For years we have been taking the staff to distilleries in Kentucky to select barrels of Bourbon. For new employees it is a rite of passage; for the rest of us, it's just a special treat. We travel with 6-8 staff members to Buffalo Trace at least twice a year, selecting barrels of Buffalo Trace, Weller, Rock Hill, Eagle Rare or Blanton's. The last couple of years we've added Four Roses for their single barrel bourbons and Heaven Hill for Evan Williams and Elijah Craig..
We schedule the trip far enough ahead that the Master Distiller can select 4-5 barrels of each Bourbon for us to sample. The distillery staff is constantly tasting the barrels, and he wants to be sure we pick from barrels that are ready to bottle. So far, we have managed to time things out so that we only select three different Bourbons per trip! (That means tasting up to 15 different barrels!!)
On arrival we all head to the barrel room where the barrels are lined up for us. They draw two sets of samples from each barrel... one at barrel strength (that'll wake you up at 10 in the morning!) and the other cut to bottle strength. The staff then tastes thru the samples of one brand as they choose - barrel strength or cut or both. We really take this seriously... no talking allowed as we sample... we want individuals to vote for the barrel they like, not what the boss likes or their co-worker likes. Everybody votes for their top two choices, we tally the votes and, darn it, have to taste the top two vote getters again to select the best barrel. We then go thru the same process with the next brand and the next. After tasting 12-15 barrels of bourbon, (this really is a tough job!) the crew heads out on a tour of the facility - good education and a chance to walk off all that bourbon. After lunch at the distillery, we typically head for another round of tasting at another distillery - sometimes we even make it without getting lost! (The first trip from Buffalo Trace to Four Roses took 3 hours and 180 miles... according to MapQuest the trip is 35 minutes to go 21 miles!)
An interesting phenomenon occurs on every trip... by the time we arrive home, everyone voted for the winning barrel. Not too sure how that happens since we have had only on unanimous vote (last year's Elijah Craig 18 yr).
If you are interested in joining us, call one of the stores for more information... or watch for future postings in the Events section of the web or Facebook.