BREAKING NEWS: Kev turned 30 last month. THIRTY. And though I may not be far behind, I can still call him an old man for the time being 😂
And since Kev’s birthday was a big deal (obvs), I planned a “surprise” trip for it MONTHS in advance. Then spilled EVERY DETAIL shortly after. So much for a surprise 🤦🏻♀️ Regardless, he was stoked. Stoked for a trip through the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with a couple of our fav buds to celebrate his big 3-0!
But here’s the thing about Kentucky: there seems to be zero info about it on that giant source of knowledge we call the internet. Sure, we planned our trip just fine and we all came back in one piece (more or less - parts of our livers died there RIP), but we left Kentucky feeling like we missed so much. We would have loved to check out some of the many MANY recommendations we got from locals, but our time just didn’t allow for it 😢 Guess that just means we’ll have our work cut out for us when we’re back!
But just because we missed out on it this time, does NOT mean you have to. If you’re planning a trip to Kentucky, here’s some info that might help you + a few extra recommendations we got from locals that you likely won’t find anywhere else on the web 😉
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Contrary to popular belief, bourbon isn’t ONLY made in Kentucky - it can be made anywhere in the United States, but Kentucky distills 95% of the world’s bourbon because of its geographical location, limestone-rich water and other cool facts you’ll learn on your tours. Which explains why the Kentucky Bourbon Trail that runs through the state of KY touches over 30 distilleries. YA. THIRTY. So unless you’re aiming to visit them ALL (no judgement - you do you), then it might be in your best interest to pick a handful of your fav bourbons (or in this case, your BF’s fav bourbons) and check those distilleries out.
Pictured above: Photos from the Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour.
The distilleries you pick will pretty much determine the route for your whole trip. We visited:
And in that order. But if you look at a map of these distilleries, they’re not exactly close together. Which is why we decided to fly into Louisville and then fly out of Lexington.
Pictured above: Photos from our Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour.
There are 2 major airports where you’re going in Kentucky: The Louisville International Airport and The Bluegrass Airport in Lexington. They’re about a 2 hour drive apart from each other and since the KBT is stretched across a big chunk of Kentucky, the distilleries you pick will help you decide which airports to use.
BUT WAIT. Before you book your flights, check to see if there are any major events happening while you’re in town... like ummm THE KENTUCKY DERBY. This might play a part in which airports you use too (I’m still kicking myself for booking our flights before realizing the Derby was happening the same week). And I call myself a pro 🤦🏻♀️ More on this down there 👇🏻
Looking for transportation options for your KBT trip? HA. Good luck. We spent hours looking for a solution that allowed us to be safe (no drinking and driving 🙅🏻) but that was also a reasonable price. And we found nothing. Nada. So be prepared to spend a pretty penny on transportation alone.
Here’s what our “extensive” research came up with:
Rent a car: and assign a DD (booo 👎🏻)
Private driver: (queue Dr. Evil) one million dollars - or close to it
Uber/Lyft = lotsa $ (keep in mind there are some long ass drives between distilleries)
Group Tour: rowdy crowds & no flexibility in schedule or chosen distilleries
Bicycle: LOL YA RIGHT
So basically all the options: 💰💰💰
We made the ultimate decision to rent a car for the entirety of our trip in addition to calling Uber and Lyft for some rides (to and from distilleries).
But this can be tricky. Because the distilleries are all located in secluded areas so you’ll be able to hitch a ride there no problem, coming BACK however might be an issue - some of these distilleries are a 2 hour drive away from well, anything really. Had we not grabbed the contact info of our Uber driver on the way there, we would have 100% been stranded at the Maker’s Mark Distillery. But I mean, there ARE worse places to be stranded 🥃🤷🏻♀️
Tip: If you end up renting a car, a casual drive through the neighbourhoods near the Woodford Reserve Distillery is absolutely stunning, just sayin’.
