A Trip To the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

A Trip To the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

So as I mentioned before, Jen and I had an amazing time at the second annual Bourbon Classic last year (for a recap of 2014, please read Part One and Part Two here), and decided to return to Downtown Louisville for the event again last week.  Tickets were purchased, hotel reservations were made, and last Friday, we made the drive down from Detroit.

We arrived midday and, since the Classic doesn’t begin until 7pm, looked to enjoy a little more bourbon culture prior to the main event.  We were staying at the 21c Museum Hotel close to the event, so we decided to stay close and check out the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience that opened in 2013 right on Main Street.

No, it's not real bourbon - the lobby of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
No, it’s not real bourbon – the lobby of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is part of the official “Kentucky Bourbon Trail,” but it is not a distillery.  Rather, it’s a sort of museum dedicated to the history of Evan Williams Bourbon – and whiskey in general – in Louisville.

A tour of the EWBE starts with a short film.  Wall sized projection video is a very big part of the EWBE, and it starts with a bit of background about the bourbon namesake, Evan Williams, himself.  Williams, as the legend goes, was the first commercial whiskey producer in Kentucky, settling in Louisville and starting there.  Like so many of the ‘facts’ around the history of bourbon, the details of William’s life are less than clear, and they are presented in a less than canonical way.

Rather, the show sets the stage for a walk through ‘Louisville past.”  The short film explaining the importance of Louisville as a port (and stopping point on the Ohio River) leads to a room showing what the small town of Louisville might have looked like in 1800, when the whiskey business was just starting in earnest.

This is the ‘experience” part alluded to in the title – Evan Williams Bourbon is actually made at Heaven Hill distillery nearby, before being bottled in Bardstown, KY.  It is not actually made at this location – the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is more of a beginner’s guide to bourbon.

That said they have created a very small micro distillery, that illustrates the wall-scale, step-by-step “How Bourbon is Made” multi media presentation.  Approximately one barrel of whiskey is created there a day, and tour participants are encouraged to sign  the guest book to be alerted when the whiskey of their visit day is matured.

The Heaven Hill Experience Micro-Distillery
The Heaven Hill Experience Micro-Distillery

Subsequent floors (exhibits) show the 1800’s distilling equipment and methods, which serve as a good intro primer to how bourbon is made.

The upper floors focus on Louisville, and Bourbon, through the eras.  A nineteenth century saloon is recreated.  The third floor showcases the “Bottled-In-Bond” Act and it’s importance at the time.  Some Prohibition-era bottles are displayed, along with some recreated era-appropriate storefronts.

Finally, the tour resolves in a tasting of different Heaven Hill products – we had Evan Williams, Evan Williams Single Barrel, and the wheated bourbon Larceny – in the recreation of a 1960’s bar where we learned about the history of Heaven Hill, and by proxy, the Evan Williams brand.  We exited through a gift shop, and our time at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was done.

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour – the cost wasn’t prohibitive, and it was fun.  It certainly wasn’t as in-depth as an actual distillery tour, but in fairness, it didn’t claim to be.  What it certainly did do was serve as the perfect primer for the main event – The Bourbon Classic!

scrooge
A text exchange between myself and friend/bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister…

 

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

It’s been a little quiet around here at Baseball and Bourbon, although not for a lack of activity.  In the last month, I’ve taken a few short trips, and have a few more coming up.  A visit to Maryland and Washington DC last month allowed me to both hunt down some bourbons and ryes that I hadn’t been able to find in Michigan, and take in a ballgame at Nationals Park in DC. Next week, I’ve been lucky enough to (thanks to my sister and mother) procure tickets to the Pappy For Your Pappy event at Buffalo Trace for the second year.  Lot’s of exciting things to write about! But more immediately, my wife and I spent last weekend in Northern Michigan for the wedding of our friends Brandon and Julie.  In between the fudge on Mackinac Island and some para-sailing, we had a chance to visit the Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City!

Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey
Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey

I’ve sampled the wares of the Grand Traverse Distillery several times, including making their bourbon my Bourbon of the Week in August of 2013.  I’m also fond of their Cherry Flavored Whiskey as a fun mixer.  So when we decided to visit Traverse City, Michigan as part of our trip, a stop in seemed in order.

The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery
The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery

The first thing that will surprise you on visit is that the Distillery has a less than picturesque location.  That is to say it’s in the middle of an industrial park on the outskirts of Traverse City, in a less-than-glamorous warehouse looking building.  I was afraid I had taken us to the wrong location, but upon walking in, knew that I had been correct.  Through the front doors is a lobby/gift shop/tasting room, with a bartender on call to mix a cocktail, give you distillery information and ring up your purchase or tour.  My wife and I each had a cocktail (mine whiskey, hers gin), and we awaited the start of our tour! Now, one thing of note right away is that Grand Traverse DOES actually produce their own bourbon (as opposed to sourcing it).  There are very few distillers in Michigan who can say that (if any?), so as you step into the modest size warehouse their still is all the more impressive. Not only is the Grand Traverse Distillery distilling their own spirits, they use almost exclusively locally sourced grains to do it – their corn, wheat, rye, and obviously cherries, are all locally sourced, The entire area is small enough to take it all in visually in a few minutes, but the step by step walk-through tour is much more in depth.  Our guide showed us where the grains are delivered, the fermenting process, and their copper still, where they make a variety of different products (whiskey, vodka, gin, and hope to introduce a rum soon).

Grand Traverse fermenters
Grand Traverse fermenters
...then, on to the copper still!
…then, on to the copper still!
There is goodness cooking in there!
There is goodness cooking in there!

When explaining their bourbon, it was pointed out that all of their barrels use a number 4 char, and, the average barrel age is about 3 years (although there are some they are holding on to for later release).  The barrels are all stored in the warehouse, which is only moderately temperature controlled (some heat in winter), but they do not rotate or move barrels between sealing and opening.

Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Barreled up
Barreled up

After a 45 minute tour including a question and answer, we retreated back to the tasting room to sample some of the Grand Traverse spirits.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Ole George Rye, and while I still find the Grand Traverse Bourbon a bit rough and tumble, it is still a good quality.  It is a higher rye content than I like in my bourbon, but for those who like spicier notes, it’s a solid choice. They are opening a new tasting room in downtown Traverse City, to match ones they have in other cities around Michigan.  The tour was very enjoyable, and well worth the time and money.  Good job Grand Traverse Distillery – keep doing it well!