Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail In One Day

Bike:  KTM Super Duke R
Route:  Google Maps

Kentucky. What's it all about?  Some would say basketball. Others would say horses, but not the V-Twin variety that I'm familiar with. A few would say BBQ. And many would say bourbon!  You can watch & play basketball, raise & race horses, prepare & eat BBQ anywhere. But if you want to know about bourbon, you come to Kentucky. In theory, bourbon can be produced elsewhere. In reality, good bourbon is a product of the Commonwealth. This is Bourbon Country.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is not an actual trail per se -- it is a promotional concept designed to boost tourism for its six member distilleries (soon to be seven). It features a Passport that's way cooler than a real passport because you don't have to do that photo thing and then wait six weeks to get it in the mail. Also, it's free. You pick one up at your first distillery and then collect stamps at each stop. You can hit the distilleries in any order you like whenever you want, so there are a million different ways to plan your trip. After collecting all six stamps you'll earn a free commemorative T-shirt, and this is no ordinary T. As they say, "It's reserved for only the esteemed explorers who complete their Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, and it can't be purchased."

I want to be an esteemed explorer and I want that shirt.

Two disclaimers:
  1. Although I've lived most of my adult life in Kentucky, I am no bourbon expert. I have been to a couple Bourbon Dinners at 440 Main -- great food, great drink, great experiences. If you get a chance to attend one, don't miss it. I learned a lot both times. Mostly I learned that there are plenty of people around here who know a whole lot about bourbon!  Experts, indeed. Expert, I'm not.
  2. Today's trip did not include distillery tours and bourbon tastings. These pages have always been about riding through the rolling hills and farmlands of Kentucky to visit unique out-of-the-way places. As such, I've been looking forward to this ride for quite awhile -- the Bourbon Trail stops are true Kentucky landmarks connected by various ribbons of road traversing beautiful KY countryside. Today was about getting familiar with the roads, towns, and properties along the Trail. I reckon it's easier to plan a more detailed future trip when there is some degree of familiarity with the terrain, and I hope these images help others do just that.
Our Kentucky Bourbon Trail Route.

The title of this post should really be Kentucky Bourbon Trail In Half A Day. This was part of a longer trip from the Bowling Green area to Lexington and back, so with the time zone difference and a later-than-planned departure, I didn't get to the first distillery until almost noon. No worries!  Six stamps in five hours -- it's not the recommended experience, but my T-shirt is on the way. [BONUS:  No speeding tickets. I have to thank a few anonymous truck drivers for that.]

The distilleries are all located in an area roughly between Louisville, Elizabethtown, and Lexington. Most are easily accessible from I-65, I-64, or the Bluegrass Parkway, but we'll be avoiding all that nonsense. I was trying to follow an eastbound route similar to the suggested KY Bourbon Trail Short Biking Route, with some changes made for the sake of brevity and others made by wrong turns. That nonsensical dip down to Lebanon, for example, was a wrong turn.

Let's go...

It's easy enough to arrive via I-65, but...

...doesn't this...

...look like...

...more fun?

The Clermont, KY Post Office sits in Jim Beam's front yard.

Beam plant.

First stop.
Jim Beam American Stillhouse.
11:45 AM.

My Passport.

Jim Beam passport stamp.
Downstairs gift shop in the background.


Jeremiah Beam Home on Beam Hill.

Tasting room.

Tasting room with a busload of French tourists.
Literally, a busload of French tourists, complete with translator.

Ciao, Beam...


I wish I could say there is something fun about the ride to Bardstown, but there is not.

My Old Kentucky Dinner Train.
US-31E (3rd Street).

Bardstown is a charming place.

Bardstown, KY.
Bourbon Capital of the World.
Host of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival next week.
Recently voted "Most Beautiful Small Town in America" 

Hurst Discount Drugs on the square has an old school soda fountain with the best milkshakes in the land.

FLASHBACK:  Earlier lunch at Hurst before visiting Jim Beam.

Gilkey Run Road.
If you go this route, you might think you're lost for a minute.

Not lost!


Second stop.
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center.
12:47 PM.

Heaven Hill passport stamp.

Bourbon tasting.

Sauce tasting.

Pioneers' Row.

Ciao, Heaven Hill...

Obviously getting close to Loretto and Maker's Mark.

Loretto, KY Post Office.

The Toll Gate Cafe sits on Burkes Spring Road just outside the Maker's Mark entrance.
Looks like a fine place to sit outside and grab a meal on a nice day.

