Kentucky is to bourbon what the Napa Valley is to wine. Savoring a number of bourbons and bourbon-inspired dishes created a special mystique for me. Up to this point, the most memorable
bourbon experiences was hot toddies made with Old Crow and that was when I was a sick
kid, and sometimes when I wasn’t!
I always enjoyed opening the bottle, taking in the strongly sweet
caramel-like scent of bourbon, of which the Kentucky kind is renowned
for because the state sits on a limestone shelf, which filters the iron out of the
like travelers seeking wine experiences in France or California, I
recommend a Kentucky bourbon experience; it offers not only a
chance to sample some unique tasting bourbons, but the added ambience will
leave life-long impressions.
The urban bourbon trail
Louisville is the
gateway of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a 1.5 hour drive south
and east from the city that has seven distilleries. It’s called The Urban
Bourbon Trail, made up of eight drinking establishments that are required to serve
between 50-150 different bourbons each.
You can’t just call any whiskey bourbon; it must meet certain
federally mandated standards:
- Made of at least 51 per cent corn
- Distilled at less than 160 proof from fermented grain mash
- Must be matured in new charred, white oak barrels at 125 proof or less
- Only pure water can be added to the final product
- Has to be bottled at 80 proof or more, and aged for at least 2 years.
Bourbon of a time!
It was a
late Saturday afternoon when friends and I sauntered into the historic
Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. I was immediately captivated by the interior
motif of English Renaissance Adams Style (from the 1920’s), as well as by some
cocktail style music gently emanating from a piano while natural light peered in
through the high windows. We were seated
in the Lobby Bar. Soon I’d be sampling Maker’s Mark bourbon that had some Godiva Dark, Frangelico and cream for a “Bourbon Ball”. The ingredients in this
cocktail really made the bourbon stand out.
You can order food from the bar, including Rabbit Rillettes, Lobster “Mac and Cheese”, even an Angus burger, with current prices
ranging from $8.00 to $16.00. The bar also serves
a number of white and red wines and cocktails. These range from $7.00 to 14.00 dollars. The service is fast and friendly.
Luckily for us, we were able to order menu items from the Brown’s exquisite
English Grill Restaurant in the next room (dinner entrees from
$18.00 to $34.00, appetizers $7.00 to $17.00). I had the
best-tasting Crab Cakes; they
resonated with a smoke-fired taste, thanks to the accompanying Corn Bourbon
Sauce (made with Elijah Craig bourbon).
The atmosphere of gaiety added to my overall
experience. I saw some nicely dressed children from
a wedding party causing a bit of a joyful raucous, as some of the hotel staff
was leading them downstairs until they got their hyperactivity out of their
systems. I walked around the bar and
noticed menus from the 1930’s: a Christmas dinner cost only $1.75 and a
New Year’s Eve dinner was $5.00!
Gone down easy!
Even though there was a 57-foot long bar containing
scores of orange-reddish back-lit bourbon bottles, we chose to savor some
bourbon and bourbon cuisine in the outdoor dining area of Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge. I tried a shot, six-year old, 93-proof
bourbon known as Blanton’s, produced from a single barrel. Being a bourbon novice, I was told to swirl it around in my glass, then sniff it
with my mouth open. The scent was one of caramel; I drank it "neat" (or
straight). It was really strong,
though not quite fiery, it went down smoothly!
When I’ve drunk less expensive bourbons like
Old Crow, I felt a fiery afterburn! This restaurant and bar has quite a litany of bourbons, including some older than 20 years like Pappy Van
Winkle’s Family Reserve (23 years old and 95.6 proof). It also offers flights (a
sampling of a number of bourbons), subject to availability.
I was treated to some bourbon-inspired
cuisine that really enhanced the flavor of the food. For appetizers, you can’t go wrong with their
irresistible Lobster “Corn Dogs” that come with a bourbon mustard. They look like traditional corn dogs, but are
smaller and taste better!
Appetizers range in price from $7.00 to $18.00.
For dinner, I enjoyed the very filling Bourbon Smoked Salmon Pasta, came with superior-tasting Orecchiette Pasta. Their dinner entrees ($26-$45) also include a Bourbon
Braised Kobe Short Rib, as well as several steak entrees like a yummy bourbon
marinated sirloin, which I sampled from one of my fellow diners. For
dessert, I tried perfectly sweet (but not rich) Vanilla Sweet Cream
White Pie whose graham cracker crust stood out positively. Desserts range in price from $8.00 to $9.00. Service is fast and friendly.
Sampling bourbon history
darkly lit building dating back to the 1870’s and a couple miles from downtown, I had the chance to try quality bourbon full of
history at Bourbon’s Bistro. I was served
a glass of 20-year old, 90.4 Proof Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve bourbon. This is considered one of the best
bourbons. It comes from a bourbon maker
that has spanned four generations dating back to the late 1800’s who took no
short cuts in making their spirits. They forbade chemists on their premise
who have been used by other distilleries to make less quality bourbons. What makes this bourbon unique is that wheat
is used instead of rye, which is supposed to make the bourbon smoother,
sweeter, and age better.
As you can
see from the image, this bourbon is beautifully colored. After swirling it in the
glass, I noticed a fiery, lightly caramelic scent. Upon drinking it, I tasted "hot", but it went down smoothly.
As far as food goes, I savored a filling dinner that included a Shrimp Cocktail and a Baby Spinach Salad. Then I feasted on delicious Pan Seared Lobster Cakes that came with a memorable lemon-chiffon
Those dinner appetizers/salads range in price from $6.00 to $11.00, included Steak Tartar and Fried Cornmeal Dusted Oysters. The entrees were a ribeye steak that’s
accompanied with Bourbon Butter and a burger that’s “dressed” with an Apricot
Bourbon Mustard, plus many fish dishes like the one I had. These range in price from
$11.00 to $33.00.
Bistro serves over 130 bourbons ranging in price from $5.00 to $75.00. You can choose from nine bourbon flights (which
includes a “pick your own”).
For more information, see Bourbon Country.
I stayed at The Galt
House, on the banks of the Ohio River, a
short walk from many downtown attractions like The Louisville Science Center
and The Louisville Slugger Museum. Rooms have comfortable beds and plenty of workspace for accessing the free
high speed internet. Their fitness
center has a 360 degree view
of the Louisville area
from the eighteenth floor rooftop.
Read more of Roy’s articles here
Roy A. Barnes writes from
southeastern Wyoming and is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com. He advises adults to drink responsibly.