If you aren't a whiskey lover now, you will be after a week on the American Whiskey Trail. I know because it happened to me.
Of all the distillery tours and tastings along the trek, you'll most likely fall in love with bourbon, a native Kentucky spirit and one of the few products that by legal enforcement and classification is made only in the U.S. So go ahead, get your patriotism on.
But know before you go: All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn, distilled to no more than 160 proof, and aged in new charred-oak barrels, which give it its brown color and smoky character. Straight whiskey must be aged at least two years; all others at least four, or they must include their age on the label.
I set out to visit a series of mostly whiskey distilleries, beginning at Washington's former home in Alexandria, Va., and continuing through the foothills of middle Tennessee and into the heart of bourbon country in Louisville, Ky. I left a wimpy girl, afraid to savor the good stuff in all its spicy, oaky glory. I came back a whiskey girl. Here's the best use of seven days in American whiskey country:
Day One: Washington, D.C.
If you have time, make the nation's capital your first stop. Even George Washington loved whiskey, breaking ground on his Mount Vernon Distillery and Gristmill in 1797. Tour it to see whiskey being made just the way it was at that time by distillers in period clothing. Twice a year at unscheduled times, George Washington's original rye is released for $85 a pint. Have lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant before taking a guided tour. Board a plane for Nashville and check into the luxurious Hutton Hotel and have the fried green tomatoes with tiger aïoli at its restaurant, 1808 Grille.
Day Two: Nashville, Tennessee
Stop into Corsair Artisan Distillery, founded by two biofuel enthusiasts in 2008, in a historic downtown warehouse. Public distillery tastings are illegal, so grab a few friends and make arrangements for a private tasting in advance. Try innovative small batches such as clear, malt Triple Smoke, Oatmeal Stout, Pumpkin Spice Moonshine, or Cocoa Bourbon whiskeys. Have dinner at Jack's Bar-B-Que in downtown Nashville. Don't miss hitting up some of Nashville's most famous honkytonks. (Photo courtesy of Kayleigh Kulp)