We have a tendency to judge a place by what little we know or have heard about it. Take Kentucky, for example. You wouldn’t be wrong to think of bluegrass, basketball, and bourbon. If you lean at all to the left politically, you might even be inclined to prejudge it more harshly based on its incumbent senators. Yet there is so much more to it than all of that. Kentucky has plenty to offer visitors, starting with warm and gracious residents who are justifiably proud of their great state — especially when it comes to classic Kentucky food and drink. There’s much to like about “my old Kentucky home.”
First Stop: Bourbon
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association estimates that about 95 percent of the world’s supply is produced in Kentucky. And what it makes it so good is that the state is blessed with limestone-rich aquifers that deliver the product’s most essential ingredient: extraordinary water. If you haven’t noticed, bourbon is back in a big way. And its resurgence has led to expansion by both the big boys and a growing cadre of craft distilleries. You can see many of them in action on what is called the “Bourbon Trail.” Guided tours take visitors through the production process and culminate with tastings.
If you’ve ever had aspirations or visions of making your own whiskey, here’s your chance. At Moonshine University you can learn how to become an expert distiller in just five days. Check out their curriculum at moonshineuniversity.com.
Speaking of Moonshine…
It’s back, and it’s not your father’s “shine.” Moonshine may still conjure up images of illegal, backwoods, rot gut, but that is certainly no longer the case. Moonshine has gone mainstream. You can visit a micro distillery for a tour and tasting of a libation that has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
If you can get your hands on Limestone Branch Distillery’s Sugar Shine, both the jalapeño and strawberry flavors would make for a killer cocktail. So too would their sweet Moon Pie moonshine in either chocolate, vanilla, or banana. As they say, it’s “like a Moonpie with kick!”
Over A Barrel
Tour the Brown-Forman Cooperage facility to get a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the true craft that goes into making the oak barrels that will soon be holding over 50 gallons of bourbon, infusing the spirit with unique flavor. Watch up close as skilled coopers build each barrel from about 100 pounds of American white oak with the help of mid-twentieth-century machinery. Catch this proudly American production before it goes the eventual way of automation.
Bites and Sips
Get your game on at a restaurant called, fittingly, Game. Exactly the type of place you’d expect to see on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, they have an ambitious menu and the talent in the kitchen to pull it off. Their bone marrow with parmesan, poblano, and rosemary is a beast; a huge and exceptionally luscious hunk of meat jelly that you spread on toasted bread. You can then proceed to meatballs or burgers made with every kind of animal imaginable, from bison, boar, and antelope to elk, duck, and kangaroo. (Also available in beef, lamb, salmon and veggie varieties.) The kangaroo burger with Cheddar and tomato jam on a pretzel bun was tasty, but the fun part is assembling your own with extras such as foie gras, pork belly, or soft shell crab, and sauces like roasted habanero ranch, sesame wasabi ketchup, and smoked truffle mayo. The duck fat fries will not hurt you either. If you have the opportunity, taste Kentucky’s soft drink, Ale-8-One. It’s an excellent citrus-flavored ginger ale made locally since 1926.
Ship yourself some serious lobster.
What does lobster have to do with Louisville, you ask? It turns out that Kentucky’s borders are within 600 miles of over 65 percent of the nation’s population and manufacturing facilities, making it the distribution capital of the USA. That’s why UPS is headquartered here, and so is Clear Water Fine Foods, a shipper of lobster that’s flown in daily from Nova Scotia and then sent back out to some of the finest steakhouses and seafood restaurants in the land.