So you want to take your love (or your lonesome) to a place where the whiskey barrels outnumber the people, the food never strays far from comfort and the sun is always shining.
Good news: there’s a place that peddles in exactly that. It’s called Kentucky, and it’s littered with houses of hooch that have warmed up to the idea of sharing their secrets with visitors (for a modest fee, of course) in recent years. Some of these distilleries are part of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail (which you probably have heard of), and some of them are independent.
And when you go, these are the five destinations you want to hit — as vetted by long hours of personal experience from your correspondent.
If you’re looking for the perfect intersection of romance and whiskey, the Labrot & Graham Distillery (where they make Woodford Reserve) has it. If the bucolic bluegrass splendor alongside Glenn’s Creek — due west of the immaculately manicured Keeneland racetrack — doesn’t do it for you, the historic fieldstone buildings will. And crowning this prettiest of pictures are three Scottish-made copper pot stills, the only set of their kind in Kentucky.
Many of bourbon’s most celebrated names — Blanton’s, Pappy, Stagg and Weller — are made at Buffalo Trace, the mecca of American whiskey. Beyond the stellar juice made, though, the distillery has a certain charm to call its own. The place resembles a spit-polished booze factory from a former time, and they offer five distinct tours so you can come back again and again (and again) and still learn something new.
Before Woodford Reserve opened in the mid-1990s, Maker’s Mark held the crown as the prettiest distillery in Kentucky — and it’s still the place that gets the idea of “visitor experience” the best. The rustic location is a bit tricky to find, but getting lost on the way just adds to the luster of dipping your own bottle in the iconic red wax.
At a time when most very popular bourbons are also very hard to find, the smart move is to devote some attention to the good but neglected stuff. That is where a visit to Barton 1792 in Bardstown comes in. The distillery runs well-rounded — and often crowd-free — demos of the making of a handful of bourbons you should get more familiar with, and as the oldest running distillery in Bardstown (it dates back to 1879), it also offers some more of the same old-style factory charm as its sister, Buffalo Trace.
Old Pogue is a peek inside the lives of a Kentucky bourbon clan reviving the family business: from the personnel to the craft distilling experience to the pleasures of a long drive in the country. Their location in Maysville is due east of Cincinnati, Ohio. That, plus the by-appointment-only tours, means it might be just you and Paul or John Pogue himself. And the distillery itself is an 1845 Greek Revival mansion overlooking the Ohio River, so bring your shuttersnapper.