Guest Post: Industry Trends – Tour Experiences

We are excited to bring you a guest post on current industry trends from Bardstown Bourbon. Stay tuned - we hope to have more guest posts from our ISC Barrels customers in the future. 

Spirit Industry Trends - Tour Experiences

Guest Post by Dan Callaway  |  Vice President, Hospitality & Product Development, Bardstown Bourbon

Dan Callaway, Bardstown Bourbon

The most important trend in the modern Bourbon industry is the need for distilleries to create on-site elevated experiences to connect with consumers and build fans of their brand. Large investments are being made by the major players to renovate and expand their visitor centers. Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, and Willett are all making significant upgrades to serve their guests, adding restaurants to provide a complete beverage, culinary, and distilling experience. These investments bring an opportunity to create, to fashion new ways for guests to experience bourbon. The successful visitor experience will be the one that educates through hands-on, tactile engagement. Gone are the days of a 45-minute lecture, the modern experience is a hands-on, interactive connection.

We designed our Visitors Center at Bardstown Bourbon Company with a mission to build immersive, interactive and engaging tours. We did not want to simply shepherd guests through a loud production floor, we wanted them to engage - touch, taste, smell, and truly learn about our spirits. With that vision in mind, we created “Honey Spot Barrel Thieving”, an opportunity to evaluate the varying impacts of oak and grain on whiskey. The experience takes place in the heart of our rickhouse, surrounded by American oak and the indelible impressions of Bourbon Country.

Nick Smith, Bardstown Bourbon Head Distiller

When guests enter Rickhouse A, they immediately notice the change in temperature. Coming from the warm May sunshine they are greeted by the cool, dark environment of the first floor. This recognizable difference drives home the importance of natural aging. Season to season and floor to floor, the changes in temperature guide the expansion and contraction of the barrels, aging the bourbon in unique ways.

Three barrels are lined in the walkway in the heart of the rickhouse, a wheated bourbon, a rye bourbon, and a true rye. The purpose is to taste directly from each barrel and discuss the differences in flavoring grain. The barrels are purposely chosen at a young age, around 2-3 years. We taste at this stage because the differences are more apparent. The oak has sweetened, softened, and mellowed the pure distillate but has not overtaken the original nature of the grains. These differences will become more subdued as the vanilla, baking spice, and caramel take over in later years. In the early stages the contrasts are striking.

The first barrel is a wheated bourbon. The majority of the mash bill is corn, while the secondary or flavoring grain is 20% wheat. Wheat is a passive grain that lets the sweet corn through. Guests feel this sweetness on the tip of their tongue, the finish is smooth with a gentle lift. We compare this tasting experience to that of a rye bourbon. A rye bourbon has grip, stick, sizzle, and bite. The rye will cling to the back and sides of your palate with a lingering finish. When wheat and rye bourbons are tasted in succession at a young age, there is a tangible difference in flavor and finish that can then be applied in a tasting of 10-year products. Where wheat makes for a smooth sipper, the spice of rye can stand up to vermouth and punch along with ginger. The final barrel in the lineup is a true rye whiskey that represents everything green. Mint, dill, with an evergreen finish define this pour. Additionally, there is a remarkable difference in aging, rye develops more rapidly than wheat and will often become a finished product at a younger age.

We then take this knowledge of aging and flavoring grains into a tasting of our Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion blend. This blend is a fusion between young 3-4 yr. bourbon from our stills and sourced 13 yr. Kentucky bourbon. Guests are able to recognize the distinct fruit and spice of the young bourbon but in a balanced, smooth pour. We discuss the aroma, flavor, and finish applying the tasting notes from the previous three young barrels.

Honey Spot Barrel Thieving is an opportunity to break down a bourbon into its grain components and discuss the impact of aging. It is our opportunity to share the innovation, collaboration, and transparency that goes into our whiskey. Most importantly, it gives us a chance to connect with our guests, surrounded by barrels, in the Bourbon Capital of the World.

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