Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Tips to the Navigating the Trail
I feel like girls who drink whiskey have good stories. - Atticus
Impatient and thirsty. This is how I would describe my insides leading up to our mini-vacation. As lovers of whiskey and history, Ben and I were destined to visit The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. Formed by the Kentucky Distiller's Association in 1999, this lineup of nine distilleries throughout the heart of the state provides a firsthand look and taste behind the art that is crafting bourbon. We approached the trail a-la-carte in March, hitting up the portion located in and around Lexington. We also added a stop to Buffalo Trace, which is technically not listed on the Trail, but very much worth the visit. While indulging and studying, observing and absorbing Kentucky's signature spirit, we gathered a few tips n' thoughts along the way. Read on and meet us in bourbon country.
First and most importantly...
Call it a product of the times, call it the American mentality, call it trying to achieve social media gold, but we all are guilty of cramming in as many activities as humanly possible while on vacation. We have this limited time, maybe two days or maybe a week, and want to maximize it. When we pack our days, however, we can lose sight of the moment. We may not cherish the time or space like it deserves. We most likely overlook the start of a memory.
Ben and I witnessed folks exiting tours early or rushing to their cars upon conclusion to ensure they reached their next scheduled informative outing. They were on a strict timeline to maximize the distilleries visited in one day. Most of the distilleries have business-type hours, approximately 10am until 5pm. Ben and I found visiting two distilleries per day was the perfect amount. This allowed us time to ask questions following the tour, mingle with fellow Bourbon lovers, shake hands, cheers glasses, and say thanks to the experts themselves. Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, by law, must be at least 51 percent corn and aged for at least two years in a brand-new, charred white oak barrel. Two years, at the minimum, it sleeps in rows and absorbs its flavor and color. The least we could do is visit its birthplace for more than an hour.
If we rushed, we wouldn't have met Jimmy Russell, the Master Distiller of Wild Turkey, we wouldn't have snapped our favorite photos of the Buffalo Trace barrel room through less than sneaky tactics, we wouldn't have enjoyed lunch at Wallace Station.
Eat at Wallace Station.
Our Airbnb hosts, Seth and Renee, were crazy generous with their knowledge of the Lexington area. Our trip was seamless thanks to them. Without their local prowess, we would have never purposely stumbled upon this deli of dreams, Wallace Station. Located on Old Frankfort Pike, this small, established deli packs a punch. The Turkey Rachel and the Wallace Cubano were devoured among the white walls plastered with nostalgia and newspaper clippings of accolades. The thing I loved most; the roots of the country store that existed prior to the establishment of the deli are still very much alive. The Old Frankfort Pike, a back road home to this establishment, will not do you wrong.
Always take the Old Frankfort Pike.
Even in March with grey clouds looming, this drive is scenic and serene. Another tip from Renee and Seth, this route showcases the horse country you read about in books, folks. Driving from Lexington to Woodford Reserve to Buffalo Trace, this is the route you always drive. Promise?
Wear comfortable clothes.
If whiskey is the heart of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, the distillery is the bloodline. It never stops, always working, pumping. You will be led through working distilleries and barrel rooms, stepping on wooden base boards and grated floors, scaling alongside copper stills. You may find yourself covered in corn meal or smelling of fermented yeast. It's all apart of the grand and raw experience. Do yourself a favor and wear sneakers or any type of comfortable walking shoes. Pick a lasting cozy outfit, one you don't mind acquiring pieces of bourbon makings. Highly suggest refraining from rockin' extra long black flared jeans (noted for future visits.)
You do not have to love Bourbon.
Ben and I have a deep love for whiskey, in particular bourbon. On the rocks or neat, it has been our spirit of choice over the past couple of years. However, bourbon country has a rich history and rolling, scenic landscapes. How distilleries were formed then survived prohibition (hello medicinal whiskey!) was fascinating. The distilleries themselves becoming historic landmarks. You might not have a taste for whiskey, but we all should have a strong taste for our country's history.
And, lastly, a fun tip from my husband, Ben, in his writing debut!
Purchase items you cannot at home.
It was surprising and impressive to see the different types of whiskeys each distillery carried. It was similar to going to a beer garden and trying to figure out which ones to pick; obviously not as many choices and the cost quickly narrowed our options. I suggest buying a bottle of delicious treats from each of your distillery visits. Don't buy the bottles that you know you can find in your local spirits store, buy something you might not run into so easily. America!
Bourbon country, we will be back for you.
Cheers (more so than ever), Jessa
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