The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Deep in bluegrass country where horse-studded pastures alternate with woodsy hillsides and the only rest stop for miles around is at Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home, there lies a string of historic bourbon distilleries open for tours. Last weekend, when I was in the region, I stopped in at two of them: Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve.
Despite the alcohol in the name, you don’t go to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to get tipsy. First, there is a lot of driving involved on winding country lanes so a big bourbon buzz is a big no-no. Second, I know it’s a shocker (at least it was to me), but not all the distilleries give tastings. Third, a clear head is needed to navigate the rustic (and largely unmarked) backroads. But that’s part of the fun. Just when my friends and I thought we’d reached the middle of a beautiful nowhere, a sign popped up to show the way to the spirits.
Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member MilwVon.
The setting at both Maker’s and Woodford is straight from a picture book of American idyll. Both have little streams and happy trees, green rolling hills, buildings that are over 100 years old, and well-placed rocking chairs or benches so that you can take it all in. At Woodford, I almost expected Bambi to bounce on over and beg for some booze. And at Maker’s, they even have cutesy (or cheesy, depending on how you look at it) details like little bourbon-bottle cut-outs on the shutters.
On each tour, I learned an incredible amount about a uniquely American drink and its heritage. I found out what separates a bourbon from a whisky, and how much of the process is still hand-crafted and focused on small, premium batches. I got to see the assembly lines, the label makers, vats that bubbled and fermented right before my eyes, and barrel upon barrel promising sip after sip with a silky smooth finish.
Tips: Right now, it’s pretty hot along the trail, so I recommend bringing water. Wear comfortable shoes—you’ll do a fair amount of walking and will have to climb some steps. Turn off your cellphones so as not to interrupt the tour guide. And note that we were told that the amount of alcohol in the air can make for a volatile atmosphere, so it’s wisest not to smoke.
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.