On the Bourbon Trail:
See all of our Frankfort stops on a Google Map!
The Kentucky Derby is run the 1st Saturday in May.
Mint Julep Recipe
We also took some time in Frankfort to see Frank Lloyd
Wright's only structure in Kentucky: The Ziegler House. It was listed
on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
More about the Ziegler House and other Frank Lloyd Wright sites.
Read about an excursion to another state capitol: Springfield, Illinois
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Mon-Fri: 9am - 3pm
Sat: 10am - 2pm
Tours start on the hour.
For more information visit:
See all of our Frankfort stops on a Google Map!
To The Islands
A Double Tribute
Spirit of Peoria
As an introduction, allow me to enter just a bit of background about Kentucky.
The state name seems to have either Iroquois
or Shawnee origin, perhaps meaning "meadow". Numerous phonetic spellings
from that heritage, like geda'geh, kenhtà:ke,
even Ken-tah-ten, make it somewhat
easier to see where the spelling of Kentucky came from.
But if anyone were ever to ask:
"What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the
word 'Kentucky' mentioned", what would you say? Mammoth Cave?
Well, perhaps. After all, the signs for it seem to be on every barn and
billboard south of Central Illinois or Indiana.
However, there is
so much more than just caves associated with the Bluegrass State. In a
very long list of activities and attractions available in nine
different areas of the state -- selected for geographical and other
similarities -- one could easily include such diverse interests as horses
(Kentucky Derby Festival, Louisville), Daniel Boone, the
Civil War and even bourbon... at the very least. The full list
includes numerous state parks, several hundred festivals and events,
countless caves, lakes, and plenty of locations that are brimming with a
rich cultural heritage -- all in a state blessed with colorful and
interesting history, showcasing the Unbridled Spirit of the
Commonwealth of Kentucky.
When I recently decided that I wanted to take some time to
discover a bit more about the state that I had driven through many times, but
never bothered to stop in for more than a fresh tank of gas on my way
farther south, I realized it could be a very
difficult task. Promising myself that this time would be different...
I soon realized that there is a really interesting connection
between two of Kentucky's most incredible and valuable resources: water and
thoroughbreds. More on that later... the plan had been set.
It was evident early on that I may
have bitten off more than I could chew in terms of the number of things
that I had chosen to do, but I didn't mind. It is only about six hours
from my house to Louisville, so I figured that a return trip could be easily
accomplished if necessary. Deciding that it might be wiser to take
an extra day on this trip, and not take the route around Chicago and the lake since (1)
construction on Interstate 294 has not yet been completed and (2) we would
lose an hour due to a time change, our first night was spent at a new and
Homewood Suites in Champaign, Illinois, enabling us to get an early
start the next morning from a point closer to our destination. Although we probably drove an extra
80-90 miles by first going west to pick up Route 39, it was well worth the extra time; the traffic
Our first stop the next day was the capitol
city of Frankfort, Kentucky. Located in the central portion of the
state on an S-shaped curve in the
Kentucky River, Frankfort may be small
(the population is less than 30,000) but is well known for having one of the
most beautiful capitol buildings in the country. It is also quite easy
to get in to and out of Frankfort, as there are some eight roads
leading in and out of it. There is some very interesting and colorful history
the capitol of Kentucky and even which particular city would be the capitol...
But rather than try to tell it all here, my suggestion is to check it out
Kentucky website. Suffice it
to say that the new capitol building in Frankfort is beautiful and in
a very stunning location. The old building is still there in Frankfort too, and
it's worth the trip to check them both out. Of particular note is a
thirty-four-foot in diameter,
hundred-ton "living" clock in front of the new
Capitol that boasts 10,000 plants grown in greenhouses near the capitol --
For me, no trip to Kentucky would have
been complete without a stop at the gravesite of one of my favorite people
in history, Daniel Boone. As a kid I was hardly ever seen without my
coonskin cap! Rest assured that Daniel was as important to Kentucky as
he was to other areas of the early frontier, having been mostly responsible
for the exploration and settlement of Kentucky, founding Boonesborough in
1775 after his discovery of the Cumberland Gap, bringing numerous settlers
to the state and defending them against the native Indian raids.
