Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hot Browns and Bourbon: Motoring Across Kentucky!

I have reached the point where I can pretty much take or leave a car-assembly-plant tour. All that really changes is the number and sophistication of the robots along the line. I've seen the outside of a half dozen paint booths, but have yet to see inside one. “Through that door is where cars are painted.” Yawn.

But even after touring three or four distilleries, I can still get revved up about seeing how particular spirits are made. About 90% of all bourbon is distilled in two Kentucky regions: One surrounds Frankfort east of Louisville and the other is around Bardstown to the southwest. I like bourbon!

Shelbyville's Science Hill Inn makes one of the best Hot Browns I've had.
I drove to Louisville on Wednesday where I hooked up with friends and then drove another four and a half hours to St. Alban, West “By God” Virginia for Thanksgiving. We took a little detour on our way to the Science Hill Inn in Shelbyville, KY for what I consider to be one of the best Hot Browns anywhere. I like Hot Browns almost as much as bourbon.

On our way back to Louisville on Friday, we stopped at Buffalo Trace distillery just outside of Frankfort. Buffalo Trace has been home to a few bourbons over the 200 years since Harrison Blanton first began distilling whiskey there around 1815. It became a formal distillery in 1870 when Colonel E.H. Taylor purchased it and christened it O.F.C. for Old Fire Copper.

In 1872 Taylor invested $70,000 in the business, building a new distillery. It changed hands once or twice on the way to Prohibition in 1920. As the Stagg Distillery, it had a license to produce and sell medicinal bourbon – I thought it was all medicinal – and was one of only four distilleries in the country to have such a license. 

The country came to its senses in 1933, repealing Prohibition. Fires, floods and a succession of superintendents dotted the chronological landscape over the decades as the distillery continued to expand. Before it was renamed Buffalo Trace, for the trail the migrating buffalo herds burned across the area on their way to the Great Plains, it was most recently called Ancient Age. 

Our tour guide was more excited about bourbon than I am.
How's that for a history lesson? I learned all of that from our very animated tour guide as we strolled the distillery grounds for an hour.

I didn't realize when at a buddy's house in Knoxville on Tuesday evening that I was tasting several of the bourbons produced at Buffalo Trace.
Today Buffalo Trace produces what many regard as some of the best bourbons available. It's product list reads like a bourbon Who's Who: Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee, Colonel E.H. Taylor, W.L. Weller, Blanton's and Pappy Van Winkle, along with several others.

The more exclusive labels are bottled by hand.
This was the best and most informative distillery tour I've experienced. I highly recommend it if you find yourself motoring across Kentucky at some point. 

Each of these barrels contains about 250 bottles of bourbon and weighs roughly 500 pounds when the aging process begins.
Not to mention at the tour's end we were treated to a swig of Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace. Mmmmm...bourbon....


  1. Haven't had a Hot Brown in years. There was a restaurant (attached to a bowling alley and pool room, if I recall correctly) in Bloomington, Ind., where I had my first. My boss had worked in Louisville for a stretch and introduced it to me. If only there was a place down here that had the Hot Brown and the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, I would be set for lunch for the rest of my life!

  2. I have a recipe for Hot Browns that I'd be happy to forward to you. I actually make them once in a while. There aren't very many places any more that make really good ones. The sauce is tricky and, I suspect, more trouble than most busy kitchens want to deal with.