Well, I didn’t tell you ahead of time because time got away from me, but I’m telling you now – Lynn and I are on the Bourbon Trail right now. We flew into Nashville yesterday and today are making our way through Lexington and on to Louisville, where we’ll stay the night. Our agenda is loose but here’s a quick rundown of what we’re planning to do:
Football season ended with Sunday night’s exciting Super Bowl. So, now we turn to spring baseball, and, welll, just spring. I’ve talked about the Bourbon Trail before, but with spring upon us I wanted to talk about it more! There is no better time to visit Kentucky than spring, although fall is pretty spectacular as well.
The Bourbon Trail, which officially began in 1999, announced this past week that together the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Craft Bourbon Trail saw over 1,000,000 visitors last year. That is an impressive number and shows the interest and growth in bourbon and whiskey. There are two unique trails, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and the Craft Bourbon Trail. There is also a third experience, the Urban Bourbon Trail, which is a tour through Louisville’s bourbon bars (but all bars in Kentucky serve bourbon).
The Bourbon Trail is many of the larger distilleries and in a fairly concentrated section of the state. These are the big boys but that doesn’t mean you don’t get a very informative and personalized tour.
Because they have the bigger budgets their visitor centers are like visiting a museum and candy store with their gift shops. At Jim Beam Lynn got to fill a barrel before it was sent to the warehouse.
Then we got to bottle our own bottle of Knob Creek. We tasted right out of the cypress wood fermenting tanks at Four Roses. Woodford Reserve does 3 different tours. They have their general tour, a historic tour, and the one we took which is called “Corn to Cork.”
The Corn to Cork tour is an educational experience that takes you from where the corn is unloaded into the storage facility to the corking of the bottles. We learned a lot, had a great time, and even got to taste out of a barrel.
Maker’s Mark lets you dip a bottle in the red wax for you to take with you. At Maker’s Mark it’s an interesting story, I don’t want to spoil, about why they painted the buildings black.
The Craft Bourbon Trail includes: Barrel House, Corsair Artisan Distillery, Hartfield & Co., Limestone Branch, MB Roland, New Riff, Peerless Distilling Company, the Old Pogue Distillery, Wilderness Trail, and Willet Distillery. These are your smaller distilleries and give you a close up look at the guys making small batch, craft spirits. The craft distilleries are spread throughout the state. This tour is a real challenge to complete in one trip to Kentucky. We did not complete it but look forward to going back this year and completing it. We did make it to Old Pogue, Willet, and Barrel House. They are all so different, and so interesting. One of our favorites was Old Pogue where it was just the 2 of us. We also got a personal tour of the family’s Antebellum home overlooking the Ohio River. Willet is also one you do not want to miss. Their pot still is famous because their Pot Still Reserve Bourbon is in a bottle the shape of their still.
There are other outstanding distilleries not on the official bourbon trails but a must on your trip. Those include Old Barton and Buffalo Trace. Anyone who knows their bourbon knows Buffalo Trace has a lot of brands. Just a few of their brands are Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, Sazerac Rye, George T. Stagg, Stagg Jr., W.L. Weller, and one other brand might have heard of — Pappy Van Winkle.
As you can see there are a lot of stops you can make on the Bourbon trail and I haven’t even mentioned other things to do while you are there. There is always horse racing at Churchill Downs in Louisville, or Keeneland in Lexington.
Or for something different plan a picnic and go to Steeplechase Racing or Polo. These events are always fun, exciting, and feature the food and drink of the region. Churchill Downs makes a mean Mint Julep in the spring. There is always a tour of a horse farm around the Lexington area.
So where do you stay? The bourbon trail is very spread out, so you have to decide where you want to start and end if you’re trying to see a lot of distilleries. We stayed at the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville. A grand of Hotel with a great history. The Brown Hotel in Louisville is also a great place to stay. The Brown Hotel is home to the original Kentucky Hot Brown (another blog to come – I’m a big fan). In Harrodsburg, the Beaumont Inn has been highly recommended by friends. But Lexington, Frankfurt, Bardstown all have wonderful places to stay. In Bardstown you must stop in the Talbott Tavern for a bite to eat. It is the oldest western stagecoach stop in America having been built in 1779.
I could go on and on about bourbon, horses, and Kentucky. Leave a comment with some of your favorite stops along the bourbon trail if you’ve been before!
We are just a month and a half away from the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. Have you started planning your Kentucky Derby gathering? Whether it’s you and your best friends in the den, or a backyard full of people, what bourbon will you serve on Derby Day? As an avid horse racing fan, this is my favorite time of year. Its spring, horse racing’s Triple Crown is around the corner, and it’s time to enjoy a little bourbon on the patio.
