Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail

Our trip last year to Asheville, North Carolina instilled in me a desire to see more of the United States, especially the South. So much of the scenery is striking, the food delicious, and the hospitality second to none (this is especially true coming from the rather brusque persona of the Northeast). Although we’ve already chosen where we’re traveling in 2012, I am forever looking ahead (at least from a planning trips standpoint) and already have tentative ideas in place as to where we should travel next year. Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is an idea I’ve just thought of, but the more I read about it, it sounds fantastic and incredibly unique, not to mention, as car drives go, it’s not too long for us coming from western Pennsylvania.

To provide you with a little background in case you’re not a fine spirits kind of individual, bourbon is a type of American whiskey, a barrel-aged distilled spirit that is primarily made from corn. I have never drunk bourbon “straight up” but when I visited New Orleans, I did order a mint julep, a cocktail usually associated with Southern cuisine. It comprises a mint leaf, sugar, water, and bourbon. It was INCREDIBLY strong but I suppose is the quintessential adult beverage south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Bourbon production began in Kentucky in the 1700s with the first settlers and has been in existence ever since. Although there are countless bourbon distilleries throughout Kentucky, only six belong to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour. In 1999 the Kentucky Distillers’ Association formed the tour to “give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting bourbon and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of our signature spirit,” according to its website. The six signature distilleries comprising the trail are Four Roses Bourbon, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey Bourbon, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. All are located in the state’s famed Bluegrass region, an area that was named by the European settlers for the blue flowered Poa grass that grew there.

The official Bourbon Trail website recommends visitors allow at least two days to visit all six distilleries. While some are only a short drive from each other (less than 10 miles), others are much farther (more than 50 miles). However, as the website notes, you are driving through some of the United States’ most gorgeous landscape. A feature of the tour is the passport that visitors can request at the first distillery they visit; if they get a stamp at all six distilleries, they can mail in their passport for a free t-shirt commemorating their bourbon adventures.

I’ve only stayed at one bed and breakfast on my travels, a charming and historic one in Sharpsburg, Maryland, site of the famous Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War, and will stay at another one in Portugal. However, I definitely think the bed and breakfast route is the way to go when driving the trail. It traverses through some of the state’s most historic areas and staying in a bed and breakfast, potentially one that is more than 100 years old, would only add to making the trip more memorable. Bardstown, Kentucky, nicknamed the Bourbon Capital of the World (three of the tour’s six distilleries are located in the area), is home to the Old Talbot Tavern (also known as the Old Stone Tavern), a historic establishment built in 1779. According to tradition, it has never closed in its more than 200 years of operation. It serves as both a restaurant and a bed and breakfast (there are five rooms).

There’s no doubt I’m eagerly looking forward to our planned trips to Disneyland and Portugal later this year. Yet a part of me is also psyched over the idea of visiting another state, especially one with such a famous driving tour (the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was named one of the 50 “Drives of a Lifetime” by National Geographic), and learning more about such an iconic American drink.

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