Weekend Trips for the Bourbon Lover
Plan your dream bourbon trip with these must-do bourbon tours, festivals and classes.
Kentucky Bourbon TrailCentral Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon and it continues to be the largest producer in the world. Local distillers formed the bourbon trail in 1999, and its recommended itinerary includes ten distillers. It starts in Louisville at Bulleit and Evan Williams, popular names among bourbons fans, and continues to powerhouses Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark the next day. While in Bardstown, dubbed the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” pop into the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to view a rare collection that dates back to pre-Colonial times. The tour concludes on the third day in Lexington, after squeezing in the illustrious Four Roses and Wild Turkey.
However, there are plenty of other acclaimed distillers in the region. Step off the official trail to visit beloved brands such as Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace (for cult-favorite Pappy Van Winkle) and Willet. Or take a break from driving: My Old Kentucky Dinner Train rolls through bourbon country and offers bourbon-themed rides. 960 1280
Kentucky Bourbon FestivalWhat started as a bourbon tasting and dinner in 1992 has ballooned into a six-day bourbon festival to end all festivals, and is a bucket list must for water-of-life imbibers. Last year’s event attracted more than 50,000 people from the world over. It all goes down in Bardstown, where bourbon’s been made since 1776, and continues to produce the majority of the world’s consumption.
Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Blanton’s and more will be in attendance, but the festival is more than just bourbon sampling. You can learn what goes into making a barrel, listen to live music, tour local distilleries and peruse craft vendors. For an additional fee, the black tie Tasting & Gala includes dinner and dancing along with the opportunity to hold court with master distillers while quaffing samples from eight local producers. 960 1280
Seattle, WashingtonKentucky isn’t the only place that makes bourbon, nor does it have to be produced there to call it such. Woodinville Whiskey Co. is a short drive outside Seattle, and definitely worth a side trip to tour the distillery and learn all about its 90 proof straight bourbon whiskey that took more than five years to make. Back in the city, Oola Distillery is a small-batch producer in the Capital Hill neighborhood, and offers tours every Saturday. Its Waitsburg Bourbon Whiskey has won awards and accolades.
2bar Bourbon from 2bar Spirits is made from locally sourced grains, and the distillery is open for tours Thursday-Saturday (be aware that Saturdays book up in advance). Upscale Tavern Law is the place to imbibe bourbon cocktails, or make a reservation at its (not-so-secret) speakeasy, Needle & Thread. Cocktail bar Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium claims to have the largest collection of spirits in the Western Hemisphere, and with more than 3,500 options, that number’s hard to dispute. 960 1280
WhiskyFestNow in its 18th year, WhiskyFest is the longest-running whiskey festival in the states. Events are held year-round across the country, and this year’s lineup includes Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and New York. Expect to find more than 350 international whiskies, including bourbon. There are also opportunities to participate in seminars and meet whiskey experts, from distillers to master blenders. 960 1280
Portland, OregonPortland isn’t just the leader on the craft beer landscape; a distillery boom is underway as well. In fact, there are so many that there’s even a Distillery Row, which includes Eastside Distilling, whose small-batch bourbon has won awards. Others, like House Spirits Distillery, offer bourbon-tasting classes, while New Deal Distillery holds whiskey-making classes that tend to sell out. Bull Run Distilling Company has a devoted tasting room and several Straight Bourbon Whiskey options.
Bourbon is readily available at bars around town, and The Pope House Bourbon Lounge offers a wide selection, in addition to private bourbon-tasting classes. However, the hands-down winner is destination-worthy Multnomah Whiskey Library for bourbon nirvana. It’s not easy getting in, but once there, sink back into a leather couch, marvel at more than 1,000 whiskey bottles lining exposed-brick walls, and sip away. 960 1280
Hudson Valley, New YorkBefore Prohibition, the picturesque Hudson Valley was home to at least 1,000 distilleries. Tuthilltown Spirits was at the forefront of the area’s resurgence when it opened in 2005. It produces small-batch Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and Hudson Baby Bourbon, and in addition to tours and tastings, it also serves farm fresh fare at its restaurant, located in a historic grist mill. Orange County Distillery uses local grains to make quality bourbons in small batches. Both of its locations offer tastings, but only the aforementioned distillery has a production facility.
