Buzzing Through the B-Line
What’s the B-Line? The B-Line includes four distilleries, five bars and five restaurants in various cities in northern Kentucky. There is a lot to see and do (and eat and drink) on the B-Line and you can find more information at www.findyoursippingpoint.com. My B-Line journey was focused on the four distilleries. My mission was to visit all four B-Line distilleries in one day. In fact, our goal was to buzz through the B-Line’s distilleries in a mere six hours. “No way”, you say? “Yes way”, I say. “Yes way”.
It was July 5. While most people were on a fireworks hangover and making sure their fingers were present and accounted for and their eyebrows were unsinged, my buddy, Tom, and I were off to Maysville. “Maysville? What’s in Maysville?” I’m glad you asked.
The Old Pogue Distillery (Maysville)
It is 11:00 AM (start your stopwatch) and Tom and I are at the Old Pogue Distillery (www.oldpogue.com) in Maysville, Kentucky. Some argue that Maysville is the birthplace of Bourbon. So, where better to get our journey started than where bourbon itself got started. Maysville is an out-of-the-way city in northeastern Kentucky (two hours from Louisville). Old Pogue Distillery is even more out-of-the-way than Maysville. You literally cannot visit the distillery without an advance reservation. Even if you just want to go to the gift shop…you’ll need to make a reservation. All communication with Old Pogue is done by e-mail and the website doesn’t even list a phone number. The sign at the entrance to the distillery is about the size of a frisbee. If you aren’t careful you’ll drive right past it (which we did) even if you are diligently looking for it (which we were).
When you finally find Old Pogue you’ve found a (literally) hidden gem. The distillery sits on the side of a steep hill overlooking the Ohio River and the countryside near Aberdeen, Ohio. The welcome center is an historic house that has the feel of walking into a small museum. There are old pictures and pre-prohibition bourbon ads on every wall. The gift shop is simply a couple of tables with caps and glassware for sale. You can also purchase bottles of their products: Old Pogue Bourbon and Old Maysville Rye. There is a small counter where the tour guide (Dan) will offer tastings after the tour. Dan also served as our resident historian. He explained that the history of Old Pogue dates back to just after the Civil War. The original DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) number for Old Pogue is 3. It is safe to say that Old Pogue had a lot to do with Bourbon’s beginnings.
As it was to most distilleries, Prohibition was unkind to Old Pogue. Even after repeal the distillery remained closed for several years, changed ownership and the original property was destroyed by fire in 1973. In 1995, however, the Pogue family decided to resurrect their whiskey. Using bottles and recipes preserved by their ancestors, the modern-day Pogues found a way to recreate a Bourbon not produced since before Prohibition. They secured use of equipment from an established distillery one day each year to produce their whiskey. In that one day they could produce 50 barrels. These barrels were aged nine years before being bottled and sold in 2004.
Old Pogue continued this contract distilling relationship until 2012. At that time, the family built a still house on the side of the hill next to the historic home / welcome center. Even with distilling equipment now at their disposal every day, the Old Pogue still only produces 50 barrels of whiskey each year. They store only a small handful of barrels in Maysville. For most of their rick house needs, Old Pogue contracts space with Willett.
The Old Pogue Distillery is not on your way to anywhere, but the visit is worth the effort. It is a beautiful and quaint place with plenty of history to soak in. By noon, Tom and I were back on the road to find some lunch on our way to our next stop: Newport.
New Riff Distillery (Newport)
Even though New Riff (www.newriffdistilling.com) and Old Pogue are only 60 miles apart, they seem light years apart in so many ways. While New Riff and Old Pogue both sit on the Ohio River, Newport is a well-skipped rock across the river to Cincinnati, which bears no resemblance to Aberdeen, Maysville’s Ohio neighbor.
While the Old Pogue historic home dates back to 1845, New Riff’s facility is modern and sleek in every way and includes a swanky tasting bar called Aquifer. In just a few days, New Riff can match Old Pogue’s whiskey production for the entire year. Old Pogue has a DSP number of 3. New Riff’s number is 20015.