Non-Bourbon Things to do in Louisville
Kentucky Derby: Don’t pull an Aims and plan a whole trip, book flights, book accommodations AND THEN realize the freaking KENTUCKY DERBY is happening while you’re in town. Wut? YA. Almost missed it. Thankfully, the Kentucky Derby brings along a whole week of events leading up to it, so we got to partake in it one way or another 🙌🏻 It happens every year during the first week of May, so if you don’t know, now you know.
Churchill Downs: If the Kentucky Derby isn’t happening while you’re there (👎🏻), then visiting the infamous race tracks might be a good alternative.
Cooperage: K, I lied. This one’s sorta kinda bourbon related. A cooperage is where barrels are made. And since bourbon MUST be distilled in a brand new charred oak barrel, checking out a cooperage during your trip to Kentucky would be pretty NEAT #punintended. There are only 4 in all of Kentucky and one of them sits near the Maker’s Mark Distillery. This was recommended a few different times by a few different people, and we SO wish we had the time to see it, but we’ll just add it to our list for next time.
Evan Williams Experience: This one’s FULL ON bourbon related (at this point, you should just ignore the subtitle). But we heard it’s like a cool interactive museum experience that we would have loved to check out if we had the time.
Cavehill Cemetery: Don’t be turned off by the word “cemetery”. I know what you’re thinking: why visit a morbid and depressing place while you’re on vacation? I initially wanted to visit Colonel Sanders and Muhammad Ali’s graves, but upon seeing the grounds, it’s SO much more than just a cemetery. It’s stunning gardens, rich and totally interesting history. It’s acres and acres of incredible stories. But because it’s so massive, you’ll need a tour guide. Trust. We didn’t book a tour, but we got lucky. We were dropped off by our Uber on the far end of the grounds, BEFORE finding out we were trying to navigate through 296 acres (not an exaggeration btw) on foot to look for 2 little landmarks… After realizing we were lost, sweet old Tony came to our rescue. How lucky were we that Tony, a Cavehill Cemetery Tour Guide, picked us up in his little car to take us on a 2 hour tour filled with history and stories, at the very moment we realized we were lost? You likely won’t get as lucky. Book the tour.
Eat a Hot Brown at The Brown Hotel: A Hot Brown is a hot sandwich, originally created at The Brown Hotel in Louisville. The name doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing, which is likely why we didn’t try it ourselves, but I totally regret not giving it a go - especially considering it’s one of the only staple foods in Kentucky.
Slugger Museum: Where they make baseball bats.
Bardstown Road: Just a road lined with bars and pubs.
Fourth Street Live: A mini Vegas strip - food, drinks, it’s all there.
Troll Bar: An old prohibition building turned bar.
KFC: Just to say you had Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky, you know?
Non-Bourbon Things to do in Lexington
Keeneland Racetrack: Tourists go to Churchill Downs, locals go to Keeneland. Or at least that’s what we’ve been told. Make a pit stop on the way to the Wild Turkey Distillery to check out one of the “world’s most gorgeous race tracks”. Go between 6am-10am any weekday to watch the jockeys practice on the track for free.
Other Things to Note
Maker’s Mark Ambassadors Program: While dilly dallying on the Maker’s Mark website, I came across this cool (and free) program that gets your name on a barrel of whiskey! Read more here.
Bringing home bourbon: When you’re in Kentucky, touring through the bourbon distilleries, it’s a no brainer that you’ll be bringing home some sweet ass bottles of the bourbs. But that Jim Beam you got to bottle yourself, the Maker’s Mark you got to personally hand dip, the Wild Turkey single barrel whiskey that can only be found in Kentucky? They’re not gonna pass through customs without a fight. Be sure to check the rules and regulations of your country’s customs before lugging all that liquid gold home. If you get stuck, you can do like our friends did and FedEx all your clothes home so there’s room in your luggage for your ELEVEN bottles. YA. That’s not even an exaggeration, they brought home eleven bottles. And I’m pretty sure they don’t regret it one bit. When there’s a will, there’s a way.