mash bill in an uncluttered manner.
In another stroke of serendipity, a barrel was being filled just a few feet away and I got the distinct honor of hammering in a bung hole plug. Now I can think of my handiwork as the years go by and the plug is taken out from time to time to taste the magic that’s forming inside as time passes by at one of Kentucky’s newest and most interesting distilleries.