Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Barton 1792 distillery tour

Posted on by Eric Burke

Enjoying a 86 proof Very Old Barton while I write this. It just seemed appropriate.

Storage tank on top of the buildings at 1792It was Wednesday. We were up early. We had to be on the road to get to Bardstown by 9 am in order to get on the first tour of the day at Barton. We had a lot planned today and needed to get this tour out of the way early. 

That's how I thought of it. "Get it out of the way." Well, before I went on it I thought of it that way. 

Barton was a hold over from my first trip to Kentucky. They started offering tours one week after I had left that last time. Made me sick because I ended up driving past it two or more times on that trip and each time I was disappointed. To say it was on the list was an understatement. It was the first thing to get put on the list this time around. Not that I was expecting a lot. I mean, I didn't really drink anything that was made there. It was curiosity, really, nothing more. 

We walked into the gift shop just a little before 9 am. We get on the first tour and we browse around the shop a little bit. I've got my eye on a couple things I plan to check out a bit later when an older gentleman in a logo'd polo and khaki shorts—Don—walks out and asks who's on the tour. Robin and I said we were and expected that the other two people in the shop would as well, but they didn't. 

This means another "private" tour. I love those.

As we walk out of the gift shop, Don asks if we'd been on any other distillery tours. We admitted that we'd been on about 4 already that week and seven on our previous trip and that we'd been to Independent Stave as well. At this point, he jokingly asks if we'd like to switch roles because we've obviously done this more times than him. I admit it, I thought about it. Briefly. As we walk across the parking lot and over to the first stop Don fills us in on the history of the plant, the company, and a little about what it's like to live so close to the distillery. It turns out he lives just up the hill. 

Black painted Barton aging warehouseThe aging warehouse isn't much to look at on the outside. Like, Maker's it is black with red trim. It looks nice, such as it is. It looks better than it would if it were white and covered in fungus. And Don admits that was the reasoning behind painting it. I wonder what that does for the whiskey aging inside since it'll draw a lot more heat that way.

One of many very beautiful and dramatic photos we got inside the Barton aging warehouse.On the inside it's different. It doesn't look that much different than other rick houses. Thick wooden beams. Barrels filled with wonderful whiskey. A smell that makes you want to stay there forever. But they all have that. No the difference is subtle. It's in the lighting. It's more dramatic. Certainly more photogenic. We took some that make me want to weep they are so pretty. We wander in there for a little while, learning about things like the elevator shaft and a strange device called a mule (a device which it seems no one working there will either confirm nor deny the existence of to him). 

After the warehouse we walk over to the still house. This is one damn big still. Don explains a little about it, but what he is better at is telling stories. Don reminds me of my grandfather in some ways. Except that after one of my grandfather's stories, I was never poured a whiskey. 

One big damn stillDon's stories about the still being done, we head over to the bottling area. They weren't bottling bourbon that morning, but we get to wander around with him as he talks about various things that are happening on the line and of course more stories he is reminded of as we walk by things. Stories like one about a former tour patron explaining that he and his friends used to drink Ten High and still would occasionally say "Ten High: for when it doesn't matter." A statement which Don quietly said he very much agreed with as it's not very good.

The view from the gift shop door.Then it was back to the gift shop for a tasting. We tried Very Old Barton 86 proof and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. As a nice gesture to those who like such things, they also had them available chilled in case you were the type who liked it that way. I wasn't but I appreciated the gesture. Oddly in a head to head, I liked the Very Old Barton better. If it were available in MN, I'd save myself a bunch of money with that realization. As it stands though, that knowledge does me no good.

I loved this tour. I was amazed at the photogenic-ness of the warehouse, the size of the still. But I will fully admit that it might just be that I loved the tour guide. Don was awesome. I would do this again in a heart beat.

I can't forget the world's largest whiskey barrel. Can I? Near a visitor picnic area, the only one I saw at a distillery.