Last year, for the first time, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail welcomed over one million visitors across its ten member distilleries. It’s hardly a secret that the whiskey business is booming. The big producers have made themselves increasingly inviting to the masses, investing in state-of-the-art welcome centers and exclusive tasting experiences.
But for all the hoopla surrounding these big moves, a cottage industry is quietly building up around the edges. Gourmet food and beverage locations, catering specifically to these thirsty travelers, are sprouting up. This insures that your world-class sipping sessions need not be interspersed by run-ins with chain restaurants and seedy, lite-beer bars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (there is). Here’s your ultimate guide of where to eat and drink in the heart of Bourbon Country.
Thanks to Evan Williams and Town Branch, the Trail winds its way through the streets of Louisville and Lexington, respectively. Around these here parts, you’d have to try hard not to find great grub and grog. But for elevated fare, folks have been flocking to Butchertown Grocery. Come for the house-cured charcuterie and a bevy of seasonal small plates out of its namesake neighborhood in northeastern Louisville.
Butchertown Grocery / Photo Credit: Butchertown Grocery
Down in Lexington, the gastropub scene is in full effect, solidified by stalwarts such as The Village Idiot and OBC Kitchen. Both spots offer high-minded burgers and a diverse array of tipples, new and old. In the morning, prep your belly for an extended bourbon adventure over at Winchell’s, routinely accused of plating the best Hot Brown in the state—fighting words, in Bluegrass Country.
The kitchen at The Village Idiot / Photo Credit: The Village Idiot
In the wake of the bourbon renaissance, Louisville and Lexington have blossomed into serious cosmopolitan destinations, with all the accouterments to match. However, the more rural stops in between have been slower to catch up. Bardstown is a glaring exception. Home to the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival every September, this charming village keeps its visitors properly fed.
If you’re not intimidated by a big ol’ cut of meat, you’ll want to pull up a seat at the Rickhouse. Hearty steaks and the most expansive drinks menu in town are what’s for dinner. At Kurtz, you’ll get heaping portions of southern comfort, followed by the best coconut cream pie. Period.
Dinner at The Rickhouse / Photo Credit: The Rickhouse
DISTILLERY ON-SITE EATS
With a more modernized approach, Newman Miller wows guests behind the kitchen at his Harrison-Smith House. Among the many satisfied diners was Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark. He invited the award-winning chef to open a restaurant directly on-property at the distillery, in nearby Loretto. The result was Star Hill Provisions—a fast casual concept specializing in BBQ beef sandwiches and ham salads (yes, they are a thing). And thanks to a recent change in state law, cocktails are now available. A condensed list of classics is joined by the unexpected addition of a slushie made with Maker’s and Ale-8-One—a locally-sourced soft drink.
Jim Beam adopted a similar approach with Fred’s Smokehouse, a full service BBQ joint on the grounds of the stillhouse. If you’re feeling something a bit lighter, venture off property to Isaac’s Cafe, offering green-focused fare just a mile down the road.
Salad at Star Hill Provisions / Photo Credit: Star Hill Provisions
When making your way out to Wild Turkey country, a pitstop at Wallace Station is highly advisable. Although they don’t serve cocktails here, their deli-focused delights are a welcome reprieve from the rigors of day-drinking. If you’re feeling ambitious, attack the Famous Big Brown Burger, a massive assembly of ground beef, ham, bacon and cheddar mornay.
Salad at Wallace Station / Photo Credit: Wallace Station
A long day on the Trail meets its logical conclusion at Beaumont Inn, home of the Old Owl Tavern. One masterfully constructed Julep can easily turn into three or more on the property’s soothing sipping patio. So plan accordingly, and expect to stay the night. Tomorrow promises more tasty adventures on the road ahead. This is Bourbon Country in the modern era. You ought to expect nothing less.
Lunch at the Old Owl Tavern / Photo Credit: Old Owl Tavern
You know where to find that Kentucky Bourbon Trail food, now, find out what to drink.