As any good Louisvillian will tell you, the local bourbon tours are some of the most fun experiences you can have in the city. We took that as fact and promptly planned one of our first tours at Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., down by the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory on N. 10th Street.
Right about the time you get out of the car, you’re hit with the smell of mash. It had a sweet aroma to our noses, but some people have described it as more of a sulfuric scent. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter, because once you step through the doors, all you’ll be thinking about is how long it will take until you’re sampling some Kentucky Peerless Bourbon for yourself. (Spoiler alert: it’s about 30 minutes).
We were greeted pretty quickly by Hospitality Hostess, Alayna Whelan. She had a bright smile, charming personality, and lots of good facts about the history of the distillery. Visitors queue up for the tours right next to the gift shop, but we recommend waiting until after you leave the tasting room to purchase anything. Even though the tour is fairly brief, it probably wouldn’t be ideal to carry a bunch of stuff along with you.
While we were chatting with Alayna, our tour guide Gary showed up and introduced himself. He has a pretty cool story, beginning his professional career as a chef, then later owning and operating a local food truck before joining the team at Kentucky Peerless. Gary clearly has a passion for all things bourbon, and he’s also the onsite sensory specialist, which basically means he can detect the lightest of flavors and aromas. Let’s just say he knows his stuff.
We began the tour learning some more about the history of Kentucky Peerless and how it came to be the brand we know today. We won’t tell you all of the secrets here (that’s what the tour is for), but suffice it to say that Henry Kraver was quite the savvy businessman. His resiliency and passion for bourbon is hard to overlook, and he passed those traits down the line to his great-grandson Corky Taylor and Corky’s son, Carson. Corky and Carson lead the Peerless team and oversee all of its day-to-day operations, and it was interesting to hear what the family has gone through to keep their bourbon alive.
After exiting the history section, we walked to a larger room where we learned more about the corn, barley and rye. To make bourbon, true bourbon, you need to follow quite a few rules. For example, it must be fermented from a mash of no less than 51% corn, distilled at no higher than 160 proof, stored in new charred oak barrels (entering at no higher than 125 proof),and bottled at no less than 80 proof. It gets more nuanced from there, but those are the basics.
Next, Gary told us more about the process Kentucky Peerless uses to make their bourbon (again, we’ll save those secrets for you to discover on the tour), including the signature bottle design meticulously created and conceptualized by Carson Taylor. It took about a year for Taylor to work with the glass manufacturers to perfect the bottle, and it truly is something unique.
As the tour winded down, we visited the rickhouse where hundreds of oak barrels are stored. Peerless has a much larger storage facility off-site that’s still under construction, too, so there’s no shortage of quality bourbon here. You can see part of the wooden structure behind Gary in the photo below:
The last and arguably best stop of the tour happened in the tasting room, where, you guessed it, we were finally able to sample some of the bourbon we’d learned so much about. This is where Gary’s talent as a sensory specialist really came out. Some of us in the tour group had more refined palettes than others, but one thing was clearly evident - the bourbon is good. Like the #15 bourbon in the world good. That nod came from Whisky Advocate in November 2017, and Kentucky Peerless has the only product on the list from a craft distillery. That’s a huge honor and especially notable given that Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey was released to the public for the first time in May of that same year.
Suffice it to say, we were extremely pleased with the tour and samples and really enjoyed learning more about Kentucky Peerless from Gary and the rest of the team. If you want to experience it for yourself, schedule a tour from April - October, starting at $20 per person.