5 Things Every Bourbon Lover Needs To Know Before Heading To Kentucky
Editor Jay is fresh off the plane from Kentucky, and here’s the 5 tips you need to take advantage of next time you’re in the bourbon capitol of the world.
Not unlike a pilgrimage to Mecca, hundreds of thousands of bourbon drinkers flood the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and surrounding distilleries every year. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts when visiting and we’ve distilled them down into a helpful guide. Here’s what you need to know to wring every last drop out of your next trip to Kentucky.
Get a Driver
First and foremost, safety is key. There’s nothing to say you absolutely can’t drive yourself while touring, sightseeing, maybe barrel picking, bottle buying and most enjoyably: sipping your way through Kentucky. That said, responsibility is the foremost pursuit every bourbon and rye lover should practice. If you’re looking forward to enjoying pours at one or several distilleries – consider lining up a car service or bribing a friend of significant other to be your designated driver for the day. A day of rest in bourbon country is never a bad idea, sharing the burden keeps everyone happy, and even more importantly, staying safe trumps all.
The internet is amazing, but it’s not always 100% accurate. This is no more true than when it comes to finding out when your favorite distillery, that hyped restaurant or bourbon bar, or that out of the way honey hole store you’re looking to hit is open. Google Maps and Yelp give it their best shot, but with so many different ordinances, mandates, changing schedules and staffing difficulties, it’s worth 30 seconds to ring up that store or bar to make sure you really know their hours. Also: most of Kentucky shuts down for Monday-Wednesday, so your most fruitful trip is likely a Wednesday night arrival and a Sunday night departure.
Don’t Expect Unicorns
At first brush, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. After all, 95% of America’s bourbon is produced in the state of Kentucky. As a result, wouldn’t it make sense that the most desirable products should be most easily found there? One would think, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Kentucky is absolutely the most picked over market, thanks to booming tourism and their well publicized whiskey producing heritage. Sadly, if you see a George T. Stagg or that crazy vintage bottle you’ve been hunting – there’s a reason it’s still on the shelf. It’s likely priced well above MSRP, or has other strings attached.
That said, there are plenty of deals. Producers occasionally produce KY only offerings like Ancient Age 45% ABV, Heaven Hill Green Label and more. Attractively, these can be found at the mid or bottom shelf in terms of pricing. Alternatively, you can line up outside the Heaven Hill gift shop most weekdays about an hour before open for a shot at something like Parkers Heritage, Old Fitzgerald Decanters or Elijah Craig “Grenade” style bottlings.
Don’t Go Tour Crazy (Do Go Tasting Crazy)
This is easily the most important thing we wish we knew on our first trip to Kentucky. The state is home to loads of distillers and producers, many of whom offer tours. That said, it’s wise to pick and choose your tours. Most bourbon tours are shockingly similar, and in a week’s time it’s extremely easy to get bored and overwhelmed with the amount of times you’ll learn about fermentation, grain and how stills work. Focus on taking one or two tours at your most lauded distillers, and lining up tastings and gift shop visits at the rest. If you’re hitting several tastings in a day, make sure to remember our first point: responsible transportation. You’ll see a lot of police near distilleries – over indulging tourists are easy targets!
Smell The Roses
Bourbon has been taking years to get to the point of being ready for sale of consumption. Good distillers aren’t rushing rush, and neither should you. While it might seem fun to pack 30+ distilleries into a 5 day trip, that equals a lot of driving. It may even sound like blasphemy, but there is such a thing as too much bourbon drinking too. Palate fatigue is real, and taking your time to enjoy each stop greatly outweighs hitting every possible location. Believe us, when you’re cramped on the airplane back to wherever home is, you’ll agree
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