Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Our first year of marriage was full of adventure! It began with our honeymoon in Hawaii in November 2015. A tiny Weimaraner puppy named Whiskey joined our family in January 2016. February brought a weekend trip to Portland, March brought a week long road trip from New Orleans to Austin, and summer was filled with small camping trips, plus my girls’ trip to Colorado in July. October was spent traveling to the weddings of two close friends, one in North Carolina and the other at home in Georgia. We are exhausted just remembering all of what we did in 2016.

By November, we were ready for a low-key celebration of our action-packed first year as Mr. & Mrs. We decided on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as our anniversary gift to each other. We began the journey from our home in Memphis on a Thursday night, spending the night at my sister’s house outside of Nashville. After a quick Friday morning breakfast of kolaches at Yeast Nashville (yum) we set off for the first of TEN bourbon distilleries.

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Chai tea and a sundried tomato, feta, and pesto kolache. Did I mention yum?

Bulleit was a highly anticipated stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, as it is one of Tony’s favorites. We paid $10 each for the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, which included a tour followed by a tasting of 4 bourbons. We didn’t realize it at the time since it was our first stop of ten, but this was one of the most authentic tours along the trail. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and we felt like we got a real look into the operations at Bulleit.

The next stop in Louisville was the Evan Williams Experience. While Bulleit was authentic, Evan Williams was flashy. Think World of Coke in Atlanta but for bourbon. We got some of the last tickets of the day ($12 each) for the 5:00 pm tour, giving us just enough time to get to our dinner reservations at 7:00 pm. This tasting included 3 bourbons and a chocolate. Bourbon tastings with chocolate > bourbon tastings without chocolate.

We sprinted over to Milkwood Restaurant as soon as our tour ended to make our 7:00 pm reservation. As a fan of Top Chef, I was dying to eat at one of Edward Lee’s restaurants in the Louisville area. We will have to check out 610 Magnolia on a future special occasion. We only managed to get one photo from our decadently delicious dinner. See below.

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The quirky cocktail menu from Milkwood Restaurant

Luckily, we recorded everything we ate and drank! No pictures, sorry, but just use your imagination. 🙂 For cocktails, I had the Sweet Ruby (Buffalo Trace, herbal tea, peach, mint) and Tony had the Big in Bangkok (Four Roses, peanut butter, lime, thai bitters). As an appetizer, we shared the Octopus Bacon (smashed potatoes, sour cream, kalamata, jalapeno puree). I had the Fried Chicken Plate entree (charred green beans, biscuit, buttermilk dill dressing, ponzu) and Tony had the Pork Shoulder entree (black BBQ, coconut rice, edamame, curry oil). As if we hadn’t indulged enough, we shared a dessert of Chocolate Chess Pie (peanut butter ice cream, caramel corn, sea salt). It was a heck of an anniversary dinner just a few days early. And because balance is important, after our fancy dinner, we camped that night at the KOA in South Louisville. It was nice, but we got there late and left early, so any campsite would have sufficed.

Saturday morning, we visited the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky. We read about this place in Kentucky Off the Beaten Path, and if we would have planned a little better, we could have attended a mass or scheduled a tour. We were only able to see the small museum and gift shop on their grounds, but we did leave with a souvenir of some mint julep fudge!

Our first bourbon distillery on Saturday was probably our favorite one on the trip. The tour at Maker’s Mark is definitely worth the winding drive to Loretto. At $9 a ticket, you can see their beautiful campus, hear all about the bourbon production process, and taste four bourbons plus a chocolate. The most memorable part was dipping our own bottle of Maker’s 46 into the signature red wax. 

After Maker’s Mark, we headed over to Jim Beam in Clermont. Conveniently, the cashier asked us if we would like to add a cocktail to our Bourbon 101 tour package ($8 for each tour + $8 for each cocktail). We would have both ordered the Frosted Coffee Beam, but they just ran out, so Tony had an Old Fashioned and I had a Peach Beamellini.

Another unique aspect of the Jim Beam tour is the way they do the end-of-the-tour tasting. Each tour participant is given a glass and a card loaded with three samples from the bourbon fountains. Yes, bourbon fountains! There are too many options to choose from, but if you partner up like we did, you can try six different bourbons. They also let us keep the tasting glass as a souvenir. As if we needed more glassware in our house…

 After two tours that required a bit of driving, we didn’t have enough time to tour the Bourbon Heritage Center a.k.a. Heaven Hill. We stopped by for a quick selfie and walked through the museum/gift shop. We didn’t feel like we missed out on much here, especially since we had enjoyed Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam so much earlier on in the day.

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Bourbon Heritage Center – Heaven Hill

We cannot speak highly enough of our campsite for the remaining two nights of our trip! Whispering Hills RV Park  in Georgetown was all sparkly and new and had an immaculately clean bathhouse with giant handicapped size bathrooms. The bathhouse was heated and had full laundry facilities, which we didn’t need to use on such a short trip, but I will keep in mind for future camping. I can’t brag enough about the friendly staff and calm atmosphere at Whispering Hills. 10 out of 10.

On our last day of bourbon trailing, we started our day in Frankfort at a local dive called the Cliffside Diner. Basic diner breakfast at it’s finest complete with employees yelling at each other right on the other side of the counter.

Sunday was our most packed day with four distillery tours. Around 11:00 am, we headed to Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg and paid $10 each for the tour and tasting. The visitor center at Wild Turkey is beautiful and new and has the perfect background for an outdoor photo.

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Outside the Visitor Center @ Wild Turkey

Our souvenirs from Wild Turkey were a bottle of American Honey Sting as well as the complimentary tasting glasses. After Wild Turkey, we stayed in Lawrenceburg and drove to Four Roses around 1:00 pm. We paid $5 each for the tour at Four Roses, and since it was under construction, we didn’t get a full tour. After a weekend of bourbon tours, we definitely got the gist. We wanted to hit all of the distilleries on the trail, so next we drove to Versailles to visit Woodford Reserve. We arrived around 2:30 pm and they close at 3:00 pm on Sundays. They also charge $14 per person for a tour, and after paying between $5 and $10 each for the other distilleries, we were fine with a tasting only for $8 each. It was a small tasting too, only two bourbons and a chocolate, but it was the most Instagram-worthy moment of the day 🙂

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Dat flavor wheel doe.

So one more distillery to go before we complete the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport! At 4:00 pm, we arrived in downtown Lexington for the last tour of the day at Town Branch. Lucky timing. The unique part of this tour is that you pay $10 each for a combined tour of Alltech Lexington’s beer brewing and bourbon distilling facility. They give you four wooden tokens which you can redeem for any combination of beers and spirits along the tour. The Bluegrass Sundown that they sample is a quite delicious coffee and vanilla bourbon liqueur. If we hadn’t already spent so much, we would have taken home a bottle!

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Town Branch in Lexington

As if we hadn’t had enough bourbon, we stopped by Buffalo Trace on Monday morning before heading back to Memphis. Located in Frankfort, Buffalo Trace offers 5 different tours and they are all FREE! For business reasons, Buffalo Trace did not affiliate themselves with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, so they aren’t on the official trail and passport. That is no reason to skip out on this tour, as it was one of the best ones. Buffalo Trace was the perfect way to end our trip.

Happy Trails!

-Emilee

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Our last tour of the trip at Buffalo Trace

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