Alternately titled: How We Visited Seven Distilleries in 48 Hours.
While I was in Florida with my Mom in March, she casually commented, “I’d love to keep (great-nieces) McKayla and Margaret for a long weekend and give (my cousin) Rebecca and (her husband) John some much-needed time off.” So I texted Rebecca as much and asked if they wanted to do a mini-road trip sometime in the not-so-distant future, to which she responded—within seconds, I should note—“John says Bourbon Trail. What do you think?” “Scott and I like bourbon.” “Memorial Day?” “Done.” And that’s how the four of us found ourselves in Kentucky this past weekend.
The only small problem we ran into was that none of us actually did any planning. I’d just returned from three weeks on the ship plus currently juggling a number of new career opportunities; SVV has been busy learning the accounting and financing trade and spearheading our house-hunting efforts, not to mention working on the huge task of “perfecting his golf game by summer,” as
ordered strongly suggested by my father; Rebecca has a full-time job as a financial planner, is finishing her MBA on the side, plus is parent to a four year old and 19-month old baby; and John shares the parenting and householding duties, plus works a demanding job that requires he travel more often than not, from California to Japan to Germany. Between us all, we barely had time to exchange one group email and considered the fact that we thought to book our lodging two weeks in advance “planning.”
Which is probably how it came to be 2pm on Saturday afternoon, we were still an hour outside of Bourbon Country, and it was only then that we discovered not only did all the distilleries close at 4:30pm or earlier, but that it was also one hour later than we thought. Who knew when you traveled due north from Nashville, which is on Central Standard Time, you magically crossed over into the Eastern Standard timezone? Not any of us, and not any of our iPhones.
That was a rude awakening, but what was even harsher was the fact that many of the distilleries were shut on Memorial Day, and most had limited hours from noon to 3pm on Sunday. How on Earth were we going to cram in half a dozen distilleries in just three hours, when many were 45 minutes apart? Our first-world problems had us quickly bemoaning our lack of pre-trip research. But persistence and determination trump minor issues such as debilitating logistics.
Three smart phones and 10 minutes later, we had collaboratively called the big players—those six members of the Bourbon Trail, that is—and come up with a game plan, maximizing our time with the constraints laid out before us. As it turned out, Jim Beam didn’t close until 4:30pm that day, though the last tour had already departed, and was the first one we’d hit off of I-65.
We made straight for Clermont and got there just as they were doling out the last tasting of the day. Luckily, you didn’t have to be on the tour to taste, so we got to try both Bookers and Red Stag Honey Tea—plus sample bourbon chocolates (an added bonus! and no big surprise, my favorite part). SVV also decided we should stock up while there. “We’re going to be visiting at least five or six distilleries this weekend, and this is probably the most common of them. Don’t you want to wait and buy some bourbon at some of the better ones?” I asked. “Oh, I was just planning on getting a bottle or two per stop,” he responded. That’s my husband; I couldn’t be prouder of his adopted Southern ways.
The following days wound up being a blast. I think this picture, our weekend’s bounty (minus an Elijah Craig 12-year and a set of high-ball glasses), pretty much sums up the trip:
I fully plan on doing each distillery we visited justice sometime next week—at the moment, I’m already off again to Birmingham; I know, I know, never home long—but for now, I thought I’d share some insight so you’re not doomed to repeat my errors.
How to Drink Your Way Through Bourbon Country in 5 Easy Steps
- Research days and hours. But you’ve already learned as much from my earlier mistakes, am I right? If you’re planning on just hitting up the big boys, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website is a comprehensive source for such information.
- Know the places that have tasting rooms for the general public and those that only have tastings on tours. Important stuff, y’all. You wouldn’t want to go all the way out to Maker’s Mark in Loretto or Woodford Reserve in Versailles, for example, only to find the tours full and your shot glasses empty, now would you?
- The area is huge—more than 75 miles at its width—so plot your route accordingly beforehand. We did the Bardstown distilleries one day and the Lexington area ones another, and that was still a pretty aggressive itinerary. Three to four days total is ideal if you foresee a lot of bourboning in your visit.
- Veer off the actual trail and see some of the smaller distilleries, as well. A chance Tweet from the master distiller at Willett provided the best distillery experience by far
- Don’t drink and drive. Yeah, you know I had to say that. For liability’s sake.
Now, tell me: How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend?
We rested back at home in Seattle. Very boring compared to all of this excitement. With “a bottle or two per stop” you’re all stocked up for summertime fun. Heading to check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail now.
For summertime? I was thinking until Scott’s birthday on July 4. That ought get us through the next month… 😉
I like you more each and every day.
man…you guys are my heroes!! I am duly impressed by your abilities to hit that many distilleries in such a short time!! I would’ve flagged out after the 4th one… 🙂
Amazing anyone was sober enough to drive after a tour like that. I spent the weekend working. Don’t like to go play with the crowds on a holiday.
The tastings are very modest, and actually Scott and I usually just tasted and didn’t finish. I’m not so keen on bourbon straight up; I’m a wuss and like mine with a mixer, which is not allowed at the distilleries! We are very responsible travelers (and adamantly opposed to drinking and driving), fear not =)
Great trip for Memorial Day! Woodford Reserve is one of my favorites to visit (and sip on!).