At Black Dirt Distillery, the corn used in its namesake bourbon is grown in said black dirt, which is an ancient fertile soil found in the Hudson Valley. To try it, head to the tasting room at Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, which is where the bourbon originated. Hillrock Estate Distillery offers a different twist with “solera”-aged bourbon, a technique that periodically removes small quantities of whiskey and replaces it with new whiskey, helping to create a more complex flavor. Make a tour appointment to learn more, and then visit its rustic tasting room. 960 1280
Beer, Bourbon & BBQ FestivalThis annual festival is traveling to 10 cities in 2016, including Atlanta and Tampa. Besides the requisite beer and barbeque, taste more than 40 bourbons and attend educational seminars. Bourbon exhibitors include Elijah Craig, Yellow Rose and Blanton’s. 960 1280
New Orleans, LouisianaIt’s rumored that bourbon got its name from famed Bourbon Street in the 19th century, since New Orleans served as a key shipping port. Either way, bourbon still has a strong presence in the city. Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House is first and foremost a seafood restaurant, but it also boasts the largest bourbon selection in town (as well as Frozen Bourbon Milk Punch). The Avenue Pub also has a good selection, from wheated to experimental bourbons, and is also home to the New Orleans Bourbon Society. Chef Emeril Lagasse is behind the annual Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, a food and drink extravaganza that features notable chefs, live music, and of course, bourbon. Last year’s event included a signature bourbon cocktail from Buffalo Trace. 960 1280
New York CityIn the 1800s Brooklyn was once home to at least 20 illicit distilleries, which prompted ongoing raids known as the Whiskey Wars until none were left. Kings County Distillery was the first to return when it opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2010. It makes its award-winning bourbon (along with moonshine and chocolate whiskey) from organic corn, and also holds whiskey-tasting classes. Tours and tastings are available every Saturday, and there’s no need to book ahead.
Widow Jane Distillery is also based in Brooklyn, and produces a number of organic “farm-to-bottle” bourbons, including heirloom varieties made from ancient grains. It’s not open to the public, but you can find it at whiskey bar and restaurant Maysville, which boasts more than 150 American whiskeys. The Flatiron Room is considered a destination for whiskey connoisseurs, and its menu features about 100 bourbons. The Flatiron Room also offers a Whiskey School with classes for all levels, from Whiskey 101 to Pappy Van Winkle, an educational class and tasting devoted to the cult favorite. 960 1280
Chicago, IllinoisNot only does KOVAL Distillery focus on making organic spirits, but it’s also the city’s first distillery since the 1800s. Its Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is unconventional since it employs millet as a supplemental grain instead of the more commonly used rye or wheat. In addition to tours and tastings, it also offers whiskey workshops for furthering your knowledge. FEW Spirits is just north of Chicago in Evanston (ironically, the headquarters of the Temperance Movement, which formed to “temper” alcohol consumption before Prohibition). This small-batch distillery creates an award-winning bourbon whiskey and holds tours.
If you can’t make it there, FEW is served at Fountainhead Chicago, along with other craft and locally made bourbons, such as New Holland Brewing and Journeyman Distillery from Michigan. Fountainhead is also notable for its rare single cask selections. Other places to sip bourbon include The Berkshire Room, an upscale lounge with an extensive bourbon list, from Van Winkle to I.W. Harper, and Untitled Supper Club, a speakeasy burlesque that houses an entire Whiskey Library containing more than 400 American brands. 960 1280
Invest in Foreign MarketsResearch ahead of time if there’s going to be a farmers’ market near you. Use the website Local Harvest to find farmers' markets throughout the U.S. When traveling abroad, markets are the perfect way to really get to know an area, be it your own city or one in another country. It’s a great way to practice language skills and learn about local culture, meet people, find out about good restaurants and learn about what else is going on during your stay. There’s plenty available to snack on even if you’re not planning to cook during your visit. If you’d like to bring any produce home from other countries, check the federal customs regulations first. 960 1280
Cart SmartFarmers markets can get crowded, and cumbersome wagons can become more of a burden than a help. Markets are often set up on dirt or gravel lots, which can be difficult with smaller wheels, too. Consider collapsible rolling carts or caddies with larger wheels that have a more manageable profile. Backpacks are also handy when traveling. 960 1280
Paws Before Taking FidoFarmer’s markets can be a great time to spend walking together with your best furry friend. But many markets have asked that dogs stay home, if not out-right banned canines. Check if the market is dog-friendly before going. Some markets may even have a dog park or area set up that has water and shade. If not, make sure to bring water for your dog, and consider the temperature before leaving your dog in a vehicle while you shop. 960 1280
Keep It CoolBring reusable ice packs to keep your purchases cool as you peruse under the summer sun. You can also keep a cooler in your vehicle for storing purchases, if it’s convenient, so you don’t have to carry them around. Insulated lunch boxes can be carried in backpacks, bicycle panniers and other bags for ease. Often, you may want to go out to breakfast or lunch after the market, and a cooler with ice packs will keep your purchases fresh while you enjoy the rest of your day. 960 1280
Shop TalkWhen vendors aren’t busy ask about their farms and if they supply local restaurants, if they are online and if they invite the public to visit their farms and buy direct. Establishing a relationship with local food producers helps you get the best produce and creates closer ties with the local growers’ community. 960 1280
Good Things to ComeIf you're staying in a country for a semester or longer period of time, ask vendors what produce they’ll have later in the season, and start researching recipes. They may also recommend other vendors' produce and share recipes. Ask what they do during the winter months for fresh, local food. 960 1280
Consider volunteering at the local farmers’ market on your next trip. It's a great way to meet people. From setting up booths to engaging with social media, there are plenty of areas in which to help out. Booking live music, answering SNAP and EBT questions, setting up chairs, greeting visitors and answering general questions are all areas where volunteers are needed. Find the market’s information booth (staffed by volunteers) and ask about how to help.