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Take a Tour Through American History Along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

By Liza Weisstuch
September 8, 2020
Take a Tour Through American History Along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (68417) Image Placement 115079

August 2, 2007 was a historic day in America. On that day, the bitter partisanship that pretty much defines American politics was cast aside to pass a bill that declared bourbon to be our “National Spirit” and established September as National Bourbon Heritage Month. And here’s the best part: They passed the bill unanimously. Yes, unanimously.

As further evidence of bourbon’s importance to American heritage as well as the nation’s economy, this isn’t the first time Congress passed a law involving the industry. In 1967, it passed a bill to define bourbon as a whiskey that must be distilled from at least 51% corn and aged in a new charred American white oak barrel and just as Champagne can only be made in the region of the same name in France and Iberico ham can only come from Spain and Portugal, bourbon must be made in the USA.

Which brings us to today. The bourbon industry is exploding—there were over 6.7 million barrels aging in Kentucky in 2015, which works out to 1.5 barrels for every citizen of the state. So-called “whiskey pilgrims,” from millennial enthusiasts to seasoned aficionados, have been flocking to Kentucky to visit bourbon distilleries and see how the spirit is made. But even before bourbon growth took off, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, a trade organization, founded the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999. (Bourbon production increased 315% since then, from 455,078 barrels in 1999 to 1,886,821 in 2015). The KBT is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to head to the source and see craftsmanship in action. And the best part: the guidance the KBT provides is completely free. Each distillery offers tours that show the many steps of whiskey-making, from fermenting to distilling to barreling to bottling and, of course, what would a tour be without a lesson in tasting. The distilleries charge a minimal admission fee. It’s worth it.

Just go to the site and download the app. It shows the number of miles between distilleries, which ranges between eight and 70, and lot of other helpful logistical details. There are nine distilleries on the trail. They’ve created a neat little “passport” for you to take from stop to stop. Get it stamped at each distillery and if send it to the KDA when it’s all filled in, they send you a t-shirt.

Among the stops is the iconic Maker’s Mark Distillery, a National Historic Landmark. It’s set up with the house of its founders replicated to period detail. You can watch workers dip the bottles in the red wax Maker’s is known for and even try it for yourself in the gift shop. The massive Jim Beam Distillery is a mighty sight to behold, what with 76.5 million bottles of spirits shipped to 100 countries from there each year. This is indeed the slickest stop on the tour. The company is in its seventh generation of Beams and old-school heritage looms large in its mythology, yet it’s all presented with all kinds of digital bells and whistles. The visitor center is a veritable multi-story museum, with interactive educational elements. They also offer an interactive multi-sensory tour and a decanter museum that would make an antiques collector swoon. Prepare to spend a lot of time here. Heaven Hill, the oldest family-run distillery, offers the Bourbon Heritage Center, a museum of bourbon, past to present. Wild Turkey and Four Roses have both invested vast sums in the last few years to open stunning visitor centers at their historic distilleries, each one a shrine to American heritage.

With all the tourist pouring into (sorry, no pun intended) the state, they need someplace to eat and drink after a day of touring. Louisville has become quite an urban destination. Inventive restaurants are opening at a rapid clip, and meantime, some of the longstanding institutions banded together to form the Urban Bourbon Trail, a guide to some of the most incredible bourbon bars in Louisville, which basically means the most incredible bourbon bars in the world.

