Spirited away: on the bourbon path in Kentucky | Travel

When I met Mark and Donnie at a roadside cafe in Kentucky, they had been sporting bike leathers, tattoos and badges that hinted at involvement in army campaigns. Normally, I’d discover a pair of grizzled guys using Harleys fairly intimidating however these ones had Minnesotan accents. “Oh my gorrrrd, you’re driving down I-64?” requested Mike, in an unexpectedly excessive register. “You’ve gotta gooor drink whiskey!”

The pair had been in the midst of a three-week experience to Gettysburg and so they had already blazed by way of a number of of Kentucky’s best-known distilleries – Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey – on their path east. “We only put 100 miles on yesterday, because we had so many places to stop,” grinned Donnie. “Our saddlebags are full already.”

Central Kentucky has been the epicentre of bourbon manufacturing for the reason that 1800s, and the most important manufacturers have been strolling guests by way of their warehouses for a few a long time. But the bourbon growth of the previous few years is remodeling the area. New manufacturers are burgeoning within the former factories of Lexington and Louisville, and alongside the freeway that connects the 2 cities long-abandoned distilleries are being given a yeasty breath of life. Meanwhile, Louisville’s Frazier History Museum, with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, is to develop a Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is able to embrace bourbon-related historic reveals.

Down the hatch … touring Buffalo Trace distillery

Not that the world exists in a everlasting state of inebriation. In reality, on the Wednesday evening I arrived in Lexington, the city appeared disappointingly sober. In the primary bar I entered, a singer in a cowboy hat carried out to a near-empty room. At a spot additional up the highway, a guitar and pedal-steel performed some type of prog nation rock for the barmaid alone. When I lastly found a spot with extra prospects than workers, I ordered a pork chop, and requested a neighborhood the place everybody was. He laughed. “Come back tomorrow,” he mentioned.

Dozens had been dancing to the Cuban salsa band within the sq., and plenty of extra milled round meals vans and beer cubicles

He was proper: the subsequent night the streets had been full of individuals partying on the city’s common Thursday Night Live. Dozens had been dancing to the Cuban salsa band that performed within the sq., and plenty of extra milled round meals vans and beer cubicles. These weekly music-based occasions are widespread in America’s southern cities, designed to attract locals downtown on the finish of the week, and Lexington’s attracted a various crowd – younger and outdated, black and white.

At Town Branch – the primary new distillery inbuilt Lexington in 100 years – grasp distiller Mark Coffman instructed me that Lexington had undergone a dramatic change in fortune previously few years. “Bourbon is a billion-dollar business now,” he mentioned. “You get wishing you knew it was going to happen four or five years ago and you’d have set down more product. We just try to keep up with it.” Founded by an Irish biochemist, Town Branch has cannily mixed its business with America’s parallel craze for craft beer, and its used bourbon barrels discover a second life of their sister brewery, imparting flavour to a variety of Kentucky ales.

Rows of barrels stacked to the ceiling in a warehouse and a man on the ground looking up

Drink up … towering barrels in a warehouse

Bourbon is a spirit infused with folklore, not least due to its affiliation with prohibition. During America’s nationwide stint on the wagon, solely 5 distillers had been allowed to stay in operation, promoting “medicinal” whiskey to these who managed to swing a health care provider’s prescription. There is loads of delusion however the 80-mile drive by way of the state’s epic countryside definitely reinforces the romance, taking you thru prime horse nation, the place animals with Gwyneth Paltrow manes gallop behind white fences.

Amid the expensive-looking stables I handed a stone citadel whose turrets and towers had a newly scrubbed gleam, and appeared to belong on a Hollywood backlot. Once owned by the legendary bourbon pioneer EH Taylor, and rescued from a long time of neglect, Castle & Key is considered one of 5 new distilleries set to open this 12 months.

Horses in a white fenced enclosure

Horse nation … a farm in Lexington. Photograph: Alamy

Midway to Louisville I turned off the interstate to cease on the city of Frankfort, whose place because the county seat belied its radical edge. Its unbiased bookstore champions native ecologist and novelist Wendell Berry; the espresso store subsequent door fosters artists and musicians in addition to inexperienced neighborhood initiatives. Even its historic society – a phrase that makes me consider Waspy ladies gathering vintage rifles and quilts – is an eye-opener, an enormous museum that proves Kentucky’s state historical past is about way over simply the pioneers and the civil conflict.

Bourbon makers wish to lean closely on their heritage: akin to Woodford Reserve, which revived a 19th-century property within the late 1990s and now has one of many plushest tasting rooms on the path. In Louisville, nevertheless, an city bourbon scene is rising that challenges the country-club vibe. At distiller Angel’s Envy, the centrepiece of manufacturing is a two-storey column nonetheless that may out-steampunk HG Wells. This is not any fashion over substance: its cask-strength bourbon has been named the world’s greatest spirit.

Peerless Distilling Company building, Kentucky.

Peerless Distilling Company Photograph: No Credit Needed

At Peerless, just a few blocks over, the distillery – till just lately a manufacturing facility making air-conditioning models – is so new that the primary bourbon isn’t even out of the barrel but; for now, their bartender can solely serve you an unaged rye. But their household historical past is steeped in the good things; 90 years in the past the present proprietor’s grandfather, Henry Craver, was hiding 630,000 barrels of bourbon in practice carriages till he persuaded the government to present him a licence to distribute “medical” whiskey.

Not far down the road is a chocolate store that Mike and Donnie had insisted I take a look at: “Oh my gorrrd, Emma, you’ve gorrrt to try it.” They say a bit of darkish chocolate, held in your tongue whilst you sip, will convey out completely different flavours within the whiskey, and at Art Eatables, Kelly, the chocolatier, has reverse-engineered the impact, making truffles out of all of the completely different bourbons. I found my favorite, and raised it in a silent toast to my biker associates. It went down clean.

Way to go

Flights to Chicago with British Airways value from £384 return, with connecting return flights to Louisville (on American Airlines) from £143. The Gratz Park Inn, Lexington has double rooms from £135, and Aloft Louisville Downtown, Louisville has doubles from £141. For extra on the Bourbon path go to

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