For a bourbon fan, no trip to Kentucky is complete without making a few stops to visit the place where your favorite whiskey is made. Odds are though, that your favorite whiskey is not made in Lebanon, KY. At least, not yet. Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, KY sells sugar shine in unaged, flavored, or (as of last month) aged varieties.
Sugar Shine is a clear unaged spirit, typically made from a combination of sugar and corn. Limestone Branch's version follows that tradition, being made from a mash of 50% corn and 50% cane.
As you pull into the parking lot, the first thing you see on the side of the building is a large Moon Pie sign. One of the products they produce is a Moon Pie flavored moonshine that, my wife tells me, is scarily close to the real thing in flavor. I'll have to take her word for it as I have never developed a taste for Moon Pies due to an aversion to marshmallows.
You enter the building into the gift shop and are warmly greeted and offered a tour. We accepted and since we were a bit early, we passed the time with a trip to the tasting bar to try some of the products. After trying a few we wandered around the gift shop for a little bit deciding which of the products we couldn't live without.
I have to mention one thing about the gift shop. It had the most ingenious ceiling I've ever seen. It's a metal roof. Being such, it's bound to get hot if there isn't any insulation. So there is insulation, black spray foam looking insulation. You wouldn't think, from reading about it, that this was something worth mentioning. But with the color of the walls, the floor, and all the visible wood around, it reminded me of nothing less than the inside of a charred barrel. It was an amazing effect.
Once the tour started we were given a little history of the owners. As you might guess from their names, Paul and Steve Beam are part of the whiskey-making Beam clan. And from the little I talked to them, they seem to be a couple of really nice guys.
After the history lesson, we enter the distillery area itself. This is not a big distillery. In the room is the research lab, mashing, fermenting, distilling, bottling and shipping area.
This is one of the fermenting areas, if I remember correctly. I believe the tour guide told us that it is repurposed from a winery. In any case, it is really pretty.
This is the still. I hesitate to use the word cute, since that normally has condescending connotations. I don't mean it that way, but it is the best word I can come up with. It's a little over my height. It's little, but it gets the job done.
The condenser, the last part of the distilling process. The product is coming out of the tube below the gauge. As you can see it is clear as water. It won't get color unless it spends some time in a barrel or gets flavored.
This is the entire set up shown in the last three photos. Behind the condenser and the still is the fermenter. There are a few other smaller barrels acting in the same capacity scattered around as well. Behind us is the research lab and over to the right is the rest of the process.
If you visit Limestone Branch, you may very well be coming from Maker's Mark which is just down the road. And if you do, you may think that you will be disappointed. I want to assure you that you won't be. After you get there, talk to the people, see the passion they have for what they do, and taste the fruit of their labors. You will understand what draws people to visiting craft distilleries. The ones worth visiting are exactly like Limestone Branch—filled with excited, passionate people who make a tasty product and are glad you are there to visit.
Speaking of products, the one I found I couldn't live without was the Apple Cinnamon Pie Sugar Shine. It's their unaged shine flavored with natural flavors. I assume apple and I can see the cinnamon stick since it is still in the bottle.
Limestone Branch Sugar Shine: Apple Cinnamon Pie flavor
Purchase info: $18.99 for a 375 mL at the distillery gift shop
Details: 20% ABV. "Mashed, Fermented, Distilled and Bottled by Limestone Branch Distillers" (I thought that was a nice touch.)
Nose: Apple pie, I swear I can even smell the crust.
Mouth: Thick, syrupy mouthfeel. Leads with cinnamon but transitions to cooked apples as it moves back.
Finish: Slight lingering bitterness. No burn.
Thoughts: This is a tasty liqueur. Tastes exactly like a baked apple pie that has been allowed to cool. Even the mouthfeel is correct since the liquid in an apple pie gets nicely thick and syrupy. I like it better cold, but ice waters it down too much. I'm keeping mine in the fridge. And this being October, I can promise that it won't last there until Christmas. It's autumn in a glass.
I urge you to go visit these guys even if you aren't a fan of shine. It's an interesting tour and they now have an aged product that is made from the sugar/corn mash. I got to sample it during Bourbon Fest and remember liking it.