It all started with five of us talking after our Derby party, sipping mint juleps and dreaming big. Let’s go to Paris. To Rome.
How about the Bourbon Trail?
The details came together easily, and before we knew it, we were headed up I-65 to Louisville, KY on a Friday morning, ready to make memories.
I won’t bore you with all the details, the inside jokes, the quotes and stories that only the five of us will ever think are funny. I will tell you that it was one of the best (and most affordable) mini adventures I’ve ever had.
Our time in Louisville included wandering around Louisville Slugger Field even though it was closed and we weren’t supposed to be inside and our first distillery stop (the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience).
At the gift shop, the woman working saw that we were Catholic (my Miraculous Medal) and told us about the “prettiest church in Louisville,” which just happened to have perpetual adoration, confession for first Friday, and the full skeletons of two Roman martyrs. Not bad for an unexpected side trip. Did I mention her kids went to Christendom? #smallCatholicworld
Bourbon and Jesus. It was the theme of the weekend.
Yes, we were on a Bourbon Retreat. Every day included bourbon, Jesus, and plenty of unexpected gifts. He made it pretty clear from the very beginning that He had hilarious things in store for us:
We just needed to be open to the Spirit. It was Pentecost weekend, after all. So there was a lot of quoting Acts 2:15.
That night we stayed in a funny apartment (bed and breakfast… minus the breakfast) which was full of character but not so full of air-conditioning.
Aways a bad sign when your candles are melting without being lit. Oh well… it gave us something to laugh about now. “Remember when Mario slept on the kitchen floor in front of the window a/c unit?”
Saturday we got an early start, and after Mass (remember — Jesus and bourbon) we headed to Jim Beam.
Then Heaven Hill,
and Maker’s Mark.
We were quickly becoming experts on the distilling process, so we weren’t too keen on our Maker’s Mark tour guide, who treated us like frat boys. But again, at least it gave us something to laugh about now.
After Maker’s, (where the lady who ran the “dip your own bottle in red wax” station redeemed the place for us by being awesome) we headed to Gethsemani for Evening Prayer and a holy hour. Gethsemani is a Trappist Monastery, probably best known for being the home of Thomas Merton. (remember, this ain’t no normal Bourbon Trail weekend. This is a bourbon retreat.)
We headed to Bardstown to satisfy our very rumbly tummys, and ate at Talbott Tavern, which dates from the 1700s and has seen the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and Jesse James. I embraced the Kentucky experience with burgoo and a hot brown, washing it down with an Old Fashioned. It was there I began to worry about myself… after sipping the drink (and I’m usually a cocktail girl), I thought, “Why did they put all this stuff in my bourbon?”
There’s no going back now. My palate has acquired a taste.
We headed to Frankfort, where we welcomed the air conditioned hotel with open arms. The next morning, we went to Mass, had a holy hour (remember… bourbon retreat…) and then hit the road. We had four more distilleries if we were going to complete our Bourbon Trail passports and get our free t-shirt. We had started the weekend with, “Well, if it happens, that’s nice…” but now it was no laughing matter. We were going to do this.
Wild Turkey opened first, so they were our first stop.
Spirits for the Spirit!
Then it was off to Four Roses
and Woodford Reserve.
Then we booked it to Lexington, where the last stop was Town Branch, a new distillery that also brews beer. We missed the beer part of the tour, but made it in time for the distillery part. Oh, and the tasting.
Whew. Two and a half days. Eight distilleries.
That’s a lot of bourbon. Well, not really. Not as much as what fills this:
We celebrated with dinner at The Village Idiot and congratulated ourselves on one heck of a weekend.
I’d highly recommend making the trip, even if you don’t do all eight on the “trail.” In fact, I’d love to go back and hit some of the ones we skipped — Buffalo Trace and a few of the smaller distilleries. There are so many, we had to draw the line somewhere — so we stuck to the ones in the passport.
I thought that eight would be a bit much — that the tours would be repetitive, that I would get bored, that I would want to stop after Saturday. But each tour was unique and emphasized something different. There were steps we didn’t see at every tour, there were elements to the process that were explained differently, and in the end, all eight complemented each other well.
Favorite tour: Heaven Hill
Most Disney-like tour: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
Most surprising: Wild Turkey
Most beautiful grounds: Woodford Reserve
Best “branding” (for good or ill): Maker’s Mark
We learned how to smell with our mouths open, we now know the legal requirements for bourbon to be bourbon, and we’ve acquired a taste for the magic that happens when corn and sweet Kentucky water meet charred oak barrels in a hot Kentucky summer.
(Thanks to Mario and Ian for several of these pictures!)