If every bourbon barrel in Kentucky were busted open and cocktails were made with the contents, every man, woman and child on earth could party down with 4.5 drinks before the reserve ran out.
That’s a lot of drunk kids.
When you take a distillery tour in Kentucky, you’re likely to hear fun facts like that, which I learned from Moonshine University‘s director of spirits education and creative services, Colin Blake. You’ll see the impressive equipment used in distilling bourbon, maybe take a tour of a rick house and end with a bourbon tasting.
But at Moonshine University’s Bourbon Making Workshop, you’ll not only learn fun facts and interesting trivia (“Hey, this is good to know for your next trivia night,” Blake will often say), you’ll actually walk through the entire distilling process, from milling the grain and the corn to testing the heads, hearts and tails of the final product before it lands in a barrel. You’ll stir the mash, hold the hose that transfers the bourbon-to-be from one vessel to the next, and you’ll learn to tell the difference between the 10 types of alcohol produced during the distilling process.
Or at least that’s the theory. After the eight-hour workshop, I feel no more a bourbon connoisseur than I did before. But that’s not Moonshine U’s fault; I think I have a bum nose and taste buds. During the half hour or so we engaged in the alcohol-sniffing section of the curriculum, I tried to stay on pace with my eight classmates to no avail. Blake and his co-instructor Kevin Hall had issued each student a box filled with vials of individual alcohols produced during the distilling process. While my classmates recognized “hints of caramel” or “a bit of white pepper” in the vials, my commentary was limited to “mmmm, sweet” or “ew, gross.”
At least my classmates’ assessments were reasonable. Hall said he’s heard everything from “this smells like a cricket bat in April” to “like a campfire under the stars.”
I was one of the only local students at the latest Bourbon Making Workshop. Most were from various cities in Ohio and Indiana. A couple from Cincinnati had arrived the night before and stayed at the Brown Hotel. The most entrepreneurial-minded of the attendees had flown in from West Palm Beach, Fla., spent the night at the Hilton, and was heading back to the airport after the workshop.
“Totally worth it,” he said, adding he wants to come back to try one of Moonshine U’s longer, more intensive five-day classes.
The classes take place at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, opened four years ago by David Dafoe, CEO of Flavorman, the beverage development lab. Part of the Epicenter, which was formerly an auto repair shop, is Grease Monkey Distillery, a craft distillery meant for small batch distillations of bourbons, rums, gins and brandies.
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association has made the Distilled Spirits Epicenter the exclusive education provider of the entire organization.
The class follows a PowerPoint, but Blake and Hall are agile educators. When the distillery’s grain mill broke down, they had to send someone from Flavorman to make a run to an offsite mill to get pre-milled corn and rye so we could continue with our distilling education (when your students are paying $500 for the lesson, you can’t get away with just skipping a part because a machine is on the fritz), and the class had to be re-ordered. No problem.
Even though there’s a set curriculum, the day is fueled by students’ questions. “There are no dumb questions,” Blake said before listing off a few dumb questions.
Unfortunately, Moonshine University cannot legally bottle and sell (or give) the booze to their students. It’s pretty upsetting to think all that pre-bourbon will eventually be diluted and dumped. They’re working on that, though.
And if you think the class is just an excuse to get tipsy before noon (you kind of will), note that you will taste more gross things during the day than you will delicious bourbon. But like making sausage, distilling isn’t always pretty, and the pre-bourbon mash and wine tastes pretty terrible. Also note that you will come home smelling like it, but that part is just a delicious reminder of a day well spent.
The next Bourbon Making Workshop is Friday, July 22, from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Click here for more info or to register.