If you’re heading for Kentucky Bourbon country this year, you’ll find plenty of big brand distilleries and small craft outfits eager to help you wet your whistle.
But all whiskey all the time can get old (and physically discomfiting, to be frank). Here is how you round out your Bourbon Trail experience with some fine eats and dandy buys along the way.
Discover the secrets behind the spirits
There are more bourbon barrels than people in Kentucky, and, depending on the distillery, barrel aging accounts for between 40 and 80% of what bourbon tastes like. It’s the charred new white oak that gives the spirit its vanilla and caramel flavors. Checking out how those barrels are fashioned for aging bourbon is a must-see for any whiskey diehard.
Those set on blazing their own path should head to Lebanon, KY, and the Independent Stave Company, which runs two tours a day for visitors. If you don’t mind joining a bus tour, check out the Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville via Mint Julep Tours.
Also essential to bourbon-making is Louisville institution Vendome Copper and Brass Works, America’s premier still-builder. Their gleaming handiwork dominates the Bourbon Trail, but as with Brown-Forman Cooperage, the only way to tour their workshops is through Mint Julep Tours.
Man cave hunting
Want to bring home something special for your apartment? KY Whiskey Barrel Goods in Winchester and Bourbon Barrel Furniture in Louisville turn old bourbon barrels into chairs, chests, tables and more.
For your actual bourbon whiskey shopping, you can’t go wrong with Kentucky area booze chain Liquor Barn. You can count on every location being endowed with a wide, deep selection of American whiskey, including specially chosen private barrel bottlings. For hard-to-find bottles, try Red Dot Liquors and in Lexington, Toddy’s in Bardstown and Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville.
Enjoy some fine dining (you’ll need it)
Louisville has become one of America’s hottest foodie destinations, and finding upscale dining shouldn’t be a problem in the trendy NuLu district, just off downtown. For the bourbon explorers, though, the place that best fits the bill is Harvest, where they wed a farm-to-table sensibility with Southern staples.
For dinner in Lexington, steer towards Middle Fork. This eatery serves decadently good takes on traditional seasonal fare from an open kitchen, and the restaurant is located inside the main building of the old James E. Pepper Distillery.
Should you find yourself between Four Roses and Wild Turkey and in need of a lunch stop, steer into the revived Main Street of Lawrenceburg for a bite at Bluegrass Sabor. For some history with your meal, go for steaks washed down with bourbon in the establishment where Aaron Burr once plotted treason, Bardstown’s Old Talbott Tavern.
Finally, for a sweet treat visit the originator of the chocolate-y Bourbon Ball, pick up some of Rebecca Ruth’s candies and maybe go on the tour and see how they are made. You’ll see Bourbon Balls everywhere on the trail, but Ruth Booe was there first, starting in 1919. The Rebecca Ruth factory and shop is in the historic district of Frankfort … conveniently not far from Buffalo Trace.