The discovery of bourbon is one of luck, coincidence and fortune ... a series of happy accidents.
Bill Samuels, the former president of Maker’s Mark, said so himself. The way he tells it, farmers moving into Kentucky found an abundance of corn planted by the Indians. Next was the limestone beneath the soil that acted as a filter for water passing through. And wouldn’t you know it, it took a Kentucky preacher, Elijah Craig, to put it all together to finally get it right.
In order to round up some old storage barrels for the spirits the preacher was distilling at his farm in Bourbon County, Craig decided to clean them out by burning the inside. Those charred American white oak barrels – accidentally combined with everything else – did the trick.
Bingo! Kentucky bourbon.
Of course, each distillery has its own story to tell. It’s all part of the magic of Kentucky’s liquid gold. It has been said that some of the stories that are cranked out are better than the bourbon.
While the state’s major brands created the “Bourbon Trail,” some bourbon makers have gotten in on the act over the last few years with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. These guys are much smaller. Their products are often described as handmade as each step – from the loading of the grains, to the fermentation, to the filling of the bottle, to the labeling and putting them into boxes for delivery – is done by a human and not a machine.
Dueling Grounds Distillery in Franklin is one such operation, and owner Marc Dottore has created a nice stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
“I started looking around for a small business to start,” said Dottore, who still works in the country music business as manager for Kathy Mattea. “I made several visits to a few of the big distilleries, as well as the smaller ones. I knew all about fermentation, especially beer, so I knew I could do this.”
In 2012, Dottore took a big step and decided to attend the weeklong Moonshine University in Louisville. He learned more than making spirits, but also the logistics and business end of it.
By 2013, he was on his way, starting with a 25-gallon still and working his way up to a 200-gallon pot still.
Before anything else, the music promoter had the name of his new distillery.
It came easy.
“I wanted the bourbon name to be rooted in this place,” he said.
So he named his bourbon Linkumpinch and the distillery Dueling Grounds, because of the more than 40 duels said to have been fought at the Linkumpinch farm in Simpson County, two miles north of the Kentucky-Tennessee line.
“It’s all about a sense of place and history,” Dottore said. “I like the challenge of it. The music side of things is about packaging and building a brand, and that’s what we are doing here.”
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to speed up aging, especially when it comes to bourbon.
It just gets better with time.
“We’ll soon have our first 4-year-old bourbon,” Dottore said. “Most of what we’ve made is still aging.”
Dueling Grounds Distillery offers tours, a tasting area and a bar where visitors can sit down and even enjoy a beer or glass of wine.
“In 2016, the state passed a law where distilleries could serve mixed drinks, beer and wine,” Dottore said. “This was a game-changer. Now we can have special events right here.”
Last year, about 350,000 people visited the 20 Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour distilleries.
“I know we’re different,” Dottore said of the craft distilleries. “Each batch we make tastes different, depending on the time of the year. Some people may see that as a drawback, but I think most of our visitors like it.”
And what does the future look like for the small distillery in Franklin?
“I can see our brand being in 10 to 15 states with us producing 1,200 barrels a year,” Dottore said.
Here are a few small craft bourbon distilleries that might be near you:
- Dueling Grounds Distillery, Franklin, 270-776-9046.
- Limestone Branch Distillery, Lebanon, 270-699-9004.
- Paducah Distilled Spirits, Paducah, 270-415-5368.
- Casey Jones Distillery, Hopkinsville, 270-839-9987.
- MB Roland, Pembroke (Christian County), 270-640-7740.
- Boundary Oak Distillery, between Elizabethtown and Radcliff, 270-351-2013.
- Jeptha Creed Distillery, Shelbyville, 502-487-5007.
- Preservation Distillery, Bardstown, 502-348-7779.
- Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg, 859-734-3381. Although this is not a distillery, it is worth a stop. My favorite place, it has a Dedman family history with Old Owl bourbon. The bourbon bar is well stocked, and innkeeper Dixon Dedman enjoys telling the Old Owl story.
- Wilderness Trail, Danville, 859-402-8707.
There’s no excuse, get up, get out and get going!
– Gary West’s column runs monthly in the Daily News. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.