Wandering Kentucky bourbon country
Just as Dorothy followed the yellow brick road, bourbon neophytes and aficionados alike can pursue a similarly storied path: the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Both lead to a world of magic and mystery, adventure and pure awesomeness – and to the Master Distillers who control the levers, so to speak, behind the curtain.
The first steps should be taken in Bardstown, Kentucky, the Bourbon Capital of the World.
Bardstown is home to six distilleries, four of which are on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including Heaven Hill and Jim Beam. Also here are Barton 1792, and Willett, the former the oldest fully operating distillery in Bardstown, the latter still using some of the original bourbon recipes developed by Master Distiller John David Willett in the 19th century.
As if the touring and tasting possibilities at some of the world’s most celebrated bourbon distilleries aren’t enough, Bardstown is also home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, a great first stop to brush up on the history of America’s only native spirit with displays that include President George Washington’s confiscated copper still, Prohibition-era “prescriptions,” novelty whiskey containers (King Tut’s tomb!), and a stunning Art Deco bottle collection.
One might get the idea that Bardstown is the place to live, eat, sleep and breathe bourbon – and one would be correct. At Bourbon Manor, the world ‘s first bourbon-themed bed and breakfast inn, the innkeepers keep guests steeped in the bourbon experience. Sip bourbon in The Bunghole lounge and bar and enjoy a breakfast of bourbon and bacon flapjacks covered in a secret-recipe bourbon caramel syrup.
Beyond bourbon: My Old Kentucky Dinner Train (www.kydinnertrain.com)
Shaq & CoCo (https://shaqandcoco.com) for glam gifts.
Perhaps the granddaddy of ’em all – Buffalo Trace holds the distinction of being the world’s most award-winning distillery, oldest continually (legally) operating distillery in the country and one of four distilleries allowed to remain open during Prohibition. For medicinal purposes only.
“Each member of the family was allowed up to two pints of bourbon a month and would receive a prescription written by a doctor, which they would take to a pharmacy to fill,” said Buffalo Trace tour guide Fred Mozenter. “This is why many pharmacies sell alcohol today.”
Later this summer Castle and Key opens in restored century-old buildings at the former Old Taylor Distillery, built in 1887 by Col. Taylor and featuring a limestone castle, gazebos and sunken gardens. At its helm will be Kentucky’s only female Master Distiller, Marianne Barnes.
Beyond bourbon: Josephine Sculpture Park (www.josephinesculpturepark.org),
Artisan-made gifts at Completely Kentucky (www.completelykentucky.com).
Pretty much everybody who tours the hallowed grounds of Maker’s Mark Distillery wants to dip a bottle into the signature molten red wax. It is a coveted part of going behind the scenes at this legendary distillery.
A new attraction is The Cellar, carved from a natural limestone shelf on distillery grounds as a place to finish Maker’s 46. Beloved among bourbon enthusiasts everywhere, this particular bourbon is made by placing seared French oak staves into a barrel of fully aged Maker’s Mark for about nine weeks.
Beyond bourbon: The 3.2-mile Gorley Naturalist Trail
That Cute Little Shop
The first distillery to open since Prohibition in Kentucky’s largest city was the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Located on Whiskey Row on Louisville’s beautiful waterfront, the immersive experience sweeps visitors into 1783 and the world of Kentucky’s first commercial distiller, Evan Williams.
Whiskey Row’s newest distillery is Angel’s Envy. Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, who created the Woodford Reserve and Gentleman Jack brands among others, came out of retirement to work with his son, Wes, on an idea he’d had for years: finishing bourbon in port barrels.
Louisville is also the home of the Urban Bourbon Trail, with dozens of stops – each carrying a minimum of 50 bourbons – showcasing its standing as one of America’s “10 Best New Food Cities” and its bourbon heritage, which dates to the 18th century when frontier farmers first discovered the benefits of Kentucky’s limestone-filtered water.
Beyond bourbon: The Speed Museum (www.speedmuseum.org)
Mint Julep Cups at Louisville Stoneware (www.louisvillestoneware.com)
BOURBON OR BUST
Although Harrodsburg is surrounded by Kentucky Bourbon Country, it just got a distillery last year when Olde Towne opened the country’s first distillery to produce moonshine from hemp. But it already had a reputation for pouring fine Kentucky bourbon. Dixon Dedman, fifth generation innkeeper at the James Beard America’s Classic award-winning Beaumont Inn, takes visitors on a journey of premium bourbons during the innkeeper’s Personalized Bourbon Tastings.
Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there’s just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at KathyWitt24@gmail.com.