If you’re heading to the bourbon belt, be sure to indulge in the paradise that is Bourbon & Bardstown, Kentucky!
Okay, before we get started…here’s a little mood music. Just press play.
Last year I took one of my favorite trips ever! I grabbed my girlfriend Jen and we headed to Bardstown, Kentucky for a weekend of fun tasting at the local distilleries and attending the Maker’s Mark Taste Makers dinner honoring chef Vivian Howard. (Thank you all so much for voting for my cocktail in the #TrifectaChallenge!) You guys, it was the best girl’s weekend ever! We flew into Louisville and headed south for about an hour to Bardstown through some of the most beautiful countrysides I’ve seen. Everything is SO green. (Said the desert girl.) We checked into our hotel, changed, and grabbed a cab to The Rickhouse for dinner.
The Rickhouse used to be a rackhouse (storage building) for bourbon and some of the equipment to move barrels through the building at still in place inside. We started out with a bourbon flight because you have to when you’re in Kentucky. I picked a couple I knew and a few I didn’t. It was a great way to start the meal. We ordered dinner, had a cocktail and a great time. The food was fab and it was the perfect start to our weekend. After dinner, we walked through the town to one of the local bars, grabbed a beer, and then headed back to the hotel.
The next day we looked up the local distilleries and headed over to Willet to try and get in on a tour. Come to find out tours book up fast! There weren’t any openings for the weekend. We looked up Jim Beam and it was the same. So if you’re heading to Kentucky to do a bourbon tour, plan ahead and schedule your time or sign up with a tour service that’ll drive you around too! The Willet staff was accommodating, and we were able to walk around the property to see the rackhouses and grounds.
Since we had the day to do whatever we wanted, Jen and I hit downtown Bardstown. There was a big art & crafts fair going on all weekend. We found the fudge tent (SO good!), then we hopped from vendor to vendor looking at all the neat art pieces. There were tons of bourbon barrel slats that had been dolled up. We totally found to coolest puppet ever – I’m talking Jim Henson level – and grabbed a couple hand puppets for the boys. But the highlight was the bourbon honey lemonade stand. Y’all, I can’t even begin to put into words how good this lemonade was. I’m on a mission to recreate it, so stay tuned!
We went to the fair both Saturday and Sunday morning. Since it was only a 15-minute walk from the hotel, we hoofed it and I’m so glad we did. The scenery was gorgeous. There were farms along the way, white fences for miles, and the neighborhoods were full of quaint houses. It was so fun to people watch and go through all the knick knacks at the vintage booths at the fair. We could have spent all day there, but we had plans.
Saturday night we headed over to Maker’s Mark for the Tastemakers dinner. The grounds were so insanely pretty! We had cocktails to start the night under a few shady trees. There was a Ginger, Honey & Maker’s cocktail and Watermelon Tea with a Shot. They were both fabulous. The Wooks played during the cocktail hour and they were really really good. (That song you played at the top of this post, that’s The Wooks.) They played covers and original songs all through the evening and during dinner. We couldn’t have asked for a better soundtrack for the night. After we sampled all the cocktails, it was time to head down the hill to dinner.
We passed by the distilling building and found three huge family style tables covered in gingham. Jen and I ended up sitting next to the sweetest couple whose daughter is friends with the Noe family from Jim Beam. We got to hear all kinds of stories about the area and the families in it and scored a few restaurant recommendations. On our other side were some of the Maker’s Mark marketing team members, including the distillery marketing coordinator Mr. Roy Lee. The whole team was incredibly nice, and we had a great time chatting with everyone at dinner. PS – Roy Lee’s mom was two seats down from me and she was a hoot!
The menu for dinner came from Vivian Howard’s cookbook Deep Run Roots. There were deviled eggs (swoon!), pickled watermelon rind (which I’d never had before), cornbread, beet salad, and blueberry BBQ grilled chicken that was to die for! I had a handful of eggs (duh) and I kept dipping my cornbread in the BBQ sauce. Everything tasted incredible. But the best was dessert. We had Peanut, Pepsi, and Maker’s Floats! If you’ve never had peanuts and bourbon in your cola, you are missing out!! Go treat yourself. Right now.
After dinner, Vivien gave a speech and then signed the cookbooks everyone received. After the signing, we hit the gift shop. Jen had decided to get her fiance a 50mL bottle everywhere we went since he didn’t come along. The walk to the Maker’s Mark gift shop is so cool! There are tasting rooms lining either side of the hall with all kinds of Maker’s Mark themed art work. Once you’re past the rooms, there is this beautiful rainbow-colored blown glass ceiling bordered by walls of bourbon barrels. We even stopped to find all the angels hiding among the glass.
Guests were given distillery tours too. Our tour guide was great! We got to see the mash tanks (I never realized how quickly everything bubbles while the yeast is going to town on the sugar), we saw some of the stills, and then a section of one of the rackhouses. Our guide talked us through the barrel making and selection process and the different techniques for flavoring the bourbon for different blends and styles. It was really cool to see first hand. Not to mention how darn pretty the whole campus is. After a car ride home, we flopped into bed with a couple beers (because this is a drinking weekend) and watched Netflix until we passed out.
Now, while we couldn’t get a tour at some of the other distilleries, we lucked out and snagged a Sunday morning spot at Heaven Hill, which is right up the street from Willet. Pinky was our guide and she was a hoot and a half. Super knowledgeable and fun. We walked through the bourbon museum at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center to start things off. Jen got more 50mL bottles at the gift shop area of course, and I bought some killer bourbon balls…then at almost the whole box myself. There were only 6, don’t judge.
Pinky took us around the grounds, told us about the history of Heaven Hill, about the fire, and the Shapira family. Then we got to go into one of the rackhouses. I completely nerded out at this point. We walked around row after row of live bourbon barrels, saw all the equipment to move the barrels around, and got a real feel for the bourbon process. Once that part of the tour was over, we headed back to the Bourbon Heritage Center for a whiskey tasting. The Larceny was my favorite and Jen loved the Rittenhouse Rye. It was a delicious end to the morning.
After Heaven Hill, we went to the hotel, got our bags, and jumped in the car back to Louisville for our flight. We lucked out and our driver had endless stories about celebrities he’d driven and the Kentucky Derby. He even pointed out sights along the drive. I can’t recommend a trip to Bardstown enough. If you have the chance to go to a Maker’s Mark Tastemakers dinner while you’re there, do it. You will be blown away. I can’t wait for my next trip to Kentucky! I have big plans to hit Franklin and all the other distilleries I’m dying to visit! Cheers!!