By Jenna Sutton
Although most writers love doing research, I’m not one of them. I always considered research a necessary evil to make sure my books were accurate and authentic. But the research I did for my new Trinity Distillery series was so much fun, it didn’t feel like research. It felt like a vacation!
I spent several weeks visiting the distilleries along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, learning as much as I could about bourbon. (This is where I feel compelled to point out that most distilleries offer free samples.) Barreled Over (Trinity Distillery #1) showcases everything I learned.
My first stop was the nation’s oldest bourbon distillery, Woodford Reserve in rural Woodford County. It traces its origins to 1797, and the distillery is now a National Historic Landmark. It crafts the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. While touring Woodford Reserve, I ate my very first bourbon ball—a bite-sized confection that combines a bourbon-flavored mixture covered in dark chocolate and topped with a pecan.
Outside of Frankfort, Kentucky’s capital, I visited Buffalo Trace Distillery. A National Historic Landmark, the distillery offers a “Hard Hat” tour that gives an insider’s look into the behind-the-scenes work that goes into crafting bourbon. On this tour, I witnessed everything from grain delivery and the cooking process to fermentation and distillation. It was here that I learned about the “Head, Heart, and Tail” of the spirit, and I incorporated this into Barreled Over.
My husband was with me when I toured Maker’s Mark Distillery, which is distinguished not only by its square bottle and red wax seal, but its use of wheat instead of rye (most bourbons are made with rye). There’s a scene in Barreled Over in which the hero and heroine use a bourbon barrel for more than storing alcohol. In order to test the feasibility of this, I sat on top of the barrel and forced my husband to stand between my legs. He was so embarrassed, but I insisted. How else could I guarantee the accuracy of such a scene?
We also visited Limestone Branch Distillery. At the time, it was a start-up distillery that had yet to decant its first barrels (bourbon is typically aged three years or more). I spent several hours talking with the founders, Steve and Paul Beam. These two brothers are seventh-generation bourbon distillers, and they schooled me on the importance of yeast in the fermentation process. Did you know most distilleries have their own strain of yeast they keep under lock and key?
My last stop was the Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., which has the unique distinction of being both a brewery and distillery. It makes Town Branch Bourbon and then uses those barrels to make Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, which is now my husband’s favorite beer. This distillery is an urban distillery, like my fictional Trinity Distillery in San Francisco.
I was so intoxicated by my research, I drove an extra two hours to visit a cooperage, where barrels are built and charred. This was one of the most memorable tours because of the skill involved in building barrels. They’re built by hand, not by machine.
By the time my research trip was over, I had fallen in love with everything bourbon. I hope that passion comes across in Barreled Over. It’s available now in ebook and print and will be coming in audiobook in mid-February.