Under electric candlelight in a storeroom at Woodford Reserve, one of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s most atmospheric distilleries, feet shuffle down a wood-planked floor. The door scrapes shut, and Stacey Oxlade, a guide of 3 years, lifts the first glass declaring, “This is Kentucky communion. You’re blessed.”
Bourbon has a seemingly special place in everyone’s heart— and not just mint juleps on Derby Day. At Jim Beam’s new Urban Stillhouse a host said, “tastes like college,” when waxing poetic on Jim Beam Black. Though it might take a dash of cinnamon for that to be true for younger generations, the sentiment reminds us that our favorite bourbons burn like a memory. Those the memories might be fuzzy, but with the right approach we all find them upon completing the trail.
A single weekend to collect all 10 passport stamps is not for the leisurely traveler, but a careful itinerary makes it possible in 3 days. There are, however, a few things to know in order to survive while having fun. We’ve collected the top lessons and tips to make the imbibing experience best.
1. Travel with a band.
Photo courtesy of Wild Ponies
No drive through the rolling Kentucky countryside, where bluegrass sprang up, would be complete without a few tunes. You could attempt to find a gig in town, or you could just travel with a band. The Wild Ponies, whose new album Galax will be out August 25th, lead a well-planned weekend trail ride of libations and music. Get on the bus to tour 3 distilleries followed by an intimate concert with a bold presence. Fellow musicians can join in the jam session that follows. Knock back a little hair of the dog at brunch the next day before a final visit. This bunch of musicians take care of you with Advil in the welcome bag, tastings between tours, and trivia onboard the trail ride.
Tip 1: Always say yes to drinks with the band and any form of “beer tower.”
2. Make Louisville your home base.
Photo by USA-Reiseblogger / Pixabay, CC0
Downtown Louisville is within an hour of most distilleries and offers night life along with plenty of eating options. If you plan on drinking after the tastings, you’ll want something to soak up all that amber liquor. Visit historic Louisville lined with Victorian homes to drink in the southern charm or walk through Thomas Edison’s house for a change of pace. After a long day of drinking, go for a run in Tom Sawyer State Park or stroll the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens to work off the booze.
Tip 2: Get breakfast early to build a base for your bourbon.
3. Don’t attempt too many stops in one day.
Photo by Skeeze / Pixabay, CC0
It’s easy to get excited when we’re talking about sampling bourbon all day, but the distilleries are spaced far enough apart that it can be challenging to try to squeeze too many locations into one day. Shoot for no more than 3 tours per 24 hours. This will keep things relaxed and fun while maximizing every hour in the day.
Tip 3: Avoid a wait by arriving early to your first stop— or favorite.
Tip 4: Know your trivia. If you go with the Wild Ponies, earn prize points along the drive between tours.
4. Take what you need each day.
Photo by hansbenn / Pixabay, CC0
Some of the distilleries are deceptively far. If you set out without enough gas at the start of the day, you might be rolling in on fumes— or worse, get stranded. Drive the scenic route, but be aware cell service can be spotty. Bring snacks to munch on between samplings to make every stop on the day’s agenda. Better yet, travel with someone who will drive for you. This is one of the (very) few times a guided motor coach is an encouraged way to see the sights.
Tip 5: In the summer months, be particularly conscious of rehydrating.
5. Plan ahead.
Photo by Skeeze / Pixabay, CC0
Most locations fill the calendar with opportunities for a range of interests. To experience everything the trail has to offer, schedule your visit around an event. Cyclists should look for rides that connect the distilleries during the fall for a cooler ride among autumn leaves. Individual properties cater gourmet dinners inside their facilities while alternatives organize “BYOB,” bottle your own bourbon, gatherings.
Tip 6: Sign up for a cocktail making class at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse for a last-minute hands-on experience.
Tip 7: Don’t drink too much before arriving at Wild Turkey. The bungee jump bridge the property overlooks might otherwise sound like a good idea.
Tip 8: With early hotel check-outs, Angel’s Envy, located downtown, is a prime place to end the weekend.
Top Image by PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay, CC0
Molly Harris is Paste Design’s assistant editor and a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.