Kentucky Bourbon Trail
As the saying goes, “When in Rome…” – only this time we were in Louisville, Kentucky. So in honor of their state’s signature spirit, we found ourselves planning our trip through the Bourbon Trail in order to get the full experience the Bluegrass state has to offer. The Bourbon Trail is a bit east of Louisville, where we were staying, so we strategically figured out how to make the most of our time at each distillery once we headed that direction. However, before we even made it that far, someone informed us of the Urban Bourbon Trail. Soon after, we were collecting passport stamps along downtown hotels and bars to complete our “Pick Six” and earn official status as a Citizen of Bourbon Country. Each bar has at least 50 bourbons and some have over 150- plenty to choose from!
Since we were staying at The Brown Hotel, we stopped by the Lobby Bar for our first stamp. Their Mint Julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, set the standard high for the rest of our stops. It is a must! It took my number one spot with the first sip. Venturing downtown, we ran into Fourth Street Live. An entire block full of restaurants, bars, music and energy, we found Howl at the Moon– a packed bar singing along to the dueling pianos- and a Manhattan at Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge. Thanks to the passport, we knew what drink each bar was known for along the Urban Bourbon Trail. The next night, we went a little farther down Fourth Street to the river and stopped into Jockey Silks for a Jockey’s Dream at the Galt House Hotel. We eventually made our way to Main Street, historically known as “Whiskey Row.” We grabbed the “The Ambassador’s Wife” from Proof, the bar at 21C Museum Hotel, which was so good it was my second favorite drink along the trail. Back on Fourth Street towards our hotel, the Old Seelbach Bar at Seelbach Hilton begged us for one last nightcap. We hit up Dish on Market the following day to complete our passport and turned it in to the Visitor’s Center for our Bourbon Country Certification and free “I made a splash in Louisville” t-shirt.After leaving Louisville, we were on to the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail!
We headed to Maker’s Mark for our first distillery tour, bourbon history lesson and tasting. A little off the beaten path and removed from the rest of the trail, the sprawling distillery is distinctively branded in black and red and surrounded by beautiful countryside.Next up was a craft Bourbon distillery– not on the official Bourbon Trail, but part of the craft trail. We toured Willett, which also makes the small batch bourbons of Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek, and loved seeing their original pot still.The next day we headed to Buffalo Trace. An instant favorite, we loved the in-depth tour where we got to walk through the bottling line and see the entire process- we even got to finish packaging a bottle of Eagle Rare. Their company umbrella covers Pappy Van Winkle and George T. Stagg bourbons as well as the entire Antique Collection. However, if bourbon is a little too much to handle, they have you covered with their amazingly smooth and sweet Bourbon Cream.
We didn’t mind tasting bourbon at 9:30 in the morning and are so happy we were able to squeeze this distillery in– you gotta do what you gotta do 🙂 The far right photo below shows the evaporation process of bourbon each year as it sleeps in the barrel. The top left is a new entry; top right shows 4 years old; bottom left shows 9 years and the bottom right shows 18 years in the barrel. The lost bourbon is called “Angel’s Share” and is what you smell when walking into a warehouse full of aging bourbon barrels.We drove through beautiful countryside and equestrian pastures until we reached Woodford Reserve. A National Historic Landmark on 78 acres, bourbon has been produced here since 1812 and Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby– look for their official bottles specially branded for every Derby! We enjoyed “Picnic on the Porch” and a few (ok, maybe more than a few!) of Kentucky’s specialty dessert, bourbon balls.A short drive away we landed at Four Roses, the only Spanish Mission style distillery on the trail with architecture unique even to the state of Kentucky. Built in 1910, it is also on the National Register of Historic Places.We learned so much about bourbon we felt like we could give the tours!
“All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”
To explain this, here’s a little rundown of bourbon laws and history that we learned along the trail: Bourbon can only be made in the 50 states; it has to be 51% corn with the remainder being natural grains; the barrels must be aged in oak barrels that have been charred and must only be used once; there must not be any additives or coloring; to be Straight Kentucky Bourbon, it has to be aged at least two years; bourbon must be distilled at 160 proof and put in the barrels at no more than 125 proof; the water in Kentucky is what makes the bourbon so good, and there are more aging bourbon barrels in Kentucky than people!
All in all, we loved collecting passport stamps along the Bourbon Trail and becoming Official Citizens of Bourbon Country. And don’t worry, we’ll be back for more!
L + R