Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kentucky Traveler Alert: Summer Shut-Down.

Last month, I encouraged you to visit Kentucky, especially the distilleries. Today I received a report from someone who did just that and had a mixed experience.

At Buffalo Trace he happened into a Hard Hat Tour just getting ready to embark. The Hard Hat Tour normally has to be scheduled in advance, but he got lucky and had a great experience.

He visited Woodford Reserve but didn't take the tour, since he'd taken it before, but everything there seemed to be operating normally.

At Four Roses, he enjoyed the visitor's center and free tasting, but no tours were offered. That's really too bad, since the Four Roses Distillery tour is one of the best. The reason? Summer shut-down.

At Wild Turkey he was really bummed. "The nice 'tour' guide (none of this is her fault) was only able to offer a video and a description of the buildings," said my correspondent. The reason? Summer shut-down.

Most distilleries do shut down during the hottest part of the summer. It's traditional, because whiskey-making can be very hot work, but it's insane if they don't keep their visitor's operations going even during summer shut down, since that just happens to come at the height of the tourist season.

I'm sure people will be disappointed if things aren't running, but people understand that. They would still like to see the still, see the cistern room, see the fermenters, see the grain silos, and have the process explained to them. How tough is it to keep a barrel house open? Even if it's summer shut down and nothing is running, they should show everything that doesn't have to be off-limits because of major maintenance. That's just ridiculous. Shame on them.

To keep a gift shop open but not give a real tour is just insulting to visitors.

Wild Turkey is supposed to be upgrading its visitor center soon, but they need to address these operational issues that have nothing to do with the facility. I've heard of this happening to other people at Turkey, though most of the time people have a wonderful experience there. I'm really surprised at Four Roses, who usually is tops in visitor care.

If shut down came at a time of the year when tourism also was low I could see it, but summer shut down comes at exactly the height of tourist season.

The traditional summer shut down is something the distilleries might want to reconsider now that they've started to promote tourism hard. They invite a guest into their home then slam the door in their face. That can't be good for business.

If you are planning a trip, especially between now and Labor Day, call ahead.

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