On the Road

Fresh Bourbon in the Bluegrass Region

By: Emily Havener

TLP managing editor, Emily Havener, guides us through a tasting at Fresh Bourbon in Lexington, Kentucky

First things first: The Manchester should be your home base for bourbon in the Bluegrass Region. This stunning hotel is within easy access of Lexington’s Distillery District, a walkable area with two distilleries plus restaurants, bars, and shopping. But above all, you should make the short trip to the Fresh Bourbon tasting room on Main Street, tucked into the shopping center across from Carson’s Food & Drink (where the sweet and spicy ribs and rosé linguini are not to be missed). Fresh Bourbon owners and husband-and-wife team Sean and Tia Edwards are recognized by the state of Kentucky as the first African Americans to make Kentucky bourbon since the era of slavery.

Tobie Brown at Fresh Bourbon

The Edwardses founded this craft label and designed the experience around it to be both elevated and accessible. They especially wanted women, who are less often the target audience for bourbon, to feel comfortable and welcome. As a result, their tasting room contains many elements similar to Napa-style wine tastings.

When I visited, bartender Tobie Brown was behind the gorgeous marbled bar top lit by Swarovski crystal chandeliers. In front of me was a slate board of snacks and a snifter of Fresh bourbon. Brown introduced me to the unique qualities of Fresh—it’s a mash bill with a lower volume of corn that includes 20 percent honey malt, enhancing the flavor. Turn the glass at a 45-degree angle, and the heavier and lighter scents separate and pair perfectly with the snacks on the board.

“The warm sensation in your chest is a Kentucky hug,” Brown told me.

Next it was time for bitters: A tray full of labeled crystal bottles made me feel part apothecary, part wizard as Brown guided me through mixing my own combinations and exploring how that brought out different notes in the bourbon. As we moved onto mixing cocktails—Fresh shines in a boulevardier—Brown shared the challenges she’d experienced as a Black woman in the bourbon industry. She enjoyed working in the guest experience arena and was clearly good at it, but what she really wanted to do was make bourbon. The Edwardses were the first the give her that opportunity.

Bourbon being poured at a distillery

In order to cement the accessibility and quality of Fresh Bourbon, the Edwardses make it using a pre-Prohibition style, which essentially means aging the “white dog,” or clear spirit that is the bourbon base, in multiple sizes of barrels, not just the industry standard 53-gallon. Sean told me they use six-gallon as well as 10-, 15-, 30-, and 53-gallon barrels “because we’re true craft, and it’s the ultimate small batch.” At first, smaller barrels were the only ones they had access to, and even now, there are attempts within the industry to corner the market on 53-gallon barrels, making accessibility limited. The pre-Prohibition style allows Fresh to make the same quality of gold medal-winning bourbon whether it has aged six months or several years, all “based on flavor profile,” Sean says.

If you plan your visit during April or October, follow up this luxury bourbon experience with a day at near by Keeneland Racetrack, a true locals’ track where you will get an up-close look at the racehorses on beautiful, intimate grounds. Even if you’re not visiting during racing months, you can take a walking tour of this National Historic Landmark for morning training on the racetrack or behind the scenes at the stables.

Follow Emily’s full road trip through three Kentucky bourbon distilleries, by grabbing a copy of our 2023 Road Trips Issue, on stands September 26.

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