A Road Trip Through Kentucky’s Historic Bourbon Country
We have a full-day drive from the East Coast, across Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and into Kentucky. Two stops for gas and two extra for food and coffee. Destination: Kentucky bourbon country situated around Bardstown, Louisville and Versailles, locally pronounced “Vur-SALES.” Duration: Two days in transit, three on the ground.
With me are two veteran drinking buddies. The two of them have recently ridden cross country on their motorcycles, but they have humored me by agreeing to take a car this time, probably because they want to bring back several bottles of bourbon booty.
While there are many wine country destinations in the U.S. — Napa Valley, Oregon, Long Island, the Finger Lakes — Kentucky’s bourbon country in the north central part of the state is the only hands-down recognizable spirits destination in the U.S. Although any state can make bourbon if they use the right proportion of corn grain and the correct oak barrel regime, if you say “bourbon country,” you can only mean Kentucky.
There are 73 distilleries and counting in the state, some producing only bourbon, but many also churn out other whiskies, even vodkas and gins. The official Bourbon Trail consists of 14 major distilleries, most owned by beverage conglomerates such as Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Sazerac and Constellation and each producing more than one brand. There is also a Bourbon Trail Craft Tour of 13 smaller distilleries.
It is almost twilight when we arrive in in Bardstown, where we quickly set up field offices at the Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast. Soon we are ready to have dinner and sample a few bourbons, as our road trip through Kentucky's historic bourbon country commences.