Saturday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Corsair distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was disappointed to find that the facility in Bowling Green is just a finishing distillery where they do the second distillation of low wines fermented and first distilled in Nashville, Tennessee. I was hoping to see the whole process, but what I did see is impressive and worth the trip. I simply need to make a second trip to Nashville to experience the whole process.
Doug Philips and I showed up at the distillery at noon local time (1:00 Louisville time for those planning the trip - Bowling Green is in the central time zone). We were met by Ben Kickert and Clay Smith. Ben gave us a personal tour while Clay handled the normal tours. Now the tours do not take long because it is a small distillery with a small hybrid still of about a 60 gallon pot with a small column on top. The still and the aging facilities are all in on large open room along with a desk where Ben and Clay have a computer set up for their business. The distillery makes several products - absinth, vodka, gin, an unaged rye, an aged rye and they doing a contract distillation for a bourbon and "moonshine". They also do a malt whiskey and several products distilled from beers. More on these products later.
They were distilling the moonshine product as we entered. The air was filled with the aroma of whiskey. Ben and Clay introduced themselves and we started the tour. Ben showed us the still and explained the different ways the used the still to make their products. It was quite interesting, but I will not go into detail here with the technical aspects. I am sure they can explain it much better than I could and you should really take the tour and hear what they say. They distill the spirits and collect them in bottles and then place the product to be aged in barrels. Now here is where i started to get really impressed. They have started with 5 gallon barrels but are stepping up to 15 gallon and then 30 gallon as they improve production and market the finish product. They admit they have had a few mistakes but have learned from them and moved on. The products they are producing show this learning curve in a positive manner.
We started by tasting the unaged rye whiskey just before it goes into the barrel. This is a marriage of several distillations in order to get a better consistant quality. They are using rye malt with a little barley malt. They learned that 100% rye malt gummed up the operation and that a little barley malt prevents that from happening. I wounder if they used unmalted rye and rye malt if that would work as well. I should have asked, but the question did not come to mind until after I left the distillery. Next we tasted a single batch of the rye at distillation proof and followed it with a sample of the aged rye. I will say that it was very good rye whiskey at every step of the process. The small barrels do mature the whiskey quicker than the new barrels, but once again, I would like to see this go into a 53 gallon barrel for aging. We then tasted their contract bourbon and found it very good. I will be looking for this when it hits the market (I can't say the brand name without permission from the owner of the brand, so don't ask).
We then tasted their "Triple smoke rye", using barley smoked with peat, cherry wood and beech wood. It was very good. I will say it was better than anything I tasted at the ADI competition. We then tasted several products distilled from beers with hops added in the second distillation. They were not allowed by government regulations would not allow them to call it "whiskey" if hops were in the original beer, but would allow them to add it in the second distillation. This led to a conversation about how the government is allowing for looser applications of the rules for whiskey - good for experimentation but could be bad for consumers in the long run.
We finished the tour and Doug and I went to a local bar for a burger and stopped back at the distillery afterwards to pick up some samples. I have a sample of the aged rye and I will do a review later. I then went to my book signing at Barnes and Noble, but that was a bust since they forgot to order the book and they only had two copies of the "The Social History of Bourbon" in nthe store. Still, the tour of the distillery makes the trip worth while.