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Inspiration

Over 500 miles of new bike trails are now open to cyclists in the US

Cycling has soared in popularity during the pandemic, prompting cities and towns to reconsider their streets. In California and Wisconsin, officials and local cycling communities have worked with the USBRS to utilize several off-road trails to connect Milwaukee to the Mississippi River at Bluff Siding, and linked Lake Tahoe with an existing bike path in Nevada to create a seamless route to the San Francisco Bay Area. The designation of these new routes will give cyclists more than 500 miles of safe, signed paths and expands the reach of USBRS to 29 states in total. In California, the 233-mile USBR 50 path begins in South Lake Tahoe at the Nevada border. Cyclists will climb over mountain passes, following the Mormon Emigrant Trail before rolling through the scenic Sierra Nevada on the El Dorado Trail, the paved route in the state's historic Gold Rush country. From there, they'll enjoy over 30 miles of car-free cycling from Folsom to Sacramento, before traveling to Lagoon Valley Park and into San Francisco Bay. California's new bike route will start south of Lake Tahoe ©MariuszBlach/Getty ImagesNot only does the new California bike path provide scenic recreational routes for cyclists, it also connects two of the largest communities in the El Dorado and Sacramento counties. "Long term, I hope we can improve USBR 50 to serve not only visitors to the county, but local residents cycling for recreation, biking to work, and running errands by bike," said Mike Bean, Friends of El Dorado Trail board member, who helped designate the new route. In Wisconsin, cyclists will pass 269 miles of forests, vibrant urban areas and cut through the steep, rugged landscape of the Driftless Region. "Establishing this route has been years in the making and it’s a great accomplishment for the state," Craig Thompson, Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) secretary-designee, said in a statement. "More than 70 communities in eleven counties worked together to create this great transportation corridor that will be enjoyed by local, regional and national bicyclists." The USBRS boasts 14,598 miles of bike routes throughout the country, and connects cyclists to picturesque pathways in over 100 National Park sites, including Mammoth Cave National Park and Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. At least 40 states are currently developing more routes and once complete, it will be the largest bike network in the world, providing cyclists of all ages and abilities a safe passage through the country. If you want to hit the open road on two wheels this fall, you can access digital maps for all designated US Bicycle Routes for free here from the Adventure Cycling website, a nonprofit organization that provides national coordination for the USBRS.

