Scotland and Kentucky go back a long way. Appalachia was the destination for many Scottish (and Irish) emigrants during the lean years of the Highland Clearances, and their cultural influence is still strong here to this day. Listen to some bluegrass hard enough and you’ll hear the Celtic underpinnings in the music.
Of course there’s whiskey, too, which might be a more obvious connection.
Yes, Bourbon is the American spirit, but just like the rest of us Americans it has a lineage from a distant place. Back then, many people made whisky, possibly illicitly, in their homes, and they brought that knowledge with them to the new world. I mean, who can live without whisky. Today, the connection between the Bourbon industry and the Scotch industry is strong. Bourbon scripture dictates that oak barrels can’t be used more than once, and these flow east to Scotland where the majority of Scotch whisky spends its time. This point has been hammered into my brain over and over again through my 40 distillery visits in Scotland.
All that time, my ignorance of my own American spirit shamed me.
This past November, I changed all that. I put together a four-day trip through Bourbon country to learn about the whiskey industry in the context of my Scotch whisky expertise. The results were eye-opening and welcome. In fact, I’ve since gained an appreciation for Bourbon.
What can you expect to read about in the coming months? Hang on, let me take a sip.
First of all, I’ll cover the Kentucky Bourbon Trail region with pointers on possible places to stay and give you an overview of what to expect for driving and distances. I’ll also give you a detailed look at 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, which was my headquarters while I was on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The meat of this series will focus on distilleries, of course. During my time in the area, I managed to hit Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Willett, Buffalo Trace, and Woodford Reserve. I wish I could have visited Four Roses and Wild Turkey, but my limited time made those visits impossible.
Corn and rye, wheat and oats, mash bills and moonshine: American whiskey differs widely from Scotch whisky, but that difference is neither a downside nor a detriment. It’s just different. And in many cases, delicious. I can’t claim to be an expert on American whiskey after such a brief visit, but I can assure you my ignorance has disappeared. I’ve done more than a little research on the subject since I’ve been back, too.
Return next week for an overview of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and to get your bearings in the region!