Exploring the people, places, and pastimes that
celebrate bourbon, America's native spirit
Introducing Bourbon Spirit:
Ten Things I’ll Do When Bourbon Tourism
Opens Up Again
I’m writing to introduce myself and a new column that will appear each month in the Whisk(e)y Network magazine. It’s called Bourbon Spirit and will focus on bourbon culture with an emphasis on people and storytelling in Kentucky and all around the US.
I’m broadly defining bourbon culture to include everything from bourbon events (like the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown), to distillery and bourbon-related tours, to profiles and interviews with folks in the industry, to general bourbon industry trends and news. I might even mix in a little bourbon history now and then.
What I won’t do is review individual bourbons or tell you what to drink or buy. I jokingly tell people I have neither the palette nor the wallet to presume to advise you on the bourbon itself. The Whisk(e)y Network has plenty of qualified experts on hand to do that. Besides, that’s a pretty personal thing: I think you should drink what you like, how you like it.
But when it comes to knowing what’s going on in the rest of the bourbon world, I’m your guy. And not just in Kentucky either (even if 95 percent of all bourbon is made here). I’m anxious to explore the growing craft bourbon scenes around the country.
But Bourbon Spirit will also focus on stories suggested by our readers. If there’s something you like to learn more about or someone in the world of bourbon you’d like to meet, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a travel writer and tour guide who focuses on the Kentucky Bourbon tourism, events, culture, and history scene, Louisville is the perfect place for me to live. I grew up here before living in Missouri, Oklahoma, Lexington (Kentucky), and Florida, and then returned home to the bluegrass and bourbon state for good.
I write my own blog called The Bourbon Tutor. My wife Judy and I are travel advisors/owners at The Travel Tutor. I also work as a chauffeur and bourbon guide for Pegasus Distilled and especially enjoy my time hosting guests touring the Kentucky bourbon scene.
Kentucky is just now starting to open up after spending a couple of months staying “Healthy at Home.” I spoke to representatives at several distilleries and they told me that June 8th has been set for the reopening of the tours at attractions like the distilleries. The retail gift shops can open May 20 if they follow state guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing. And many locations, especially the craft distilleries, continue to offer curbside pickup of bourbon products and hand sanitizer.
In the meantime, I offer my list of The Top 10 Things I Can’t Wait to Do Again Once Bourbon Tourism Opens Up Again:
Visit the Frazier History Museum on Whiskey Row in Louisville.
This spectacular Frazier History Museum is the official Welcome Center for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT) and is the perfect place to start. I’ll begin on the first floor at the free exhibit with information on all the KBT distilleries. On the third floor, in the Spirit of Kentucky exhibit about all things bourbon, I won’t want to miss the Bottle Hall, where you can see (but not sample) the more than 500 brands of bourbon now being distilled in Kentucky (Note: Spirit of Kentucky exhibit requires Museum admission).
Visit Buffalo Trace and hope that Freddie Johnson is my tour guide.
Of course, all the tour guides at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort are excellent, but Freddie Johnson is a rock star. He’s a third generation employee of the distillery, has been inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, and even has the root beer named after him that they sell in the gift shop. Best of all, Freddie’s a great storyteller, he knows (and loves) his bourbon, and he’s just a really nice guy.
Check in with the ghosts and have a drink at the Old Seelbach Bar.
Whether you’re a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby or the infamous King of the Bootleggers George Remus, the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville is always worth a visit. One of the grand historic hotels in America, it’s home to the Old Seelbach Bar where you can choose from an extensive bourbon list and hear a story or two about the hotel’s various ghosts. It’s one of the many stops on the Urban Bourbon Trail, a group of restaurants and bars that offer an exceptional number of bourbon choices.
Visit Angel’s Envy Distillery and hope that Master Distiller Wes Henderson crashes the tour.
It happened once, it can happen again. Last summer while touring the distillery, Angel’s Envy
co-founder Wes Henderson graciously stopped to say hi to our group, thank us for coming, answer questions, and to politely encourage us to keep drinking his family’s bourbon.
Sit on the porch at the Homeplace and enjoy the panoramic view of Maker’s Mark Distillery
There is no better feeling that sitting in a rocking chair of the old Homeplace while waiting for your Maker’s Mark Distillery tour to start. Taking in the beautiful scenery down the hill, from the historic black buildings with unique red trim to the limestone-lined creek that meanders lazily through the landscape. Smelling a hint of bourbon in the air and anticipating the upcoming trip through bourbon history, no matter how many times you’ve taken it.
Sign up for the first new event at the Speakeasy Room at the Evan Williams Experience.
Hidden in the basement of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville, behind the door of an old safe, is where you can revisit the Prohibition era in the Speakeasy Room. This authentically decorated bar is available for private parties and select public events. And I plan to have a ticket for whatever the first one is.
Sip a classic Old Fashioned on the deck outside the Woodford Reserve Visitor’s Center.
Again with the rocking chairs. The deck behind the Visitor’s Center at Woodford Reserve Distillery is the perfect place to spend some time before or after your tour. Whether you’re people watching or just appreciating the beautiful limestone architecture nestled among the trees, order a Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned at the outside bar and rock on.
Start with the Pimento Cheese Grits Bites at The Stave Restaurant and Bourbon Bar
There are many great places to eat on your way to and from a bourbon distillery visit. But one of my favorites is The Stave Restaurant and Bourbon Bar, not far down the two-lane road lined with dry-stacked limestone fences and thoroughbred horse farms between Woodford Reserve and Frankfort. This unassuming little place is the home of some amazing Southern cuisine and lots of bourbon choices. I’m starting with the Pimento Cheese Grits Bites, but you might want to try the Hot Brown Tots. Better yet, let’s share.
Sit in on Jammin’ at Jeptha for cocktails, food and live music at Jeptha Creed Craft Distillery.
In addition to the vodka, moonshine, and bourbon they make using locally grown ingredients, Jeptha Creed Craft Distillery in Shelbyville can host a mean concert on the covered porch on a Friday night. I can’t wait until the bar and Creed Café are open, the local food trucks pull up in the parking lots, and a variety of area musicians show up for Jammin’ at Jeptha.
Stop and smell the bunghole of a new barrel at Kentucky Artisan Distillery
Let me explain. During a tour last year at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Oldham County, our tour guide Patty brought us to a collection of brand new, recently charred white oak barrels, waiting to be filled with distilled spirits. Her memorable quotation: “I was a teacher and I never would have said this in a middle school classroom. I can’t believe I’m about to say it now. But you might want to go over and smell the bunghole.” It’s an amazing aroma that is a fresh mix of the burnt sugars in the newly charred oak with a promise of the bourbon flavors to come. I can’t wait to stop in, say hi to Patty, and nose a new barrel again.