Although born in Pennsylvania in 1734, Daniel and his wife Rebecca have now
been reinterred on a bluff high above the Kentucky River in Frankfort, and
overlooking the land he so loved, from what is an incredibly gorgeous
We also had time for a brief stop at the
Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A giant sundial , designed so that
the shadow of the gleaming stainless steel gnomon touches -- on the
anniversary of their death -- the names of all 1,103 Kentuckians who gave
their lives in the conflict and 23 who are missing in action. It is a
brilliant tribute to those brave soldiers and an incredibly solemn reminder
of the price that we continue to pay for our freedom.
of each name is fixed mathematically…by the date of casualty, the
geographic location of the memorial, the height of the gnomon and the
physics of solar movement. The stones were then designed and cut to
avoid dividing any individual name. The resulting radial-concentric
joint pattern suggests a "web", symbolic of the entangling nature of
It was an emotional
place to visit; an even more difficult place to leave. But it was
getting late, and we had an appointment that I intended to keep. So,
with a mental salute and a brief prayer, we left the Memorial. It was
time to meet Angela Traver, Public Relations Manager for
There is so much to
say about the uniqueness of not only Buffalo Trace bourbon, but of the
unique process of making bourbon in general; let me begin by revisiting the
issue of water and thoroughbreds to which I alluded earlier. Kentucky
certainly has an abundance of good water... More importantly though is
the geology of the state. The
rocks there are mostly sedimentary, laid
down in warm, shallow seas that covered central North America
about 350 million years ago.
Significantly, there is a fairly large area in North Central Kentucky that
is underlain by a specific type of sedimentary rock: limestone. Isn't
it odd that this is where 96% of all the bourbon
in the world is made? Isn't it odd that this is the region where so
many thoroughbreds are born and raised -- many to run in the Kentucky Derby?
Well, no not really.
You see, the real
connection is this: The limestone filters the water in a way only
nature can do it, adding the calcium carbonate that does two very magical
things. First, it helps to make strong bones -- and is marvelous for
making great champion race horses -- and second it makes for a better
bourbon because it is free of the minerals that would negatively affect its
taste... especially iron, which would ruin any bourbon -- especially a good
one. The calcium in the water here is also said to aid the yeast in its job of
converting sugars to alcohol. Where else do you get a combination like
is where you can make a brief detour, and I'll
share with you what I learned about not only the
history of bourbon, but the
intricacies of how it is made. In the meantime, let me tell you that
our tour of Buffalo Trace may well have been one of the most interesting,
informative and enjoyable of any tour I have yet taken. Angela is
incredibly easygoing and upbeat about her job (although I don't think she
considers it a job... more like a passion) at Buffalo Trace and easily
shares her knowledge about what has been a working distillery since 1787.
She introduced us to the fine art of making bourbon, from square one
(receiving, testing and crushing the corn), to the production of the mash, to
fermentation, distilling, barrel aging and finally the bottling (corked and
sealed by hand) of the
amber-colored ambrosia. I even had the distinct pleasure of sampling
what is referred to as "white dog" -- the crystal-clear liquid that results
after final distillation and before being put in barrels for aging... at
about 135 proof!
Speaking of aging,
there is one more piece of information I'd like to make note of before
moving on. Angela took us to the 100+ year-old warehouse where much of
the Buffalo Trace barrel aging takes place. The smell upon entering
is... well, heavenly -- pardon the pun. All aging is enhanced by
Kentucky's climate: high temperatures in the summer driving the bourbon into
the charred staves of the new white oak, fifty-three gallon barrels and low
temperatures in the winter months pulling the bourbon back away from them;
every cycle pulling new strands of flavor -- like vanilla and caramel -- out
of the barrel and into the whisky.
Of course the placement in the warehouse -- toward the roof or floor of the
building -- makes a difference as well. However, about three percent
of the bourbon is actually lost to evaporation with the
passage of every year. Affectionately referred to as "angel's share"
(a tongue-in-cheek reference and thus the heavenly smell), this evaporated bourbon, combined with the
toasted oak and nuances of the whisky itself are unmistakable and divine;
they are certainly testament to the quality of the final sippin' whisky for
which we must patiently wait, anywhere from six to ten years... A lot
of tender loving care goes into Buffalo Trace bourbon!
We left the
distillery -- only after several samples of excellent bourbon, of
course (a must on any tour!) -- and checked in to the Holiday Inn Express on
the south side of Frankfort before heading back into town for a great dinner
at Serafini, an upscale, Italian venue with pleasant ambience, white table
cloths and napkins and lots of mouth-watering and inventive selections from
which to choose. There are plenty of salads, pastas, beef and seafood
from which to choose, all with special touches from Chef Nat Tate and
Kentucky twists -- like The Governor's Hot Brown and the Kentucky
Bison Company Flank Steak.
Our dinners were fabulous -- mine of course naturally followed by a glass of one of
Buffalo Trace's best: Blanton's Single Barrel. Named after
Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, who in 1901 at the age of twenty headed up
Buffalo Trace, it was a great
way to finish the meal and the day. The
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites
were perfect and seconds after my head hit the
pillow, I drifted into a deep sleep; somewhere in my olfactory, the scent of
sour mash, yeast and angel's share lingered and brought a smile to my face.