Kentucky is the home of some pretty iconic attractions; the Kentucky Derby horse race, the Lousiville Slugger Museum, and home of nearly 70 bourbon distilleries. Located within a day’s drive of over half of the U.S. population, it’s the perfect destination to add to your list when planning a vacation.
My husband and I recently took the day’s journey for the third time, and it was just as unique as our first visit. If you get the chance to visit, these are my top five places you should visit.
The Bourbon Trails
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association established the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999, a road trip-style experience for bourbon connoisseurs to visit the signature distilleries. Bourbon lovers can stop at a few of the distilleries or all 41 on the trail; it is up to you how you want to plan the trip. But the journey does require some planning as some of the distilleries are up to 70 miles apart. There is something for everyone on this trip, tastings, history, food, and nightlife. Here are my three favorite distilleries.
1. Makers Mark
The red wax-dipped bottle is unmistakable, and so is the bourbon. Never bitter or sharp, Maker’s Mark is made with winter wheat, instead of the usual rye, for a full-flavored bourbon that’s easy to drink. You’ll learn how they make the bourbon at the distillery, tour the beautiful Star Hill Farms and even dip your own bottle.
This bourbon is my favorite to sip neat or in my favorite old-fashioned cocktail.
2. Woodford Reserve
When celebrating the Kentucky Derby, you can’t do it without Woodford Reserve. It’s Kentucky’s oldest and smallest distillery which began crafting whiskey in 1812. The distillery is successful but also prestigious, has been gifted the title of a National Historic Landmark, and is a distillery worthy of a tour.
The Straight Bourbon Whiskey is rich and smooth with cinnamon, cocoa, and citrus notes. It’s a great bourbon for all types of drinkers and makes an excellent old-fashioned.
3. Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.
Kentucky Peerless Small Batch Barrel Proof Bourbon was first released in June 2019, marking 102 years since the company had sold bourbon. The Peerless brand dates back to the 1880s when it was first barreled and sold in Henderson, Kentucky. Like other distilleries during the time, the distillery and the Peerless brand became a victim of Prohibition and wasn’t revived until 2014.
What makes this distillery unique is that the bourbon is made with a sweet mash instead of the traditional sour mash, and the batches are truly small batches. Once a barrel is selected, it is bottled and prepared and given a unique label; each barrel typically yields 180-210 bottles.
Kentucky Peerless is a very small, family operation, take the tour, and the owner Corky Taylor, will probably drop in and add some behind-the-scenes historical insights. There’s a sweet, familial vibe at Peerless, one that is unique and special and not felt at many of the larger distilleries. That’s why it’s one of my top 3 distilleries to visit.
Visit a Thoroughbred Horse Farm
There are over 400 horse farms throughout the state, but very few of them have opened their gates to visitors in the same way the Bourbon Distilleries have in recent years. A handful of farms offer regularly scheduled public tours, but most tours are private and must be set up well in advance.
Horse Country is an organization of horse farms and equine attractions dedicated to sharing the stories of Kentucky’s Horse Country. Several years ago, I took the Stallion Tour in Horse Country, including Kentucky Derby winners, Breeders’ Cup champions, Triple Crown winners, and scores of champion sires. The most famous one is America Pharoh.
Horse Country provides several tours, including family-friendly, interactive, and stallions. They have a tour for everyone; it’s worth the visit.
Keeneland Race Course
Keeneland Race Course, located in Lexington, Kentucky, opened in 1936. Even though it’s not as old as Churchill Downs (1875), it has become a premier racetrack. Like Churchill Downs, horses race twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall.
There’s plenty of great food and drink at every turn. When we visited this spring, most people were sipping on the Keeneland Bloody Mary, made with Major Peters’ mix and Grey Goose, and the Keeneland Breeze, a bourbon drink served over ice and spiked with orange liqueur and ginger ale. When dining at Keeneland, I recommend the Keeneland Hotdog topped with burgoo and, for dessert, bread pudding with stale bread soaked with spices and golden raisins, baked until brown and bubbling, and topped with a Maker’s Mark bourbon sauce. Delicious!
As a National Historic Landmark, Keeneland features beautifully landscaped grounds open daily to the public. Visitors are welcome for tours, enjoy a trackside view of morning workouts, and visit the Keeneland Shop. If you can’t make a race during the spring or the fall, plan on taking a tour of this beautiful historical landmark.
So whether you are a foodie, a bourbon drinker, or are interested in history or the performing arts, you’ll find