by Tim Knittel
A good thing just keeps getting better – and offers more for locals in Kentucky.
Way back in 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association launched the The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® “to give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon, and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of our signature spirit.” It isn’t a geographic region or route. But it was a grand tourism experiment without precedent in Kentucky. Would people come? Would the general public want to tour bourbon distilleries?
The answer was a resounding ‘yes!’ Tour numbers have climbed steadily every year, crossing the half-million mark last year. The The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® 1.0 – seven big-name distilleries – continues to receive acclaim and recommendations as a top tourism destination. CNN called it a “Top 10 Classic American Experience” and National Geographic hailed the experience as one of the “Best Spring Trips 2013” alongside globally renowned events like the “Festival of Colors” in India and the Tulip Festival in the Netherlands.
Fast-forward to October 2012. Thirteen years after it began, the original Kentucky Bourbon Trail® made an addition. Experience 1.0 became the “Heritage” distilleries and 2.0 was dubbed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, consisting of seven artisan bourbon distilleries. There are even separate passports with different ‘prizes’ for completing the two trails.
Now there’s another evolution to the trail. Many, actually – call it KBT 3.0.
Last month, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® released an iPhone app with maps and easy navigation between the distilleries on both trails, a virtual GPS-based passport and a ‘Bourbon 101’ section with information about the process of making the spirit. (There’s no Android version – yet).
Scheduled to open this fall, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will include an artisanal distillery, immersive bourbon experience and gift shop in downtown Louisville. It’s on West Main Street in what used to be known as “Whiskey Row” and will provide a launching point for the trail for tourists starting in Louisville.
Forty miles away, Bardstown is the first Official Trailhead for tourists offering easy access to Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark plus several craft distilleries. It’s also a final destination as tourists can redeem their completed passports at the Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission instead of mailing them in.
Back in Louisville, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter (DSE) is now the first Educational Distillery member.
The DSE consists of three parts:
· Grease Monkey Distillery, an artisan distillery furnished with state-of-the-art equipment available for rental;
· Challenge Bottling, a bottling line designed to accommodate smaller production runs; and
· Moonshine University, an educational resource and training facility that provides expert instruction on everything from technical operations to business planning.
The education levels at Moonshine University range from “Enthusiast” – two to three hour classes offered on the second Saturday of every month, covering such topics as bourbon and chocolate pairings, artisan bourbon tastings and cooking with bourbon – to a 5-day long “Distiller Course” designed to introduce fledgling distillers to the technical requirements and best practices for making bourbon.
The distilleries themselves are offering events in addition to the regular tours. This weekend – it being Father’s Day – sports a special lunch buffet at Woodford Reserve and live music from Travis Dukes & The T-Bones at MB Roland Distillery. Later this summer on August 17, Heaven Hill is hosting its version of the Highland Games with traditional Scottish games such as Caber Toss, Hammer Throw and Tug o’ War and live music by The Louisville Pipe Band.
It’s not just the distillers bringing the bourbon fun. The final piece of The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® 3.0 is official sponsorship by restaurants, inns and tourism groups that offer unique bourbon-related experiences. Such Kentucky staples as the Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, the Woodford Inn in Versailles, the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg and Wallace Station and Holly Hill Inn in Midway are now official sponsors. For a full list of sponsors, see their website.
One of the new sponsors, My Kentucky Dinner Train, is adding to the Father’s Day bourbon festivities with their Bourbon Excursion. The trip includes a 4-course meal prepared by the train’s award-winning culinary team and bourbon tasting during the 2 ½ hour train ride.
National Bourbon Day kicks off the weekend on June 14.
Sponsor Holly Hill Inn is setting up a miniature version of the entire Heritage trail on their lawn this weekend as part of the 1785 Bourbon Society. The Salute to Fathers will include samplings from all of the primary Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s distilleries with paired hors d’oeuvres, plus bourbon palate training and an extensive buffet dinner featuring local meats and vegetables. (Full disclosure: I’m leading the palate training.) Guests will be given official KBT passports that will be stamped at each distillery’s station with a special 1785 Bourbon Society stamp. Live Bluegrass music will be provided by the Pawpaw Pickers.
This article appears on page 5 of the June 13, 2013 print edition of Ace.
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