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?