Now and again, I find myself singing the praises of a bourbon distillery tour, either to a fellow Kentuckian or an out-of-towner,only to be met with an unenthusiastic "Oh, I'm not a big drinker" or "I don't really like bourbon." I'm always taken aback by these responses. Sure, distilleries produce bourbon, which is often quite delicious, but they also tell so many authentically Kentucky stories.
The thing that makes Kentucky's bourbon distilleries so very special isn't just the product that's being made. It's the timelessness, the history, and the community spirit that surround the Kentucky spirits industry. The master distillers still carry a little jar of their secret recipe home every night so that the original mash bill can never be lost, in a throwback to the earliest days of bourbon-making. When tragedy strikes a distillery, Kentuckians are concerned. We don't just worry about the lost booze or the hit to the Commonwealth's tourism industry; every distillery contains friends, relatives, and colleagues who are directly impacted. This week alone, when the site of the upcoming Brown-Forman Whiskey Row visitors center was destroyed by fire and the Heaven Hill warehouse was damaged by storms, our thoughts turned immediately to the safety of our friends who work in the spirits industry. It often feel that even those of us who don't choose to imbibe are connected the bourbon family.
In the spirit of our Summer Fun Lists, here are the top 5 can't miss bourbon attractions for folks who aren't all about the bourbon. Click here to download.
5. The Speakeasy Experience at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. If you're interested in the history of Louisville or a fan of Jazz Age history, you absolutely MUST take this tour. It's quick (usually runs around half an hour) and cheap ($12). It's led by a bourbon historian who takes on the character of a Prohibition-era barkeep; he even infuses a fascinating little story from his own family into the tale. If you or your guests find yourselves in downtown Louisville on a weekend, you should make a point of stopping by this attraction on your way to the Slugger Museum or 21C. If you don't like bourbon, I can promise you that someone in the tour group will be happy to take the complimentary taste of 23 year Evan off your hands for you!
4. The National Landmark Tour at Woodford Reserve. This is an amazing experience for history and architecture buffs. It's about the evolution of Central Kentucky; it just happens to use a bourbon distillery to tell that story.
3. Jim Beam American Stillhouse. It's just so amazingly beautiful out at Jim Beam. It's like you've been carried back in time to a perfect little village amidst rolling foothills. As you pass the on-site fire department and the statue of Jim Beam, you feel more like you're in a really well-decorated theme than a distillery; don't miss barbecue from the on-site restaurant!
2. The Ghost Tour at Buffalo Trace. Spend an eerie hour or so on the historic riverbanks of our Commonwealth's capital city, looking for the ghost of Col. Blanton. If haunted mansions and ghostly lore are your thing, you must take this tour!
1. Dinner Series at Maker's Mark. Maybe you don't like bourbon, but you love good food in a gorgeous setting, right? Maker's Mark has some pretty incredible dinners lined up for the summer, including the Rick Bayless. That's right: Rick Bayless at Maker's Mark. That one is a foodie can't-miss!
Happy Touring, y'all!