The tours (and distilleries) just kept getting better and better. Woodford was one of my favorites all around (we’re actually drinking it right now!), then we went to Maker’s Mark and the location out there is just so beautiful. Plus, you get to dip your own bottle!
Love Bourbon and had not heard about the Kentucky trail until now! Can’t wait to try it out! Thanks for the post!
Always happy to expand horizons—particularly when it comes to bourbon 😉
I saw all of the signs for the distilleries on my way to (and from) the Kentucky Derby. I was so bummed I hadn’t built a little time into my schedule to visit one. Looks like I’ll need to head back to Kentucky!
I think there’s no question about that. And I haven’t forgotten about your Nashville interview–it just might be until the end of June until I have time to snap some photos. Somehow, I have virtually no pictures of the city! What is it about never touring or photographing the places you know the best?!
My parents just moved down to Louisville (from MIchigan) last year. As a huge bourbon fan I fully intend on doing the trail when I’m back in the United States to see them. Probably with some sort of hired transportation.
I’ve actually never been to Louisville, but that’s also on my list. We thought about popping into town from Bardstown, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the distilleries =)
You should definitely check it out when you have time. It far exceeded any expectations I had. A lot of fabulous restaurants, cool dive-ish bars, and local shops. I can’t wait until I’m back in December for a few weeks and have more of a chance to check it out! It’s definitely an underrated southern (southern to us who grew up in the north anyway, I know some from the deep south who would disagree) city.
I’m headed to Louisville in late June. Can’t wait to sample some whiskeys!!
Just remember the creed: “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”
Aside from the fact that I don’t like bourbon, it sounds like a fun weekend! I’m not one to let a little thing like not wanting to drink the main event keep me from hanging out with fun people and seeing a new part of the country 🙂
I’ll pretend I didn’t see that first sentence… 😉
Call me next time – I’m within a couple of hours and would be happy to be your DD 🙂 Sounds like you guys had a great time despite the minor planning “glitches”. I’m not a big fan of bourbon, but I have BIG dreams of doing a California wine country trip. Yep, a wine weekend is very high on my to-do list! I’m sure you have vast knowledge on that,right?
Does Mayhem drink bourbon? Because I’m pretty sure she needs to come on our trip, as well.
Sounds like a whirlwind and I’m super impressed you were able to pack that many distilleries into that amount of time. Also, yum.
Next time, you and Andrew can meet us there, K? I have a feeling the four of us could do some damage.
Someone needs to open a party bus trail. Seriously.
Not a fan of bourbon but I’m impressed at your abilities.
OMG WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN DONE? We took a party bus to a wedding in rural Tennessee a few years ago, and it was the most fun ever. Business idea??
If I had the capital, I really would consider giving it a go. 😛
I absolutely adore your fighting spirit! Making it happen – woot, woot!
Love the play on words! NICE.
I don’t know that I’ve ever actually tasted bourbon straight up. I imagine I wouldn’t be super fond of it without mixers, though, so a bourbon tour maybe isn’t the best option for me. Now, a Kentucky WINE Trail – I could get behind that! =P
Kentucky does actually have a wine trail of sorts. After the tobacco buyout in the early 2000s, a lot of farmers were looking for new ways to make money and got into the wine business. (Apparently, way back in the day KY had one of the first commercial vineyards in the country, so it wasn’t totally out of left field.) The wineries are young and still finding their way, and they’re no CA or Italy or Mendoza vineyards for sure, but some are pretty good and they’re fun to visit. I especially like Lover’s Leap, which is actually in the same town as two bourbon distilleries (Wild Turkey and Four Roses), so you can hit them all up in one trip.
And a huge beer scene, too! Who knew? There’s actually a Kentucky winery deal on Groupon today that I’m contemplating pulling the trigger on…
Sounds like a fantastic experience! I’ve done wine tastings in fun places, but never a spirit tasting. I’ll have to add it to my bucket list.
It’s much more hardcore! I have to admit that I couldn’t always finish my tasting and would slip it to the boys to polish off for me 😉
Oh lordy loo, this is going to be at the top of Swede’s To Do list, he’s as big a bourbon fan as they come!
And I imagine it’s not too far a drive for you guys either!
Reminds me of when I first started dating Kyle and his family took me on the St Louis brewery crawl. Three brewery tours in an afternoon. So much fun and so much beer.
Looks like you guys had a boozey blast!
And with that, you have just dictated our Labor Day weekend trip. Breweries in St. Louis…DONE.
I don’t drink liquor, but I would gladly be the DD for this road trip.
Well, there are wineries AND craft beers in KY, too. I’m sure you could find something your palette would approve of 😉
Very impressive! And some great tips there too 🙂
I was on the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island! It was amazing 🙂
That sounds delightful! I need a good afternoon to catch up on your blog and all your fabulous photos =) I’ve been to the North Island but never the South!
Never heard of this before. I can see how planning ahead makes a bit of a difference too!! Definitely keeping this in mind!
Somehow I knew nothing about this either until recently, despite being a pretty serious bourbon drinker and growing up just three hours south of there!