I knocked on the door and waited. A little hatch at eye-level slid open. A bespectacled eyeball appeared.
“Yes?” the eyeball asked.
I almost burst out laughing, the sight was so comical. As it was, I put on my serious face. After all, about fifteen people were depending on me here. I spoke the password, and the hatch slammed shut. A moment later, the door opened and we were granted entry.
Let’s back up here. My mom and I were wandering around Louisville, with our Kentucky Bourbon Trail passports just begging to be stamped. We quickly found the closest distillery listed in our books: the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.
We walked in and asked if there was room on the next tour. We were informed that there was no room on the Traditional Tour and Tasting, but there were two spots open on the Speakeasy Tasting Experience.
Now how could we pass that up?
As the tasting experience began, we were led downstairs to the basement level, where we encountered the above-mentioned door. Per speakeasy protocol, someone (in this case, me) had to knock on the door and entreat entry using the password (I shan’t write the password here, in case any coppers are reading).
Once it was clear that we were not cops organizing a raid, we were warmly welcomed to the bar. We each took a seat, and the tasting portion of the evening began.
The tasting consisted of four different drinks: three bourbons and a rye whiskey. With each drink, our friendly bartender told us a bit about the whiskey. We also got some of the history of the distillery, including how it survived Prohibition and the effect that had on Louisville in general.
For me, there were two major takeaways from this experience. One, which I had never really thought about, is that there is a proper way to drink bourbon.
To Drink Bourbon like a Pro:
First off, you don’t just stick your snoot in the glass to smell it. If you do that, all you get is the alcohol smell. Instead, you hold the glass up to your nose and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth (See? All those years, and you never realized your gym teacher was trying to give you an important life skill).
Secondly, once you sip your bourbon, you’re supposed to let it roll around your mouth a bit. Bourbons have complex flavors, and you can best taste them if your whole tongue is involved, since different parts of your tongue taste different flavors.
Thirdly, some bourbons are warm all the way down. It’s rude to shudder as this happens – it’s not burning, it’s giving you a warm Kentucky hug.
The second takeaway from this tasting was what Bottled-in-Bond meant. If you’re buying bourbon, you might come across a bottle that has a label, proudly announcing that bourbon is bottled-in-bond. Long story short: That’s a good thing.
Long story long: Back in 1897, the government passed a regulatory law regarding bourbon. At the time, many bartenders and vendors added color to bourbon with things like tobacco juice or iodine to make it look expensive when it was really just cheap hootch. Worse, they’d even cut bourbon with other substances in order to stretch a single order as long as possible. The 19th century was a dangerous time food- and beverage-wise.
This law allowed for a special label to be put on a bottle of bourbon provided that it met four criteria:
- It comes from a single distillery
- It’s blended with bourbon from other barrels of the same distilling season
- It’s been aged for at least four years in an oak barrel
- It’s at least 100 proof at the time of bottling.
These criteria provided some quality-control on bourbon, and people knew by looking at the bottle whether or not they were safe drinking it. The regulation is still in place today, so if you see “Bottled-in-Bond” on a bourbon bottle, you know at least four things about that bourbon.
At the end of this informative tasting, we were quickly ushered back out the door, along with a reminder to watch for the police.
Visiting the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience:
Getting there: The address is 528 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202. It’s right on Whiskey Row. If you’re unsure of where that is, pick up a handy map in the tourist information center or just ask someone on the street. There is some parking available nearby, but Louisville is also a very walkable city.
Admission: The cost of entry depends on which experience you’d like to have.
- Traditional Tour and Tasting: $15 per person
- Speakeasy Tasting Experience: $20 per person; includes a commemorative glass
- Chocology Tasting Experience: $25 per person; includes a commemorative glass
- Monday to Thursday: 11AM to 5:30PM
- Friday and Saturday: 10AM to 6PM
- Sunday: 1PM to 5:30PM
Website: You can visit the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience website here.
Good to know:
- Due to legal restrictions on tastings, you can only do one tour at Evan Williams per day. You can, however, visit other distilleries and do tastings there on the same day.
- The last tours begin one hour prior to closing.
- They stamp Bourbon Trail passports! Be sure to bring yours along so you can get one step closer to getting your prize!