I knock on the door. Once, twice, and still nothing. Concerned, I strain to peek through the door’s windows. Finally there he is, making his way to the door with messy hair and a half asleep look.
It’s a little after 10am, our agreed upon departure time. Clearly he is not ready. But he is charming in his apologetic sleepiness and I am enamored with him. I offer to change our outing to another day, but he objects. This is the bourbon trail. There’s no turning back now.
We hop in his BMW M3. Before we started dating I had been told by friends that he had a nice car. The first time I saw it I saw a car, nothing else. I supposed the interior was nice and it was a pretty shiny black, but otherwise I didn’t get it. That is, until we took it on the bourbon trail.
The route to the bourbon trail from Cincinnati starts out on highways and then eases into country roads. The lanes exhale over rolling green hills, curving through fields of horses and farm land. His car sang through the hills, effortlessly hitting speeds I had no idea we were approaching. I now understood why this was a ‘nice’ car.
Woodford Reserve was our destination. The road leading up to Woodford turns at the last moment to crest a green sloping hillside. At the top of the hill is the visitor center, and further down the hill are the stone buildings that hold their copper stills and historic barrel houses. It’s a tight set up, but manages to feel cozy and spacious at the same time.
Steve M. (M as in mash, he told us) was our tour guide. He had that most perfect of Kentucky accents. Not harsh and overdone like you see on TV, but slow and slightly musical. Each word was said with gentle purpose, my most favorite being the slow rolling of the word “tuuuuor”, as in “I am honored to be your tour guide today”.
Our first visit of Woodford Reserve, back in 2011, was quiet and relaxed. The layout of the visitor center was simple but welcoming, and despite it being a beautiful spring day there was hardly anyone there. We would return in future years and see the crowds multiple and the interior get remodeled with a modern fireplace, leather couches, and a attractive tasting room.
Steve M. took us on an excellent tour. We hovered over fermenting mash, twisted our way through the dark and delicious smelling barrel houses, and met Elijah, the distillery’s beloved cat. He was a ragged old thing, but he sweetly rolled from his place in the sun so I could pet his tough orange fur. He added so perfectly to the homelike feeling of the place. You felt as if you could pull up some lawn chairs and enjoy an afternoon in the April sun with same comfort of your own backyard.
At the end of the tour, we went to the counter to claim our included samples. Tall plastic shot glasses were filled with two bourbons, and we also were given bourbon balls. We found a spot at a wooden table, and did as instructed with the samples. Smelling deeply, sipping it first straight and then with a drop of water, and “chewing” the bourbon to extract all of its flavors.
The photo that appears when Jason calls (which is never – we both hate talking on the phone) is from this day. He has on a gray short sleeved button up, hair so short compared to the shoulder length hair he sports today that I barely recognize him, and his perfectly distinct nose is stuck deeply into the narrow shot glass as he inhales the signature Woodford scent.
I loved the way that bourbon tasted. I loved the stories we were told about this small brand of bourbon, with its historical founding and raggedy orange cat mascot. It was complex yet straightforward, loyal to its roots but still adventurous. All qualities that I would discover in Jason in the months and years that followed.
Woodford is still one of my favorite bourbons, and I can’t argue that it may have something to do with that perfect afternoon spent driving through the hills of Kentucky, meeting Steve M. the tour guide and Elijah the cat, and sharing something remarkable with someone I was about to fall in love with.
Plus, their bourbon is damn good.
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select
Almost gold flecked amber in color, this bourbon tastes like soft serve butterscotch vanilla swirl ice cream served in a charred oak bowl (Is that a thing? Can we make it a thing?). It’s warm and sweet, but with an earthy finish that keeps it grounded.
After the sweetness fades, a spiciness lingers, begging you to have another sip to start the cycle of flavors all over again. I’ve never been one to put more than a twist of orange in my old fashioned, but something about this bourbon makes me want to muddle a cherry in it to bring out even more of the fruity notes.
This can easily be enjoyed straight, but a small cube of ice or a few drops of water from your months (maybe years?) old Brita filtration system will also treat this bourbon right. Also note to self: if I can find $36 in my budget to spend on a bottle of bourbon, then I cannot keep saying that I can’t afford a new $12 Brita filter pack.
This bourbon is always on rotation as a favorite in our house. I would pour some out in memory of Elijah the cat, who passed away in 2014, but I know he wouldn’t want me to do that. Instead I’ll find a sunbeam and enjoy a generous pour of the bourbon his homeland was built on. I suggest you do the same.