By Isaac Novak.
The alarm rings. It’s 7am. I’m out of bed, well rested, but tiredly slipping into my bib shorts, cleats, and t-shirt. I sling my camera over my shoulder, pull my bright pink cap on, attach my saddlebag to my seat, and clack out of my room. Fellow coworker Jordan Trout comes down shortly after and we load our bikes into our minivan to make our way to the Bourbon Basecamp. It’s day one of the Bourbon Country Burn and we’re stoked with excitement as to what awaits us in this multi-day tour around Kentucky’s Horse Capital of the World!
Some spooooooooky participants at Base Camp.
Pulling into basecamp, we watch as groups of riders make their way out of tents, RVs, and cars and pedal through a large inflatable banner.
The mini donuts were a popular option for pre-ride carbs.
Food trucks stand by offering morning donuts, coffee, and breakfast sandwiches. After a bite to eat, we take off under the banner. The Bourbon Country Burn isn’t a race, a gran fondo or an ultra endurance tour. The premise of the whole event is a casual choose-your-own-adventure fun ride. Each day participants are given a host of routes to choose from that range between 25 to 100 miles. While some routes give you a tour of Kentucky’s rural landscape, the majority of others are routed to showcase famous Bourbon distilleries as well as the beautiful rolling pasture lands.
Jordan with her on-brand drawstring backpack!
Our route for day one took us along the Lexington Legacy Trail - a 12-mile shared use greenway trail that starts from the Kentucky Horse Park (the location of Bourbon Basecamp) and makes it’s way into downtown Lexington, KY.
As we pedaled our way into Lexington, we watched as the sun rose and cast its golden haze onto beautiful old barns and the autumnal changing leaves that gracefully fell onto the path.
Rounding a field of horses we came upon our first distillery of the day - Bluegrass Distillers.
Bluegrass Distillers is one of the smaller, more artisanal makers found in Lexington.
Parking our bikes on the racks outside, we were welcomed by a black and white splotched cat named Tipsy who aloofly led us inside.
A group of riders from all over the Midwest.
The interior of Bluegrass Distillers was decorated with a stunning glossy wood bar, hanging bulb lights that used their bourbon bottles for the glass and of course their bourbon barrels - some full of aging bourbon.
Jordan's a bourbon fan and encouraged me to try a few different ones to get a feeling of how aging changes the flavor profile.
Jordan and I were each given a flight of bourbon to taste. The flight included a wheat, a rye and a cider-finished bourbon. Part of this trip, for me, was meant to be an introduction into trying and experiencing the good quality bourbon of Kentucky. After trying 15 different kinds of Bourbon throughout the weekend, I garnered a better understanding for the process, history, and different tastes and flavors of Kentucky bourbon.
Enjoying my bourbon with a generous splash of ginger ale.
Finishing the tasters, we hopped back onto our bikes and pedaled to the next and final distillery of the day - Town Branch Distillery (also known as Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company).
Navigating through downtown Lexington, we soon came across this multi building facility with large metal pipes that crossed over the intersecting street. Entering the visitor’s center we found ourselves gazing upon a multitude of Irish pub-esque facades and a gift shop that held an array of bourbons, beers and trinkets. However, within seconds we were on a tour that first showcased a short film that documented the companies history before directing us to the next building - Lexington Brewing.
Here we were shown the large containers brewing a variety of different beers that we soon tried in a private tasting room. From coffee barrel stouts to bourbon barrel ale, we were invited to use any number of our four tokens to try a taste of their beers. Unfortunately, due to a high gluten intolerance, I did not partake in these beverages and am unable to give you an accurate measure as too whether the beer was good or not. However, Jordan enjoyed the IPA and others in the tour group were raving about the Bourbon Barrel ale. So give those two a try if you are ever in town!
Finishing the beer tasting, we left Lexington Brewing and entered the last building - the Town Branch Distillery. Here we were given an insight into the process of making Bourbon.
Here’s a quick run down: Bourbon starts off with a mash (crushed grain made from a minimum of 51% corn with malted barley and either rye or wheat making up the other portion) that is set out to sour overnight and then added to a new batch of mash. Next: water. Filtered through Kentucky’s abundant limestone aquifers, water quality is crucial to good bourbon and is added to the mixture so the starch in the grain can be cooked and the developing sugar extracted. This mixture is then put inside grain cookers for a short while before having patented yeast added. Once this step is complete and the mixture has cooled, it can be transferred into a fermenter along with added yeast. The following measure, takes the fermented mixture and puts it into a column still for distillation. I got a bit lost on the specifics of how all this works, but once the mixture is distilled to an appropriate point, it is sealed into brand new, charred, white oak barrels and left to age for at least two years. Once two years have passed, the bourbon is bottled at between 80 and 125 proof and shipped off to retailers.
The tour ends with a tasting of Town Branch’s bourbons, rum, floral gin (which I really enjoyed), and a dessert liqueur poured with heavy cream.
Exiting Town Branch, we head back to the Bourbon Basecamp in the rising Kentucky heat. Rolling in, we see loads of other cyclists passing by. Some are heading to their cars, while others make their way over to the massage station to relax and have that lactic acid worked out of their aching muscles. Jordan and I grab our VIP tickets to tonight’s Exclusive Bourbon Tasting and then head over to Red State BBQ to grab a bite of Lexington’s best barbecue. Holy cannoli. Red State BBQ arguably has some of the best brisket and array of bbq sauces that I have ever tried. OOF! Amazing. Definitely recommend. Shortly thereafter, we are back to our hotel, showering, relaxing, and - for me - editing and uploading photos to our social media channels. After it's all posted, we head out for tonight’s VIP tasting.
Entering the basecamp it is quite dark. The only lights come from strands of bulb lights around the Bourbon tasting tents (which offer tastes of Bourbon from distilleries that were visited on today’s routes), the dining hall tent, the music pavilion, and fake campfires (fake because there was a fire ban due to the immense drought that the region was facing at this time). We sit and listen to some Bluegrass radiating from the music pavilion till it’s around 8pm when we head into the VIP tent.
Here Jefferson’s has set out five different kinds of Bourbon to try for each person. Each kind of bourbon comes with a backstory on the process and different strategies used to distill, age and finish their bourbon to create distinct and unique flavors. One of the most interesting stories I heard was how they have started to age their bourbon on ships whose ocean voyages range from skimming the coast line of the United States to crossing the Pacific Ocean over to Hitchinaka, Japan. According to the head of Research and Development, the caramelizing of the sugars in the barrel combined with the constant motion of the ship resulted in a dark bourbon with a briny, savory taste aged beyond its years. In closing we were given shark fin ice cube trays in remembrance of the ocean voyages and Jefferson’s partnership with globally recognized nonprofit OCEARCH - an organization dedicated to the study and tracking of keystone marine species such as great white sharks and tiger sharks. That night, back at the hotel, we looked at possible routes for day two and went to bed in anticipation for the adventures of tomorrow.