Inspiration

Socially distant adventures on the Carolina coast

It’s that time again. It’s been a week since you’ve left the house and it’s enough stir-crazy between your partner or your kids for a lifetime. Even the dog is sick of you. Here are ten things you can do in an expertly planned one day trip on South Carolina coast. Pack the day full, because even though it’s not a week in Cabo, it will make going home feel relaxing enough to mask the crazy. Kayaking at Sunrise in Charleston Plentiful waterways make up the iconic scenery of Charleston. What better way to enjoy what Charleston has to offer while remaining primarily secluded than kayaking at sunrise. Further out of town the top rated company Charleston Outdoor Adventures offers kayaking and paddleboarding to escape the city life. Make online reservations to plan ahead and stay distanced. As always, bring your own sanitizing wipes and sanitizer. ©f11photo/ShutterstockBreakfast Downtown Charleston Many of the restaurants in Charleston vary from dine-in to takeout only or closed all together. This is why we recommend heading downtown. This socially distanced option allows you to pick up whatever you want (we recommend Toast! a charleston breakfast hotspot) because there are several great outdoor picnic spots around. Just pick up your tasty treat and find yours. On a slower day mid week, you could even go to Joe Wiley Waterfront Park to find a picnic spot. This park offers a great look into historic Charleston. Cobblestone streets lead you to a scenic fountain and pier. The walk along the way is beautiful too. South Carolina Aquarium Get out of the heat, even though it’s morning, don’t doubt the East Coast humidity. The one indoor activity on here features the South Carolina Aquarium who takes social distancing very seriously. They believe “as a scientific organization, it is our duty to keep the health and safety of our guests and staff top priority.” Find more information on their FAQ page about safe visiting. The aquarium requires guests to purchase timed entries online to limit the capacity of visitors and to wear a face mask at all times. Beach Picnic in Hilton Head Take the day elsewhere by driving down to Hilton Head. Just two hours away travelers can make it for an afternoon picnic on the beach. On the main beach, many seafood restaurants offer outside seating or takeout. But who wouldn’t want to eat by the waves? All beach access and surrounding recreations restored to normal. For those searching for less crowds, you might have better luck finding a beach access point off of the main. Rent a Bike in Hilton Head Just like the Kayaks, make sure you bring hand sanitizing wipes. Even with sanitizing practices of their own, you can never be too careful. The options for rentals seem almost limitless. All across the island visitors can find beach cruisers. Biking around the beaches or the walk ways amongst the trees is a great way to spend the afternoon. You can do this alone or with a small group (we recommend nothing over six). When you get hot or tired, jump in the ocean. When it comes to getting out of the house, nothing beats a little bit of exercise to boost the seratonin. Golf in Hilton Head But if biking just isn’t your vibe, then try golfing. This is another outdoor, energy boosting activity with lots of walking and enjoyment (but none of the pedaling). Though, this is a little bit of a pricier option. Tee times run around $100 for the surrounding courses. The most expensive course looks out to the ocean. Golden Bear golf clubs hold one of the highest rating clubs in the area. This sport thrives through social distancing. As you know by now, it’s great as long as you bring some hand sanitizing wipes for the clubs and the cart. Sunset in Hilton Head, SC. Photo by Laura BrownWatch the sunset in Hilton HeadHilton Head has a plethora of fantastic places to sip a cocktail and watch the sunset. Our favorites are the Skull Creek Boathouse on the north side of the island, and the Sunset Grill on the Western side. The Sunset Grill is an upscale restaurant nestled in the Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort, for the RV enthusiasts. Margs at the Park in Savannah Once you’ve finished the afternoon in Hilton Head, drive on down to Savannah. Another short drive away, Savannah brings in visitors all over the state for the simple fact of open carry alcohol. While bars start to open their doors to guests, the numbers are already growing for tourists. If you are really looking for a way to travel away from the crowds, the best option is to head over to Tequila Town, or any other bar, and grab an open cup margarita. Then find yourself a nice, lonely park bench to enjoy it on. The evenings start to cool down and what better way to cap off a day of fun. ©Sean Pavone/ShutterstockHorse Drawn Carriages in Savannah Traveling historic Savannah is the second best part to the city, so do it in style. You know, it also keeps you several feet above everyone else (probable a six foot distance if you know what I mean). Horse drawn carriages are back in business and taking riders in fewer quantities with more time in between. Beach Under the Stars at Tybee Island Tybee island is a local favorite for anyone in Savannah. The best times to go are for sunrise and the stars. Bring drinks, dessert and a blanket. You’ll find good company among some of the others who come out, but mostly with the crabs. There isn’t much light pollution in Savannah to begin with, but there is hardly any in Tybee. On a clear night, you can see everything and listen to the waves. Enjoy the Road Lastly it’s about enjoying the road trip. These days, just getting out of the house is an adventure, even if you spend most of your time in the car listening to your favorite songs driving from place to place. A trip from Charleston to Hilton Head to Savannah might not seem like a typical day trip, but why not rise to the challenge? Where else can you drive in a day? (P.s. we highly recommend the new Taylor Swift album Folklore for your road trip tunes.)Kylie Ruffino is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

