Jun 28, 2024 | Rally/Events

A Sip of Kentucky

Peter and I at The Old Talbott Tavern, The Oldest Bourbon Bar in the World

By John Eckardt, BRN 7352
Missouri-Kansas Airstream Club

Discovering the Grapes and Grains Airstream Rally

Around January 2024, I learned of a Grapes and Grains (G&G) Airstream Rally in Frankfort, Kentucky, scheduled for May. The Rally was to center around bourbon. Being a member of the G&G Intra-Club and given the location and topic, I decided to attend. My wife wasn’t interested, so I asked my brother-in-law Peter if he wanted to go. I remember being a little surprised at how quickly he said yes. We signed up.

The Grapes and Grains Intra-Club

According to the WBCCI website, the G&G Intra-Club has a fairly recent existence and only began advertising membership in October 2021. The Club now has over 640 members. Caravans and Rallies focus on tours to places that make and serve beverages made from both grapes and grains.

Old Talbott Tavern outside

Exploring Bardstown, Kentucky

Peter and I decided to spend our first two nights in Bardstown, Kentucky, before joining the Rally in Frankfort. We camped at My Old Kentucky Home State Park RV campground, which is within the City of Bardstown and only a five-minute drive from the town center. The Park centers around the home that inspired Stephen Foster’s song, completed in 1818 and well worth the tour. The home and the 240-acre tract of land were deeded to the state in 1922.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park

The beautiful park contains the mansion, a golf course, an outdoor amphitheater where one can experience a live show of the Stephen Foster Story, and the RV park providing about 40 camping spots. It was my second time staying there, the first being on our way to the International Rally in Lebanon, Tennessee. The campground is well-established, safe, and quaint, but be cautious choosing a site there as some of the slopes are labeled “severe” on their website. They mean it.

Tour of Willett Distillery

Charring of a barrel

Touring a Fermentation Room

Bardstown – Bourbon Capital of the World

Bardstown, a town of 14,000 people, is known as the Bourbon Capital of the World and has over 300 buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places. If you visit for the bourbon, you can’t help but notice the town’s southern charm. If you visit for the town’s history and beauty, you can’t help but notice the bourbon. Lucky for us, we were there for both.

Touring Distilleries in Bardstown

During our two days, we toured the Old Talbott Tavern and the Heaven Hill, Willett, and Lux Row distilleries. There were three additional distilleries in town, but we didn’t have time to tour them. The Old Talbott Tavern was built in 1779 and is an excellent example of Flemish bond stonework. It was strategically located on an important stagecoach stop and has served notable figures like Andrew Jackson, a young Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse James, who reportedly shot at bird images on the wallpaper when he thought they were moving.

Joining the Rally in Frankfort

It was Thursday before we knew it, and we were off to meet our Rally companions in Frankfort at the Elkhorn Creek RV Park. We arrived and were greeted by a total of 28 Airstreams and 48 Rally participants. I later found out that both the founding G&G President, Mark Kruer, his wife Karen, and the current President, David Lorenz, and his wife Denise were also attending the rally.

Understanding Bourbon

First, we had to define bourbon. All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons. For whiskey to be called bourbon, Federal Standards state that the following six requirements must be met:

  • Must be made in the United States
  • Must contain 51 percent corn
  • Must be aged in new oak charred barrels
  • Must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125-proof
  • Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof
  • Must not contain any added flavoring, coloring, or other additives

The Bourbon-Making Process

Our group toured several distilleries and found much the same process. The typical grains used included corn, barley, and rye. Kentucky is ideal for distilling because of the climate and water. The climate, with its temperature swings and precipitation, and the heating and cooling aspects within the Rickhouses, is favorable. The water, filtered through underground limestone, is hard and high in mineral content, said to bond with the alcohol’s carbohydrates, leading to a smooth product.

From Mash Bill to Aging

The master distiller determines a mash bill or recipe for how much corn, barley, and rye to use. More corn adds sweetness, while more rye adds a peppery sensation to the taste and smell. The mash bill is added to water and yeast, then heated until ready for fermentation. Fermenting takes from one to two weeks, after which yeast is added. Once fermentation is complete, the liquid (ethanol) is strained from the solids and used to make bourbon. The liquid is distilled by heating and vaporizing it, then collecting the vapor as it condenses. The resulting liquid is aged for no less than two years in a 53-gallon barrel. We toured some Rickhouses storing bourbon barrels that were six stories high. Others are nine stories, holding 20,000 barrels or roughly 1 million gallons of bourbon.

Filling our own Bottle at Lawrenceburg Distilling Co.

Barrels aging inside of a Rickhouse

A Tasting at Four Roses

Bourbon Tasting Experience

Tours also included a tasting—usually at the end. Fortunately for us, the Distiller’s license limited each person’s tasting to a maximum of 1.75 oz per visit. It adds up after four distilleries per day. Some guides would talk about the bourbon being affected by the specific mash bill, the limestone in the soil, the amount of fire charring that their barrels received (between a scale of 1 and 4), the type of yeast used, or the alcohol content. In a suggestive and serious tone, we were asked if we could taste vanilla, caramel, wood, spice, cinnamon, cloves, or pepper in some particular distiller’s bourbon. According to Verywell Health, the adult tongue has between 2,000 and 4,000 taste buds. Taste buds detect sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory (like meat). I figure I’m down to about 1,000 taste buds given my age and other things. Peter and my conversations at this point during the tasting would go like this: Me: “Peter, do you taste cinnamon or cloves like she said?” Peter: “No, not really, do you?” Me: “No, but I really like it. Let’s get a bottle!” Peter: “Okay, good idea!”

Highlights of the Rally

Although there were many highlights, my favorite stop was at the Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company, where the owner of this relatively new distillery opened an aged barrel of bourbon and offered anyone in our group to fill their own bottle with a whiskey thief. A whiskey thief is a tool used to extract small portions of whiskey through the bung hole of a barrel. The line was long for this opportunity, and the bottle is now sitting very nicely in my liquor cabinet.

An Unforgettable Experience

Peter and I had an educational and wonderful six-day experience in a beautiful part of our country with 48 new Airstream friends. It was an experience we will not forget. A special thanks goes out to those planning this event, especially the founders and Past President, Mark Kruer, his wife Karen. Also, thanks to the Woodland Airstream RV Dealership for their presentation and support, and the Frankfort Bourbon Society for their presentation. As a WBCCI member, if you are interested, please consider joining the Grapes and Grains Intra-Club and check out any of the “Sip Ofs” Rallies offered throughout the country. You will not be disappointed, no matter what condition your taste buds are in.

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