Last year, mostly in the name of tasting and buying the iconic amber spirit, 750,000 people toured at least one of more than a dozen marquee Kentucky bourbon distilleries, many of which are located within an hour’s drive of each other. None are too far from a sizable Whiskey barrel metropolis, either. Is it any surprise that luxuriant Kentucky greenery, immaculate thoroughbred stables, and enticing bed and breakfasts line plenty of the Trail’s way? Global sales of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey approached $4 billion last year. Take that, Chardonnay.
Consider navigating the Bourbon Country is something of a triangle, and paying leisurely visits to two or three distilleries per day. Before heading south out of Louisville, stop at the downtown, five-story, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, and take a selfie next to the huge bourbon bottle/lowball glass fountain from which amber liquid pours. Part of the Speakeasy Tour guides visitors through a vault-style door and into an old-timey drinking club for a lesson on Prohibition and—of course—a tasting. Only 30 miles away is the Jim Beam distillery and some DIY fun; fill a barrel or bottle—or maybe both—with bourbon. When it comes to the tasting, at Beam or for that matter anywhere along the Trail, remember to employ the “Kentucky Chew”: while swallowing a sip, quickly and repeatedly open and close the lips to enjoy more bourbon flavor.
Pull into Bardstown for the evening, check out the 19th-century former Nelson County Courthouse (a chunk of town is on the National Register of Historic Places), have a meal on the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, and drive to Bourbon Manor for the night. Guests know when they’ve arrived at the themed bed and breakfast: oak bourbon barrels double as signage.
Stay at Bourbon Manor Bed & Breakfast Inn – a Bourbon Lover’s Paradise, located downtown Bardstown, the Birthplace of Bourbon and recently voted “America’s Most Beautiful Small Town.” The 1810 and 1830 antebellum homes sit side-by-side on three acres, and visitors will want to go easy on the flights of bourbon available in the B&B’s three-level, 5,500-square-foot historic tobacco barn that now operates as The Bunghole Bourbon Bar; the next morning’s breakfast could feature pecan sticky buns drizzled with a bourbon-caramel sauce and bourbon-marinated bacon.
“We’re working on a line of bourbon-type spa products too,” says Bourbon Manor co-owner Todd Allen, who also has something for those wanting a break from everything bourbon. His other inn, the more pastoral Maple Hill Manor bed and breakfast, which features an alpaca farm, is only 17 miles away in Springfield. Ask Allen about the McElroy Honeymoon Hideaway and its private deck.