I will cover a lot of related subjects the next 2 months and today I am excited to share the special edition 2016 Kentucky Derby Bottle that Woodford Reserve released just a few days ago.
I believe this is the 6th one of these they have done since becoming the “official bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby. The bottle always has new art, is colorful, and brings the race right to your bar. What better way to jazz up the big day! This is a perfect bourbon for a Mint Julep during the Kentucky Derby. This year’s bottle does not disappoint. You can read more about the bottle’s artwork in the press release Woodford sent out.
Woodford’s press release says the bottle will be out in March. It’s usually available at your better liquor stores, BevMo and Total Wine. The best part of the Woodford bottle is what is inside the bottle. Woodford reserve is a fantastic Bourbon and, as I said in my post about Bourbon Country, a great tour.
I was actually asked yesterday what bourbon I serve on Derby Day. There are a lot of good choices and I just think you have to start with Woodford. I love to have bottles on the bar with a horse racing theme. The next that comes to mind for me is Blanton’s. It’s another great Bourbon in an equally impressive package. Blanton’s was the first to market and sell single barrel bourbon. The unique bottle that looks like cut glass is topped by a cork with a brass horse and rider on it. Even more unique, there are 8 different positions of the horse and rider from standing to a full gallop. At the base of each horse’s back foot is a letter that corresponds to the gait you see. The 8 letters spell out Blanton’s.
Lexington is another horse racing themed Bourbon and named after the famous horse Lexington. Not quite the quality of Blanton’s or Woodford but a very reasonable price point. Other horse-themed bourbons are Chestnut Farms and Calumet. Calumet is named for the famous farm which bred several Triple Crown winners, including Citation and Whirlaway.
Whatever you pour, remember that bourbon is the essential ingredient in a Mint Julep. Make sure your guests enjoy the best.
A great adventure for spring is hitting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Lynn and I did the Bourbon Trail in the Fall a few years ago. Kentucky is a big state and you can’t cover it all in a day, or even two. Before hitting the road, you definitely want to have a plan of attack to see the distilleries you want to tour.
But first, if you are going to earn the official Bourbon Trail t-shirt or Julep Cup, you need to decide which trail you will follow. “Which trail?” you say. Yes! There are 3 trails: The Bourbon Trail (mostly the big distilleries you’ve heard of), the Craft Bourbon Tour (smaller distilleries) and the Urban Bourbon Trail (Louisville’s distilleries). All 3 are unique and offer different experiences, and can also be mixed and matched together.
Lynn and I drove to Kentucky after visiting our daughter in Richmond, Virginia – so that kind of determined where we began. If flying in, your could start in Lexington and end in Louisville, or vice versa.
We started at “Old Pogue” without reservations. It was during sequestration and while we had planned to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah National Park, we were shut out, so we went on to Maysville, Kentucky. We showed up at Old Pogue for the first tour of the day. We knocked on the door and when John Pogue opened the door we said we were there for the first tour. John said, “I didn’t know I had a tour this morning,” and we said, “You do now.” It was just the 3 of us. What a great way to start the week.
Old Pogue is a great little Craft Distillery. Founded in 1876, it closed after prohibition and was re-opened by 5th and 6th generation Pogues. They even bought back the old antebellum home of the family which sits next to small distillery.
We then continued on to Town Branch
And then it was on to the rest of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail passport. Although they are big they are all different. Lynn had read about the “Corn to Cork” tour at Woodford Reserve. It was a great education and they do very small groups. Its more expensive and you have to book in advance but well worth it. We sampled some bourbon right out of the barrel at Woodford Reserve. Lynn also got to fill a barrel at Jim Beam, and while there also filled her own bottle of Knob Creek. Along the Bourbon Trail, we also visited Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Evan Williams.
Filling a barrel Jim Beam
The Craft Tour gives you the chance to see things even more up close and have a more intimate experience. We haven’t completed that passport yet, but did a lot of it. I will write about the Old Pogue experience later. It deserves a whole blog.Willett Distillery was another great experience and well worth the stop.Limestone Branch also offered another unique experience.
The Urban Bourbon Trail is a bar hopping experience that allows you to experience all that great bourbon you have been tasting and reading about all week. When you combine that with the food in Louisville it’s an evening you will not forget.
We ended our trip in Louisvile, and stayed the night at the Seelbach Hotel, a great old historic hotel. While we were in Louisville, we stopped by the Brown Hotel for a Hot Brown – a must do in Louisville!
Feel free to leave a comment below if you’re planning your Bourbon Trail visit and are looking for additional suggestions on your trip!