Category Archives: Tours

Four Roses Warehouse and Bottling Tour at Cox’s Creek

Four Roses Cox's Creek Warehouse and Bottling Facility
Four Roses Cox’s Creek Warehouse and Bottling Facility

The year prior we toured the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, so when we were in Bardstown I wanted to be sure to see the other part of their operation in Cox’s Creek. Daily, big tanker trucks full of distillate make the drive from Lawrenceburg to the Warehouse and Bottling facility. The cargo is put into barrels and rolled into warehouses. When ready, those barrels are also dumped and bottled here.

One of Four Roses' warehouses
One of Four Roses’ warehouses

Four Roses opened a new visitors center here in 2014. Most visitors check out the distillery, but there’s plenty to see out in Cox’s Creek to be worth the drive. Cox’s Creek is just a short drive up from Bardstown and a few minutes from Jim Beam. We were planning to drive up to Louisville for the day, so we were there for the opening. It was a crisp fall morning and we were the only people ready for Bourbon at 9 AM, so we got a private tour.

We jumped into a big cargo van and drove to the barreling facility. Here they both fill new barrels and dump old barrels. Work was well underway so we got plenty of time to watch a lot of barrels be emptied. At Four Roses there are two lines where Small Batch and the regular Yellow Label are dumped. Selected barrels are lined up in a row, un-bunged, rolled, and then dumped into a trough. There’s a smaller trough for single barrel selections, whether done for the Four Roses Single Barrel or the Private Selection for stores or the gift shop.

Plate filter and chilling tank
Plate filter and chilling tank on the left

Once emptied, the Bourbon is transferred to a filtering process. While all the Bourbon is paper filtered for barrel sediment, all Four Roses Bourbon except for the Private Selection are also chill filtered. Chill filtering is the process of crashing the temperature of the Bourbon down to precipitate compounds out of solution. If this step isn’t done, the condition may happen in the glass when chilled with ice. Largely this isn’t necessary for Bourbon of more than 90-proof or so, but Four Roses processes all its standard product this way. Personally, I prefer non-chill filtered and a little haze wouldn’t bother me in the least.

Four Roses old bottling line
Four Roses old bottling line

From there, the bottling line is just the next room over. Four Roses is building a new bottling facility that will sit just behind this complex of buildings. The old line is very small and on the day we visited they were having issues with the labeler. From the sound and looks of things, I think everyone at Four Roses is excited for a new modern bottling line.

Looking down the center of a Four Roses warehouse
Looking down the center of a Four Roses warehouse

From the barreling and bottling area, we jumped back into the van and drove over to a warehouse. As I’ve written before, Four Roses’ warehouses are unique to other distilleries. Built by Seagram’s, the warehouses were intended to be a central hub for Bourbon made in Seagram’s various distilleries in Kentucky. The warehouses have a unique design of long single story buildings. Typically Bourbon rick houses are five or six stories high. In the Kentucky weather, each story is its own microclimate and it greatly affects the aging of Bourbon. Four Roses doesn’t have the same type of variation with a single story structure.

Racks in the warehouses stacked six high
Racks in the warehouses stacked six high

Still, there is a lot of variation to be found. While the warehouses are single floor, barrels are stacked six high. Even on the same floor, there are significant differences between the lower and upper barrels. With the Private Selection, you can observe this in the barrel proof with the lower barrels losing less water and resulting in lower alcohol and the upper with high alcohol content. Other changes are likely related to where barrels are stored. The warehouses are very large and central barrels likely experience less variation still than those nearer the walls.

What’s great about Four Roses is all this information is on their Single Barrel and Private Selections. You can know which warehouse by letter, the direction (north, south, east, west) the barrel’s nearest wall, which rack its on by letter and finally it’s tier 1-6. Between its 10 recipes and unique barrel aging, Four Roses says it’s happy to be so transparent because it’s confident no one can duplicate what they do.

After we had looked at enough full barrels, we got back into the van and headed to the gift shop. The tour ended with tastings of the Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel. Along with the tasting, you keep to keep your glass, which is a nice heavy rocks glass with the Four Roses logo on the bottom. These are my favorite Bourbon glasses and you can only get one by doing the tasting.

Inside the gift shop they have the various Bourbon and Kentucky trinkets. The big draw is the Private Selection bottles available for sale. When we were there, long-time master distiller Jim Rutledge had just retired and there had been a run on barrels he picked. The distillery was sold out, but Cox’s Creek had a bunch. I picked up a bottle from Jim’s last barrel selection and one of Brent Elliot’s (the new master distiller) first picks.

I’m a Four Roses fan, so this was a must stop for me, but it’s also worth making the drive if you’re around Bardstown or checking out Jim Beam. I’ll be curious to stop by again some day to see their new bottling line and get some more glasses.

