Exploring Kentucky | Give the State a Hug for the Holidays!

Find the holiday spirit along Kentucky’s bourbon trails

By Katherine Tandy Brown

Town Branch Distillery in Lexington offers a private Master Distiller Tour of both the Kentucky Ale brewery and Town Branch distillery led by master distiller Mark Coffman. It includes tastings of beer and/or distilled spirits as well as a Town Branch rocks glass. Reservations should be made at least one month in advance.
Town Branch Distillery in Lexington offers a private Master Distiller Tour of both the Kentucky Ale brewery and Town Branch distillery led by master distiller Mark Coffman. It includes tastings of beer and/or distilled spirits as well as a Town Branch rocks glass. Reservations should be made at least one month in advance.

It’s holiday season once again. How did that happen? Time seems to go faster as the years get busier. And unless you’re one of those supremely organized individuals who collect gifts for holiday giving all year long – and trust me, they are in the minority – you’re probably starting a slow panic about what you’ll be giving whom toward the end of December.

Well, fear not…for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, birthplace of bourbon and its burgeoning industry, have you covered with that perfect something for absolutely everyone on your list – especially if they love that sumptuous sipper.

You can make it easy by just finding out their favorite brand from an ever-growing, mind-boggling selection, and surprise them with a bottle under the Christmas tree. Big points for that.

However, if you give the gift of a journey along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT) and/or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour (KBTCT), you can go with them and smell that caramel-and-vanilla angel’s share yourself! You’ll plan the adventure, foot the bill(s) and tag along for quality time with a friend(s) or family member(s). A total win/win.

Each distillery offers its own distinct spin on tours and tastings. At Maker’s Mark (KBT), for instance, you’ll wander back in time amid black-and-red buildings and meandering limestone springs, learn about bourbon made the old-fashioned way and get to dip your own bottle in Maker’s Mark’s famous red wax. Wild Turkey Distillery (KBT), on the other hand, boasts virtual distillery tours for young and tech-savvy guests at iPad stations and a peek at its old Vendome still that now sits in the new visitors center that overlooks High Bridge, stretching 280 feet over the Kentucky River.

A number of craft distilleries, such as Limestone Springs (KBTCT) in Lebanon make and sell “white lightnin’,” a pre-bourbon distilling product. There you can prove your spunk by tasting Moon Pie Moonshine, served by Head Distiller Steve Beam, the last Beam actively distilling from generations of bourbon-making Beams.

Corsair Distillery (KBTCT) in Bowling Green, which Begun in a garage, gives visitors a focus on its experimentation with a provocative variety of botanicals and the science behind distilling.

The more individual stops you make on the Trail, the finer your palate will become in selecting brands that really appeal to you. And the closer you and your guest will come to morphing into true bourbon snobs…er…aficionados.

You’ll absorb the history and traditions surrounding Kentucky’s intriguing liquid economy-booster. After all, about 95 percent of the country’s bourbon is made here. And of course, you’ll find brand-related gifts at every spot. We’re talking T-shirts, tote bags, tumblers, silver flasks, coffee table books and bar towels that tout bourbon to be a vegetable.

Explore your target distilleries’ websites first to nail tour times and to package a few other options. Perhaps a private connoisseur tasting at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center (KBT) in Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World, or an expanded 90-minute Distiller’s Tour and Seminar at New Riff Distilling (KBTCT) in Maysville.

Follow bourbon-centric links for other ideas. Peruse the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace (kybourbonmarketplace.com) for all things bourbon. Amaze your giftee with an Eat Your Bourbon cooking class at, or a gourmet gift box chock full of bourbon treasures from Bourbon Barrel Foods (bourbonbarrelfoods). Yum!

How about a gift certificate to Bourbon University at The Chapeze House in Bardstown (kentuckybourbonhouse.com) for two hours of bourbon background, premium tastings and a Kentucky-style lunch? For Booker Noe wannabes, MB Roland’s April 2018 Camp Distillery is a two-day intensive “start your own distillery” class in Pembroke. Or choose the pricier, five-day variety at Moonshine University in Derby City’s Distilled Spirits Epicenter (moonshineuniversity.com). You’ll make someone very happy!

To find out about the above-mentioned options – and many more – grab your calendar, pour yourself a tumbler of America’s Native Spirit, go to the KBT website (see boxed info), and rock on with planning your experience.

By the way, though Buffalo Trace is no longer part of the KBT, the Frankfort distillery offers tours, tastings and bourbon-themed gifts galore.

To keep your Bourbon Trail tasting experience safe, leave the driving to a non-imbibing source, such as Mint Julep Tours (mintjuleptours.com), and learn some bourbon industry history and fun facts along the way.

If you’re looking to add an overnight to your bourbon-seeking wanderings, check out bourboncountry.com.

Smack in the middle of the action in downtown Louisville, the eclectic flagship 21cMuseum Hotel has rooms that radiate uncluttered upscale taste with an eye for contemporary art, while its Proof on Main combines farm-to-table food and a best American hotel bar award with bourbon cocktails galore.

Want cozier? Many Bourbon Country bed and breakfast inns – such as Bardstown’s Bourbon Manor Bed and Breakfast, with its bourbon bar and bourbon-treatments spa – are adding “another B,” so you won’t have to go without your favorite libation for a minute.

After all, bourbon warms the heart. Says Jim Silliman, tour guide at family-run Willett Distillery (KBTCT) in Bardstown, “The sting in your throat from bourbon…that’s a Kentucky hug!”


Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]

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