OSL Hits the Bourbon Trail!

Having finished up our exploration of Mammoth Caves, we continued on north, to the land of bourbon! Our plan was to explore Louisville and Lexington, and visit as many distilleries as we reasonably could in three days.

We ended up staying just over the Indiana border at Charlestown State Park, and we LOVED it. It was huge, peaceful, right on the river, and the bathrooms were some of the nicest we’ve encountered. The sites were surprisingly private, the people were nice, and we just found the whole place very relaxing. There are quite a few trails, picnic areas, and even a boat launch! This would be a really fun place to stay for a week or two at a time — you’d barely have the leave the park!

Buuuut if you wanted to get out and poke around, it was less than half an hour to downtown Louisville — and that’s where we started our journey down the Bourbon Trail.  A bit of background: I love bourbon. I have a number of favorites that I drink regularly, and I was beyond excited to see where it was all made. However, Rebecca has not historically been a bourbon drinker, generally shying away from brown liquors. However, right before we got to Louisville, she had asked to try one of my favorite bourbons, Basil Hayden — and she loved it!

Obviously I was super excited to try to find some other bourbons we could enjoy together! We decided to kick off our visit to Bourbon Country with a trip to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which had tremendous reviews online, and was right in downtown.

And let me tell you, the reviews did NOT exaggerate. It was an awesome and very interactive tour. They had lights and displays and recreations — it was all very dramatic and very well done! The basic idea was that they showed you how bourbon was originally made in the 1700s, and progressed you through the advances in both science and public policy over the past hundred or so years.

At the end, they took us into a 1960s themed bar, where we tasted the Evan Williams Black, the Evan Williams Single Barrel (which Rebecca really loved), and the Evan Williams 1783.

After enjoying that tour, we walked down to the waterfront to enjoy the sunshine. It was a beautiful day, and Louisville is a beautiful city!

We then meandered over to the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, a store and tasting room also right in downtown. There we did another tasting, and I found out that the Jim Beam brand owns some of my favorite bourbons, including Basil Hayden! Among others, I was able to taste a very strong bourbon I’d never had before, Bookers,which I enjoyed tremendously.

The next day, we headed for a new campground, and on the way, visited two new distilleries: Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey. This was a very different experience from the downtown tasting rooms: as soon as we got out of the car at Buffalo Trace, the air was completely saturated with the smell of bourbon. It was awesome. Buffalo Trace had beautiful grounds (as did all of the distilleries we ended up visiting), and they had a great tour and tasting.

Say hello to Thunder, the Buffalo Trace mascot!

I also discovered that Buffalo Trace owned many of my all-time favorite bourbons, including Blanton’s (often seen in the show Justified, which you should definitely watch before visiting Kentucky), and my favorite daily bourbon, Eagle Rare.

Ohhhhh yeah.

After that tour was over, we moved on to the next stop on our way to the campground: Wild Turkey. I was excited for this one for a few reasons. 1) Wild Turkey Rare Breed is one of my favorite bourbons; 2) we only drink it at Thanksgiving; and 3) Thanksgiving was coming up in a few weeks! I was ready to get in the turkey-day mood early.

Another bonus tip for Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey — they have plenty of room to park your camper! We rarely take the camper to tours and such, but we had it with us this day, and it totally wasn’t an issue. The tour was great, the staff was really nice, and they had a gorgeous rustic tasting room that we went to at the end of our tour for our tasting. The view was even tremendous:

After we finished there, we headed on to our campground: Camp on the Kentucky. And guys, I don’t like to write negatively on here — generally if we don’t like something, we just don’t mention it. BUT, since one of you may use this post as a guide for your own Bourbon Belt trip, I’m gonna go ahead and say it: Do yourself a favor and find another campground. The roads there are very narrow and super windy, which isn’t fun for towing, it’s way out of the way, there’s no cell service, the place is kind of run down and vaguely creepy, the people weren’t tremendously helpful or friendly, the bathrooms are pretty nasty … just don’t do it.

However, they DID have a super late check out time (3:00pm!), which we took full advantage of. The next morning we left the camper at the campground and headed off to round out our trip by hitting two more distilleries: Woodford Reserve, and Four Roses.

When we arrived at Woodford, we were immediately impressed by how gorgeous it is. The grounds were carefully planned and manicured, and the buildings were very rustic and elegant. It reminded us both of the small Virginia town of Middleburg where we used to live — it’s a very monied horse town with a carefully cultivated rustic charm.

Anyway, our tour guide Rob was fantastic — actually my favorite of our six Bourbon Trail guides — and the tour was great. At this point, a lot of it was review from our previous tours, but he still made it very interesting, and we still felt like we learned.

Finally came the fun part: the tasting! This was probably my favorite tasting, and it was definitely Rebecca’s favorite. We first tried the Woodford Reserve, a wonderful, very full and smooth bourbon. Then we tried Rebecca’s new favorite drink: the Woodford Double-Oaked. It was created to be a sort of dessert bourbon, so it is richer and sweeter, almost like a port. Even better, it was paired with pecan-topped chocolate-dipped bourbon balls, which were absolutely heavenly.

Once we were done, we headed over to Four Roses — but honestly, we probably just should have stopped. We were kinda bourbon-ed out, the tours were giving us mostly the same info, and we were really just ready to move along. So honestly, I don’t feel like we can give you a really honest perspective of Four Roses, although we weren’t wowed. The whole place was under construction, it was difficult to hear the tour, and like I said, we just weren’t into it, through mostly no fault of theirs.

We returned to our campground, grabbed the camper, and continued east to our final Kentucky destination — Fort Boonesborough State Park outside Lexington. This park ended up being a huge treat and special surprise for me. When I was young, we had a really cool book about Daniel Boone, and I was super into it. I had a fake coonskin cap, and a fake black powder rifle, and one year my mom even made me and my brother these great faux-calfskin frontiersman outfits. I devoured books about Daniel Boone’s adventures, and ran around the woods. It was awesome.

Anyway, Rebecca found and booked this campground, and while I figured it was named after the old fort, what I DIDN’T realize was that there was an actual recreation of the old fort! And as it turns out, it looked EXACTLY like the one in the book I’d had as a kid! I was beyond excited. I remembered the Siege of Boonesborough very clearly, and when we drove up, I walked Rebecca through the whole thing. Believe me, it was scintillating. My mom, who homeschooled my brothers and I, was so proud.

And even better, the campground itself was really nice — and was in full swing of hosting a massive camper shindig for Halloween! Everyone had their sites WILDLY decked out with all kinds of creative Halloween stuff. It was a lot of fun.

This is one of the tamer examples.

The campground even had clean, on-site laundry facilities within view of our campsite! (Our fellow full-timers know what a big deal that is. :-)) We spent a very pleasant night there; the next morning, we toured the fort, and then started back toward the Gauley River for Bridge Day Weekend to wrap up our trip!

 

Author
I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Virginia, and married a girl from New Hampshire, so I can drive the East Coast in my sleep. I love exploring, jumping out of airplanes, whitewater rafting, fast cars, comic books, and generally refusing to act my age. More practically, I love budgeting and financial planning, renovating and updating older homes (and now campers), and learning to make our family as self-sustaining as possible.

2 comments

  1. We are gonna be in Louisville and Lexington in late April to meet up with friends going to the Derby and to do a bourbon tour. You hit many of the places on our list! (And Kevin’s absolute favorite bourbon is Basel Haden’s too!!) Looks like it should be a great couple of days!

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