Visited September 2015

Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour

Buffalo Trace Distillery Overview

Buffalo Trace Distillery Warehouse C
Buffalo Trace Distillery Warehouse C
Buffalo Trace Distillery Warehouse W
Buffalo Trace Distillery Warehouse W
Buffalo Trace Distillery Experimental Col EH Taylor Jr Barrel
Buffalo Trace Distillery Experimental Col EH Taylor Jr Barrel
Buffalo Trace Distillery Blanton's Bottling Line
Buffalo Trace Distillery Blanton’s Bottling Line
Buffalo Trace Distillery Blanton's Bottling Line
Buffalo Trace Distillery Blanton’s Bottling Line
Buffalo Trace Distillery Warehouse H
Buffalo Trace Distillery Warehouse H

There are an assortment of tour types available at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The standard tour you’ll get if you walk up to the gift shop is what we experienced. We tried reserving the Hard Hat Tour three weeks out, but it was booked. The Hard Hat tour seems widely praised and sounds like you get the factory production tour that’s typical of most other distilleries.

Other tours are a historical landmark tour, a barrel aging tour, and lastly a ghost tour, which sounds kind of fun. All tours end with a tasting.

The company claims early settlers first distilled on the site in 1775 and whiskey has been produced there since 1787. The name Buffalo Trace is a reference to where buffalo once crossed the Kentucky River. Prior to called Buffalo Trace Distillery, it was the George T Stagg Distillery and before that Old Fire Copper Distillery. Across from the Visitor’s Center is Warehouse C, which has OFC branded in the brick.

Buffalo Trace Distillery has sort of a amusement park feel. We parked our car in a good-sized parking lot that was packed. Lots of people were walking around and there was a special kind of energy in the air. The tour is free and we waited a few moments out front for the group to form. We were then led into a small room off of Warehouse D, I believe. In the room there was makeshift seating of old church pews, park benches, and chairs. The room is decorated with various old-timey equipment. A short history/marketing video is viewed and then we’re led through a door hidden behind a shelf into the warehouse.

The warehouse is like any other warehouse, oddly cool on a hot day, packed with barrels, and that familiar smell of musty old wood, corn, and alcohol. Each barrel head is stamped with various brands, so it’s fun to spot stuff. There were a number labeled with red experimental stickers that was kind of neat to see.

After the warehouse, we were led to the Blanton’s bottling hall where they were bottling up Blanton’s. The room was an interesting low volume production. A handful of people by hand pulled bottles out of their boxes, filled them six at a time, hand corked them, then carefully applied wax to the seal the corks. The process here is they place a cardboard collar on the bottle to catch any dripped wax and apply the wax with sort of mounted pen applicator. Also interesting is, if you didn’t know, each bottle of Blanton’s has one of 8 different corks depicting a horse and jockey running in various poses. There’s no method to corking the bottles, the worker simply grabs one out of a box. From there the bottle continues down the line to be boxed up.

After the bottling room, we were led into the visitor center for our tasting. Offered was Buffalo Trace, White Dog, Eagle Rare, and Bourbon Cream. To cap it off you get a chilled Bourbon Ball. The wife loved the Bourbon Cream and Bourbon Ball.

The gift shop didn’t have anything special and basically offered what they had tasting. I think they said they normally carry Blanton’s but were out, which is a juxtaposition of the silliness of the three tier system with the bottling operation a few feet away. Also in the gift shop was various trinkets and branded merch. I was interested in getting a cool charred barrel stave for collecting those Blanton’s toppers, but they were out. (Wife ordered me one for the following Christmas. She’s a keeper). You can also cheat and buy the toppers in the gift shop.

Bottom Line

Buffalo Trace Distillery grounds are well groomed and it’s cool seeing some of famous warehouses. Such as that Warehouse C where the tornado took the roof off. That damage was turned into a marketing win for a limited run of EH Taylor Jr “Tornado Surviving” Bourbon. Towards the end of the parking lot you can see Warehouse H where Blanton’s is aged. H is metal clad and being metal it gets warmer, which should accelerate aging profiles. Warehouse H was constructed for this reason after prohibition to get some Bourbon aging quickly.

The tour isn’t anything particularly special or informative, but considering Buffalo Trace’s footprint in the Bourbon world, it’s eventually a must see. Plus, it’s hard to beat the price of free. The Buffalo Trace Distillery isn’t on the official Bourbon Trail, so perhaps they’re passing savings from membership fees to visitors. With all of the popular Bourbon brands made/bottled there and judging from the crowd, they don’t need much help attracting visitors.

