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Would you like to get a cool insight on how Bourbon whiskey is made and share a few merry days with gourmets like you? Than this is your chance: apparently, all partakers leave as walking Bourbon encyclopedias, asking when the next tour will be held. Visit Bourbon themed bars and a couple of the most famous distilleries, share your knowledge with Bourbon connoisseurs and learn to pair flavors of tasty food with the finest whiskey exclusively available on tour. Guaranteed fun with no headaches involved!
We are staying at the 18-storey, just-renovated downtown Hyatt all three nights. Sunday night we will meet at the top of the Hyatt for a welcome reception where we will take over the entire Spire, a revolving private restaurant (similar to Seattles famous Space Needle) with floor-to-ceiling windows offering jaw-dropping views of the city and across the Ohio River into Indiana.
Arrive in Louisville on your own and check into the downtown Hyatt any time before Sunday evening
19:00 Cocktail reception and bourbon pairing dinner at rooftop Spire at Hyatt
20:00 Urban Bourbon Trail on your own with your new friends (everything is walking distance)
22:00 Back to hotel for the night
Woodford Reserve. First stop will be at Woodford Reserve in the heart of beautiful thoroughbred country for a tour and tasting. Woodford County boasts more Kentucky Derby winners than any other place in the world. They attribute it to the high limestone content of the water which produces extra strong bones in the race horses and presumably extra delicious Bourbon as it takes good water to make good Bourbon. Well let you be the judge of that but Im sure you wont be disappointed.
Buffalo Trace. Next stop will be Buffalo Trace where we will see the famous Blantons bottling line and enjoy a special seated tasting and a specialty Bourbon cocktail paired with a barbecue lunch. And in case you are wondering, yes, I pulled every string I could to host a legendary Pappy Van Winkle tasting here (which is made at Buffalo Trace), but unfortunately to no avail. The good news though is that Pappy (from 15, 18, 20 and 23 year-old casks in exponentially increasing price points) is available in a few select bars around town if youre willing to part with serious coin. (You only live once though, right?!)
Wild Turkey. Next stop will be at Wild Turkey for an extra special tour where we will also meet (as long as hes in town) legendary Jimmy Russell, their master distiller of the last sixty years. I had the distinct honor and pleasure of having dinner with Jimmy and his wife Joretta last time I was in town. If youre like most folks, you probably associate Wild Turkey with their mass marketed Wild Turkey 101, however, they also produce some amazing small batch stuff like Russells Reserve and their Diamond bottling which, of course, is what well be sampling.
After breakfast we will all walk over to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience where we will enjoy a premium tasting of some really, really old Bourbon (the USD 300-400 a bottle stuff) in their secret speak-easy basement bar followed by a fascinating tour of their on-site micro distillery plus an animated history of Louisvilles beginnings.
After that we will head south to Bardstown, the self-proclaimed Bourbon Capital of the World. We have got lots of ground to cover, and lots of fabulous, 20 plus year-old Bourbons to sample (more of that USD 300-400 a bottle of stuff) plus a dinner to die for, so we are going to eliminate a lunch stop by serving box lunches on the bus so well have more time at the distilleries.
Heaven Hill. First Bardstown stop will be at Heaven Hill, the last large non-corporate, non-international-conglomerate-controlled, completely family-owned distillery in Kentucky. By now you all will be walking encyclopedias on how Bourbon is made and could probably lead a tour of your own, so we will skip the usual spiel and head straight to the closest rickhouse where we will be overcome by the angels share of some really old stuff before walking back to one of the coolest bars youve ever been in.
Basically you walk into a ginormous barrel (think room-sized) and viola, theres the bar. Subtly under lit (so you can see the color variations in the really old stuff), and in a perfect circle, here is where you are going to taste some super, super, limited premium stuff that very folks ever get to sample. What I also love about Heaven Hill (besides the Bourbon) is that they have got model exhibits that clearly explain every step of the Bourbon making process so that it is easy to get a visual on how it all goes down.
Pot Still Bourbon. After Heaven Hill and literally three minutes down the road is one of my all-time favorite distilleries. Theyre really not set up for groups our size but after sufficient groveling, they graciously agreed to bend the rules a bit. This will be an un-glamorous tour of a hard-core, artisan, mom-and-pop production facility that is producing some of the finest affordable (although sometimes hard to find) Bourbons out there. Their flagship Pot Still Bourbon is bottled in a unique bottle shaped exactly like their distinctive pot still.
If youve got room in your suitcase (unfortunately Kentucky is one of the few states left with arcane alcohol laws that prohibit shipping) I highly recommend getting a pot still magnum here to take home; amazing stuff and guaranteed no one else on your block will have it. Last time I was there they were also doing some experiments with curing hams in their rick house. Thought being that the hams will absorb some of the angels share thus creating a true Bourbon-cured ham. Itll be interesting to find out how that experiment turned out when we return.
Makers Mark. We have got a spectacular grand finale at Makers Mark. We are doing a behind-the-scenes tour where we will taste Bourbon coming right off the still and visit areas off limits to the general public. You will also get to dip your own bottle into their distinctive red wax and then take it home with you.
The tour will start and end in Louisville, Kentucky. Downtown Louisville is going through a major gentrification with tons of new hotels, restaurants, bars, specialty shops and micro distilleries popping up on every corner. It is definitely a food and Bourbon lovers paradise that I know everyone will enjoy immensely.
All breakfasts, lunches, dinners and beverages included with just the decent amount of Bourbon specialties you need! On the day of arrival, youll be greeted with a specialty Bourbon-based cocktail followed by a Bourbon tasting paired with a Bourbon-friendly menu.
On the 2nd day, enjoy a barbecue lunch and a dinner at Marketplace, one of the favorite restaurants in Louisville. Well start there with a specialty Bourbon cocktail followed by a 4-course dinner. And if youre temporarily Bourboned out, wine will be available for purchase.
On your last night, you will take over Makers Mark beautiful new event center overlooking the distillery for a cocktail reception followed by an off-the-charts dinner catered by friends at Harrison-Smith House, easily the best restaurant in Bardstown.
The organizer suggests that you should take all the time you can to rest and, of course, try to get as many stamps for you Urban Bourbon Trail passport. For the love of the free t-shirt, of course! After dinner everyone will be free for the evening to sample Bourbons and collect stamps in your Urban Bourbon Trail Passport which well hand out at the 1st dinner already stamped with your first stamp from Spire.
The passport is a guide to the Bourbon bars and restaurants in Louisville. There are currently 32 establishments participating, of which 23 are within walking distance to the Hyatt. Well have a little contest at the end of the tour to see who collects the most stamps, but if you get at least 6 stamps, youll get a free Urban Bourbon Trail T-shirt. The visitor center where you redeem your passport for your free Kentucky Bourbon Trail t-shirt is literally next door to the Hyatt, so dont forget to stop in before you leave on Wednesday.
Whats nice about many of the bars is that they offer extremely reasonably priced Bourbon flights and smaller tasting pours so you can try lots of different Bourbons without getting trashed. Do not miss the upscale, old-school Brown Hotel lobby bar right next door to Marketplace where you can drink a Willett Pot Still neat with rocks on the side. Some of these bars are open until 03:00.