Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Photo: Trent Johnson

We Went There: Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Our Nation’s Capital

On the heels of turning 21 in late 2014, I decided to attend a beverage survey class to expand my palate and frankly, to drink in class.

For the first few weeks, I was enthralled. The opportunity to taste various wines, spirits and occasionally brews from different areas in the world was exhilarating. Eventually the novelty wore off, and the classroom setting took its toll, with homework and tests piling up. Plus, the old fogey of a teacher mispronounced the word island “is-land,” which bothered the hell out of me.

On July 7, I found myself back in the proverbial alcohol-focused classroom as I toured Kentucky via slideshows and whiskey at Bourbon in Adams Morgan. The lighting was a tad darker than your standard school setting, but the first leg of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Our Nation’s Capital tour courtesy of The Whisk(e)y Library was very much an enlightening, if not educational, experience. The next two legs of the tour take place at Bourbon on July 21 and August 4.

The Library has hosted about 10 others throughout the city so far and enjoyed success, founder Brian Thompson told me over the roar of incoming patrons. Clients predominantly request the types of tours they give, allowing attendees a chance to enjoy a fair amount of alcohol for an extremely reasonable price – this tour is $30 to $75 depending on how many stops you make.

Upon entry, you’re greeted by Thompson’s smiling face before being directed to various seats, each with a placemat that resembles a game board – but instead of plastic pieces, the designated areas belong to the three whiskey glasses. Bartenders pour the booze and organize the drinks in order from first stop to last. In this case, a bright red Seelbach cocktail, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Jim Beam Signature Craft Bourbon and Bulleit Barrel Proof Bourbon.

The refreshing cocktail serves as the precursor for what’s to come, as the guys hosting share vignettes of Kentucky’s historic heritage pertaining to the alcohol community, specifically with whiskey. The Library folks will then tell you how to properly taste the classy drinks:

  1. Hold up your glass, furrow your brow and stare intimately at the color of your drink;
  2. Open your mouth and breathe in the aroma of the beverage (this is a bad idea for liquids like gasoline and bleach); and
  3. Tilt the glass slowly toward the ceiling and coat your tongue.

All of these steps ensure you will, at the very least, look like you know what you’re doing, which helps you look and feel confident. Then comes a history lesson about each drink, followed by everyone in the room carefully retreading these steps in order.

While whiskey is whiskey, all three had their own strengths. The glass of Evan Williams was a lighter, smoother ride. The Jim Beam was a tad more jagged of a drink, but the unique sweetness of the brand boomed throughout the mouth. And the Bulleit was so powerful that the folks behind the bar suggested we add droplets of water to help ease the kick.

I laughed, I drank and I learned about the history of the three distilleries. However, what stuck out most was the dose of nostalgia gained from sitting at a table and approaching alcohol from an educational perspective. The goal of the night didn’t revolve around slamming multiple drinks in a mad scramble for chaos and giggles, and that was genuinely enticing. So if you missed out on that elusive beverage survey class in college, fear not. The Whisk(e)y Library has you covered. And as far as I could tell, they all know how to pronounce island.

Check out The Whisk(e)y Library’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Our Nation’s Capital tour for yourself on July 21 and August 4 at Bourbon. Each starts at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $30 and are available at www.whiskeylibrarydc.com.

Bourbon: 2321 18th St. NW, DC; 202-332-0800; www.bourbondc.com