The tour took about an hour, but it all depends on the group. If you want to hang around the tasting room, browse the gift shop and wander the grounds a bit, plan at least 90 minutes. Next time I want to check out the Hard Hat Tour and Ghost Tour.

Buffalo Trace Distillery
113 Great Buffalo Trace
Frankfort, KY 40601

Tour Date: September 2014

 

Four Roses Distillery Tour

Overview

Four Roses Distillery Sign
Four Roses Distillery Sign
Four Roses Distillery Filling a Fermenter
Four Roses Distillery Filling a Fermenter
Four Roses Distillery Active Fermenter
Four Roses Distillery Active Fermenter
Four Roses Distillery Fermentation Room
Four Roses Distillery Fermentation Room
Four Roses Distillery
Four Roses Distillery
Four Roses Distillery Tail Box
Four Roses Distillery Tail Box
Four Roses Gift Shop
Four Roses Gift Shop

Distilleries typically emphasis what they think makes them unique, and Four Roses Distillery has a few things going for it. The distillery itself is a cool looking Spanish Mission style architecture. The grounds were also very nice.

My tour consisted of a an introduction, a short video, a tour of the production facilities, and a tasting. Finally you walk through the gift shop.

The introduction covers the basic mythology of the Four Roses brand and uniqueness of its 10 recipes of 5 yeasts and two high rye mashes. Four Roses is also a little unique in that their warehouses are single floor buildings. In theory, the single floor aging generate less variation between barrels without any rotation between floors. The company story is the founder Paul Jones Jr named his Four Roses distillery after the love of his life. He had asked her to marry him multiple times and each time she said no. Finally he delivered an ultimatum that he will ask one more time and if she says no he will never ask again. She told him to meet her at a ball and he will give him his answer. At the ball he got his yes answer while she wore a corsage of four roses. Lastly, Four Roses Distillery has an interesting history from producing one of if not the best selling Bourbons in America to exporting its entire production. When current owners Kirin purchased the distillery, they agreed to reintroduce the distillery’s Bourbon in the USA under the Four Roses brand.
The group was then led outdoors where our guide pointed out the warehouses across the street that were once Four Roses warehouses back in the day, but was at some point sold to nearby Wild Turkey. We saw water that was diverted from the Salt river entering the facility for cooling. Outside is a nice Four Roses barrel display which makes for a prime photo op. We saw a truck filling with distillate that was presumably heading to Four Roses Cox Creek warehouse facility about an hour away. Our guide also pointed out a small shack where each grain/cereal shipment is samples for quality prior to acceptance. If I remember, they source their GMO-free corn from Indiana, barley from Minnesota, and rye from Denmark.

The tour of the plant was pretty interesting. The group was guided through the plant’s stairs and catwalks. We got to see the fermentation area where big cypress vats held beer in various stages of fermentation. We were invited to taste the fermentation, if we wanted. We were led around pathways with many visual warnings for steps and hot things. We saw the still, yeast tub, and tail box.

After the production tour we were led into a tasting room where we were taunted by some famous Four Roses Limited Edition bottles behind glass. Alas, our guide didn’t uncork any of that, but we did get to try their standard three bottles of Four Roses Yellow Label, Four Roses Small Batch, and Four Roses Single Barrel. After the tasting we got to keep a nice Four Roses rocks tumbler.

Finally we were released into the gift shop where we found many
Bourbon-themed trinkets and Four Roses branded merchandize. The prize though was the case of private Four Roses selection picked by then Master Distiller Jim Rutledge. When I was there in 2014, nine out of the ten recipes were available and all I can say is it was probably a good thing my wife was there to force some restraint. I picked up three bottles to round out my collection of all 10 recipes. I picked up a OBSQ, OESK, and OESV. All were very nice as anyone would expect.

Bottom Line:

Four Roses Distillery Tour gives a good look at the production process including the still and fermentation area. You get led through the production floor of the distillery. The down side is there’s no warehouse or bottling, but that is available as a separate tour at their Cox Creek facility. I you visit within 2 months, your distillery tour ticket gets you into the Cox Creek tour for free.

If I remember, the tour ran about an hour, including a short browse in the gift shop. The $5 price w/ tasting and a nice glass make it a good value and well worth the drive.

The gift shop barrel selection is a great reason to stop, however, if you call around to stores in Lexington and Louisville you can probably find similar store picks. Liquor Barn locations seem to usually have something. The picks all usually very good and can be $5-$10 or so cheaper than gift store bottles. Something to consider if you’re heading out there just for some barrel-proof goodness. It’s also probably worth calling ahead to make sure they have what you want stocked before making the drive.

Four Rose Distillery
1224 Bonds Mill Road
Lawrenceburg, KY 40342

Toured: September 2014