Inspiration

Explore the Natchez Trace from Tennessee to Mississippi

Back in the 1800’s the way to travel across the southeast was to walk or ride your horse on this “trace”. Back then, if you were headed anywhere along the path between Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN, you used a worn down trail for your long days of travel. Two hundred years later, the Natchez Trace has preserved its history. Loveless Cafe Loveless Cafe was started in 1951 by Lon and Anne Loveless. They bought an old fashioned Tea Room as their home and converted the outdoor space to a restaurant, seating patrons at picnic tables. With their soon booming business, they renovated the rooms in their home, giving the restaurant a bigger menu and more accommodations. Now, you can eat fried chicken and any other sorts of southern cuisine safely at outdoor tables with masks (Due to COVID-19). Go back in time and start your day trip off with this old-fashioned nostalgic stop. With any luck, there will be live music too! Photo by: Anne Florence Brown The Natchez Trace Parkway Double Arched Bridge, mile-marker 430 This stop has the best view found on the trace. I highly recommend that if you are leaving from Nashville, pass this stop early in the day and hit it on the way back to town for a perfectly timed sunset picture. You won’t be sorry.The Gordon House, mile-marker 407 One of the best parts about the Natchez Trace Parkway is the historical aspects. Every few miles there are original historical sites that have been preserved from the 1800s. The Gordon House is one of these. Stop to read about the history behind it and then walk the secluded ten-minute nature walk to the Duck Riverside, where ferries used to make their journey through the south. Pro-tip: bring bug spray for this walk, the overgrown grass makes for an enchanted feel, but affluence of bugs!Baker Bluff Overlook, mile-marker 406 Take a mini-hike through fairy tale trees, babbling brooks, and log bridges to an overlook with a view of the valley from the old days. This hike is perfect for a timely little adventure. With the shade, any time of day is perfect for this hike through the forest.Jackson Falls, mile-marker 405 Jackson Falls is a picturesque waterfall on the trace. Walk a .75 mile trail down to the waterfall. Stop for a picnic in the water, or bring bathing suits to adventure through the Duck River. This stop is especially good for kids. ©Ed Gifford/Getty ImagesTobacco Farm, mile-marker 401 Take a stroll through time and trees to see farms from the 1800s that are still standing. Marked with signs that tell stories from times of old, this excursion is perfect for those who wondered what life was like back in history.Fall Hollow Falls, mile-marker 392 Walk Another short .3 miles to an overlook and then a downhill trek to the base of a beautiful waterfall. This place is perfect for pictures and sightseeing, but be careful. It’s not uncommon for hikers to fall down the steep trail. The safest option for children is to stop at the overlook or to keep them close to you on the trek down.Meriwether Lewis's Grave, mile-marker 378 This is the best historical stop on the trace. Take a historical nature walk through the 1800s, see the grave marker for Meriwether Lewis, who explored the American West with his partner William Clark, and even walk on the original trace that people walked hundreds of years ago. It even holds Meriwether Lewis's original home, where he died in the mid-1800s. Jacks Branch picnic spot, mile-marker 378 This spot is small but perfect for picnics. Stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and eat some lunch at the picnic tables among the trees and next to a creek at Jacks Branch.Laurel Hills Lake, mile-marker 373 Interested in a fishing excursion? Or a canoe trip? Laurel Hills Lake is a few miles off the trace but worth the trip. Perfect for the adventure goers and meanderers, the lake is an off the beaten path kind of spot. Anne Florence Brown is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a student at the University of Mississippi.

Inspiration

The world’s last Blockbuster is available to rent on Airbnb

If you fancy a night away somewhere unique and live local to Bend, Oregon, you could always try applying to stay at the world's last Blockbuster movie rental store. It will be listed on Airbnb for three individual, one-night reservations that will take place in September. You can enjoy a movie night during your stay © AirbnbThe stay will give guests the opportunity to experience a 90s-themed sleepover and relive the bygone Friday night tradition of movie night. The experience can be booked for $4 (€3.39) plus taxes and fees, which is great value when you consider that movie rentals cost $3.99 (€3.38). Store manager Sandi Harding is listing the store in appreciation of all the Bend community has done recently to support the last-of-its-kind store during these difficult times, and she will stock the shelves with all the movies guests desire before handing over the keys. Guests can stay overnight at the Blockbuster store in Bend © AirbnbWhile at the store, guests who book should adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines around wearing masks and social distancing in a public space. Interested guests should also note host rules that are in adherence with local guidelines, which include that those who request to book must be Bend residents and come from the same household to minimize risk. The store will be cleaned in advance of their arrival and prepared in accordance with CDC guidelines, consistent with the Airbnb enhanced cleaning protocol. You can watch movies for the evening © AirbnbThose who don't manage to score a one-night stay can check out the living room space during store hours for a limited time after the final guests check out. If you want to request to book a stay on 18, 19 and 20 September, you can do from 17 August at 1pm PST on this link. This story originally ran on our sister-site, Lonely Planet.

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