A few weekends ago, Adam and I headed west to Louisville, Kentucky to visit one of his friends from college and explore the bourbon trail. I’d been to a bourbon distillery before, but not in Kentucky, so really did it even count?
Adam’s friend set up an itinerary of distilleries in Bardstown, KY and downtown Louisville, and we set out to learn a bit about the bourbon making process and whether or not we’d be able to decipher tobacco notes from molasses from dark cherry.
CHOOSING YOUR TRAIL
We wanted a mix of bigger name distilleries and slightly under the radar makers, so we chose to visit Willett Distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery, Heaven Hill, and Angel’s Envy. While each tour has similarities since the bourbon making process doesn’t vary but so much, the history and characters give each their own unique stamp. Make sure to reserve your spot on each tour ahead of time. They may have room if you just show up, but better safe than sorry when you’ve already made your way out to Kentucky.
I’m starting with Angel’s Envy, which was the last distillery on our trip, because it was hands down our favorite. One sip into our tasting and my immediate thought was, “THIS is the bourbon we’re going to bury for our wedding!” So perfectly smooth.
Beyond the bourbon though, the tour was awesome. The distillery is located in downtown Louisville in a building that’s served many a purpose in its day and had stood decrepit for years before Angel’s Envy moved in. Producing a spirit that stands as the legacy of master distiller Lincoln Henderson, this is a bourbon that needs to be on your radar.
We really could not have asked for a better weekend to be out in bourbon country. Yes, it was freezing, but how perfect is the snow falling outside the black rack house? For this winter lover, it was magical being out in the cold, in the country.
Barton 1792 Distillery was another great tour, and I have to give credit where credit’s due to the tour guide who walked us around in the freezing temperatures giving us the richest look into history that we found on the bourbon trail. Of course, the 1792 Small Batch Bourbon is a classic, but we actually left this tour with a bottle of their Chocolate Bourbon Ball Liqueur that I’m thinking may get opened at our New Year’s Eve get together next week…
Willett was the first distillery on our tour and, by far, the most generous tasting pour. That should be reason enough to go, right? And, yes, quantity of bourbon is always a positive, but the other perk of tasting so many of their products is that it gives you the chance to actually taste the differences in notes and flavors that you’ll hear about throughout the bourbon trail. It’s easier to differentiate a caramel note from a tobacco one when you try the bourbons back to back. Just make sure you have a sober driver…
Moving on from the plentiful pours, Willett takes you behind the scenes to see, and taste, what goes into creating a bourbon whiskey from scratch. This was where we got the best understanding of the process, A to Z.
I was absolutely obsessed with our tour guide at Heaven Hill, and not just because she was the kindest grandmother type with a wonderful Kentucky accent, fabulous red hair (we have to stick together), and a son in DC. She told us the stories of bourbon like they are, and like they were, giving us all the history and then updating us on how its done now that women are on the scene and in the rack houses.
Heaven Hill is run like smoothly oiled machine, as it should be, given that they own some of the biggest names in bourbon, including Elijah Craig and Evan Williams.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN LOUISVILLE?
Lots! We didn’t have a ton of time to explore beyond the bourbon trail, but we did check out a few neighborhoods including NuLu, where I did a bit too much shopping (did I need that Hanukcats book?) and hung out at Goodwood Brewing for a change of pace from bourbon, Highlands, where we ate and drank in an old church called Holy Grale, and Clifton, a hip neighborhood perfect for munching on fried pickles at the Silver Dollar or grabbing a craft beer at the Hilltop Tavern. We capped off the weekend with hot chicken at Royals Hot Chicken, where the highlight wasn’t the excellent chicken but the epic Tinder date going on next to us.
WHERE TO STAY
Well, we stayed with friends, so I don’t have a ton of advice here, but next time we make a trip to Louisville, we definitely want to check out the Brown Hotel. It’s definitely time for me to get a true hot brown from its namesake.