Having these two experiences back-to-back doesn’t show a right way and a wrong way to make whiskey. It just shows two dramatically different approaches to it. And on the 2:00 tour, Tom and I got to learn more about the “New Riff on an old tradition”.
Our tour guide, Grover, was informative and seemed to really enjoy his job of sharing New Riff with the public. Much of the tour focuses on how New Riff does things their own way with owners who had no previous distilling experience and a head distiller whose prior background was only as a brewer. Grover did leave out that New Riff had used Larry Ebersold (40 years of distilling experience with Seagram’s / MGP) as a consultant, but I get the point that he was trying to make. New Riff wants to be “respectfully different” and they are very proud of that.
As we went through the tour I did notice a Mill Settings sheet for the grains New Riff uses. It was posted on some equipment in the distillery and hand written on the bottom of the list of grains was “Red Turkey Wheat”. Currently, there aren’t any products on the market for New Riff that use wheat in the mash bill. Could we be seeing a wheated product from New Riff in the near future? Hmmmm.
We finished the tour with a tasting that included a bottled in bond Bourbon and rye, a single barrel Bourbon and a gin. Most people who’ve had New Riff products seem to like them. The bottled in bond Bourbon actually won the bracket challenge conducted by my Bourbon Fellowship group (https://bourbonfellowship.com/2019/03/28/any-given-thursday/). If you haven’t tried New Riff yet, unlike the products from the other B-Line distilleries, it is in wide distribution and is easy to find.
Boone County Distilling (Independence)
It’s now 3:00 PM and the clock is ticking. Tom and I leave New Riff and drive about 20 miles south to Independence, Kentucky. Boone County Distilling (www.boonedistilling.com) is located in the middle of an industrial park. Of all the distilleries we visited it definitely had the most “manufacturing feel” to it.
We did not do the tour, but did catch a tasting for $5 that included some 12-year old Eighteen 33, new make rye, new make Bourbon and Bourbon cream. While we were waiting for the tasting, we talked to Emma, the friendly employee working in the gift shop. She told us about the new Boone County Bourbon coming out (which was released this past weekend). It is a six-year sourced Bourbon (from MGP) and is under the Boone County label and not under the Eighteen 33 label. Emma also told us we would likely see Boone County’s own distilled Bourbon product hit the market in 2021.
Boone County has had some great success with their sourced Bourbons. The supply of 12 year and older Bourbon has pretty much sold out for them. The new six year Bourbon will likely be popular with the whiskey public, too. Boone County, however, is the only distillery on the B-Line without its own Bourbon on the market and that is what we are really excited to see.
Speaking of “excited to see”, Tom and I have one more stop to make on the B-Line. It is almost 4 o’clock and we only have one hour to meet our goal.
Neeley Family Distillery (Sparta)
Neeley Family Distillery (www.neeleyfamilydistillery.com) is easily the most comfortable stop on the B-Line. It is like walking into a roadside bar. And unless you’re a chemist (see the sign), you’ll feel welcome from the moment you pass through the door.
When you arrive at Neeley you immediately see what this place is about: family and tradition. The family’s distilling history goes back eleven generations and many of the techniques and recipes used today are traced back through that family history. Some of the (mostly illegal) distilling equipment used by Neeley’s of the past is on display near the bar. A cardboard cutout of Papaw stands by the door where you might expect to find the bar’s bouncer. It’s not unusual to see Papaw himself talking to customers when he isn’t working somewhere else on the property.
We just missed seeing Royce Neeley, owner and master distiller, who had just gone back with a tour. His cousin, however, was tending the tasting bar and presented offerings of a variety of moonshines, flavored whiskies and a single barrel Bourbon. Tom and I sampled the Bourbon and a salted caramel whiskey. The flavored whiskey was an interesting change of pace, but, even with it being so young, the single barrel Bourbon is top notch.
We finished our samples, bought a bottle of the single barrel to take home and were in the car by 5:00. Mission accomplished!
You may not want to try to visit all four B-Line distilleries in one day, but all four are definitely worth your time. Each one is unique: unique in their setting, their size, their products and their tradition. Each of them has a different story to tell and a different whiskey to share. I’d definitely recommend a trip on the B-line. See for yourself what all the buzz is about.