Third stop.
Maker's Mark Distillery.
1:37 PM.

Whisky Creek.

A tour departs.

People of all ages flock to Loretto.

Maker's Mark passport stamp.

Ciao, Maker's...

Blowing this stop sign was not the big mistake here.
Missing that left turn was.


Even though I didn't plan to be on this part of this road, I gotta say I loved 52 both before and after the Maker's turn-off.


Terrifying Moment of the Day.
That horse was running at full speed across a field with no fence... with crazy eyes.

She entered the road behind me and started following, so I alerted oncoming traffic...

...and slowed down...

...and hoped she would take this side road. She did.
I don't know much about the one-horsepower kind of horses, but she looked pretty darn scared.
Hope she was OK.

The thing about the No GPS Rule is that there's no GPS when you get a bit off course.


Down below is the Bluegrass Parkway, which we avoid at all costs.

Whoops. That looks like my turn. The Super Duke R has great brakes, but not that great!

This was the funnest road of the day, but I spent too much time stuck behind a rental car to get good pics.
Said rental car caught up with me at Four Roses. Tourists.

Mill Creek Pike.
WARNING:  Fun road, but very narrow with a lot of blind decreasing-radius turns and absolutely no runoff.


Four Roses plant.

Fourth stop.
Four Roses Visitors Center.
3:14 PM.

Four Roses unveiled a brand new visitors center the following week during the Bourbon Festival.

Four Roses passport stamp.

Bourbon tasting in progress.

Ciao, Four Roses...


Lawrenceburg, KY.
US-62 (Main Street).

Anderson County Court House.



Fifth stop.
Wild Turkey Visitors Center.
4:00 PM.

According to BourbonBlog, a beautiful new visitors center is scheduled to open next year.

Wild Turkey passport stamp. And lemonade!
This was my favorite stop of the day because a nice lady named Sherwin took a minute to make me a pitcher.
Thanks, Sherwin!

Time to saddle up and get this passport finished.
Ciao, you Wild Turkey...

Entering Woodford County on US-62 over the Kentucky River.
According to BridgeHunter, this is the Tyrone "S" Bridge and there ain't many like it.
Over to the right is the aptly-named Tyrone High Bridge.

Steele Road.
I highly recommend taking this route to Woodford Reserve.
It is a beautiful ride on a lazy road through horse country.

B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L countryside.
Some of the one-percenters must live around here. Good for them!

Sixth stop.
Woodford Reserve.
4:46 PM.

Woodford Reserve passport stamp.
Bam!  The passport is done with ten minutes to spare.

I'd love to ride out the storm on this porch, but gotta go.
Ciao, Woodford...

Funnest part of the day?  Racing this storm to Lexington.
We're both heading directly east and it was a clean start.

Versailles, KY.
Main Street.

The storm didn't have to battle traffic.

Woodford County Courthouse.

The castle and the storm.

Alltech's Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. is located in downtown Lexington.

Next month their Town Branch bourbon distillery will join the Bourbon Trail.
The new visitors center is the building under construction in the background.

Bonus seventh stop.
Alltech's Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.
5:46 PM.

Of course the storm had to catch up to me right here, one mile from my destination.
[Sweet revenge one week later:  GO TOPS!]


That was fun, right up 'till the end!  The last bonus stop cost me...

  1. I love Kentucky. But I already loved Kentucky. Kentucky Kicks Ass.
  2. The KTM Super Duke R seat is not as bad as everyone says. It's worse. And I have the aftermarket Ergo Gel Seat, so I can't imagine how bad the original seat is!  I'm just being a crybaby -- I have no real complaints about this bike. I love love love it.
  3. I'm totally fine with being a fair weather rider. Riding in the rain is no good. No good at all.
  4. If I wanted to do all the distillery tours in a hurry, I would spend one night in Bardstown and one night in Lexington. Wake up in Bardstown to hit Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, and Maker's Mark, with a milkshake stop at Hurst thrown it. Wake up in Lexington to hit Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve. Perhaps squeeze Alltech in at the end of the day or early the next morning.
  5. If I wanted to take more time to enjoy the distillery tours, I'd definitely schedule a trip during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. There are plenty of fun events throughout the week, and it would allow time to visit other distilleries and establishments that aren't on the Bourbon Trail.
  6. This year the Kentucky BBQ Festival in Danville took place the weekend before the Kentucky Bourbon Festival kicked off. If they schedule it the same way in future years, I see no reason to not visit both!  BBQ & Bourbon... a proper Kentucky vacation.


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