As the last of the Shakers left their central-Kentucky village — or died — in the early 1900s, their village fell into private hands and became known as Shakertown. Some buildings were given new uses, others were left to rot.
The same kind of determination and hard work the Shakers put into building their village went into restoring it. Some buildings were beyond saving, and some were already gone, but those that remain are a living look back into this religious sect and its way of life. Read a little bit about their history here.
My camera’s battery died just a few photographs into our tour of the Woodford Reserve Distillery, between Frankfort and Versailles in central Kentucky. It’s a shame, because the place is so picturesque. I would have liked to photograph it extensively.
The distillery is also historic, one of the oldest in Kentucky. Known previously as the Labrot and Graham Distillery and before that the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, whiskey has been made here since 1812. Woodford Reserve is a Johnny-come-lately on the scene, having been distilled only since 1996.
Thanks to my iPhone for making it possible to document this visit at all. Here are Woodford Reserve’s famous copper pot stills, and also my wife Margaret from behind.
Those pot stills make up only part of Woodford Reserve bourbon. The rest of it comes from the column stills of the Brown-Forman distillery in suburban Louisville, an hour to the west.
Its rickhouse, where the bourbon barrels are left to age, is unusual in that it’s made of stone. So many are made of wood.
One odd thing I noticed is that barrels in the rickhouse, the ones I could see anyway, carried distillery number DSP-KY-52. But newer barrels, including ones recently filled, bore the number DSP-KY-15018. This must be something quite new, as an Internet search on DSP-KY-15018 turns up nothing. A search on DSP-KY-52 returns all sorts of references to the Woodford Reserve Distillery. I wish I’d asked the tour guide about it.
As a fellow who is seriously into bourbon, I appreciate a bar with a wide selection that includes some esoteric whiskies. But Woodford Reserve is a very nice bourbon, and most every bar carries it. Anywhere I go, I’m perfectly happy with a pour of Woodford Reserve. Neat, of course.
Nestled amid the rolling hills of central Kentucky, 25 miles southwest of Lexington, you’ll find a village built and occupied by members of the Shaker religious sect from 1805 to 1910. Many of the buildings they built still stand, most of them in restored condition. It’s a remarkable collection of structures, suggesting a large and vibrant community. Here are many of the doors from Shaker Village. It’s a tourist destination today; where you see Open signs on the doors, it means visitors are invited in to wander and explore.
Early evening at Shaker Village Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2019
Margaret and I get away four times a year for a long weekend, usually in March, June, September, and December. Margaret started a new job recently and its demands will sadly keep us from our usual December visit to Chicago. To compensate we made two trips this summer, one to her hometown of St. Charles, Illinois, a few weeks ago, and one to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky over Labor Day weekend.
I’ll share more from Shaker Hill in posts to come, but in short the Shaker religious sect arrived here in 1805 and built quite a village of stone, brick, and wood frame buildings. They were innovative, building a system of running water throughout the village; the yellow buildings on the right were part of that system. They also lived communally; the stone building was one of three major houses the people lived in.
Today it’s a tourist destination with lodging on site. We stayed in a room in what had once been the East Family Wash House. The houses were named for their relative geographic location in the village, the people who lived in each house were called a family, and each family had a building in which they did their laundry. Innovatively, their laundry facility was horse powered, reducing the human manual labor of washing all those clothes and linens!
Margaret and I have been to enough bourbon distilleries now to know the drill: first the vats of sour mash, then the still(s), then the rickhouses where the bourbon ages in barrels, then the tasting. Up to now, it’s always all been in a pastoral setting among Kentucky’s gently rolling hills. But the Old Forester Distillery is different: it’s in downtown Louisville.
You’ll find a few other distilleries up and down Main Street and on adjacent blocks, making downtown Louisville a burgeoning whiskey center. It was one before Prohibition, but that misstep in American history decimated Kentucky’s whiskey industry and sent many distillers into bankruptcy.
For a long time Old Forester was distilled and bottled at a facility just outside Louisville proper. But there’s gold in them thar whikey-tourism hills and Old Forester led the way in returning to Louisville’s famous Whiskey Row. Stepping onto this street feels very much like returning to 1870.
Little of the original building remains behind its facade. This is a modern facility through and through. Every bit of it is tourist-friendly.
Here we are peering into one of the vats of fermenting sour mash. It looks like a giant corn muffin.
Here’s one of the vats, empty, ready for a new batch.
Old Forester’s parent company, Brown-Forman, is the last independently-owned distiller in the nation. They own a whole bunch of liquor brands, including Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve. Brown-Forman is further unique in that they own their own cooperage — they make their own barrels. The main cooperage is elsewhere in Kentucky, but for us tourists a cooper makes a few barrels at the Old Forester site.
To be considered a bourbon, a whiskey must be made of at least 51% corn and must be aged in new barrels made of oak and charred inside. Here’s a barrel getting its char.
After the whiskey has been distilled, it’s clear, essentially moonshine. They pour it into a barrel, seal it with a bung, and let it age in a warehouse. To be a bourbon, it must age for at least two years. Here a barrel is being emptied, on its way to being bottled.
Here’s the Old Forester bottling machine, doing its stuff.
Every bourbon distillery tour ends with tasting some of the product. Old Forester uses the same sour mash mixture to make a number of bourbons, including their original 86-proof bourbon (left). They age their distillate in different ways and for different lengths of time to get their other bourbons, including Old Forester 1897 (center) and Old Forester 1920 (right).
The folks at Old Forester kept the tour fun and quick, and at $18 per adult it’s not terribly expensive. If ever you’re on Whiskey Row, do step inside.