To kick-off 2020, we decided to travel down to Louisville, Kentucky. Birthplace of the G.O.A.T. Muhammed Ali. Home to legendary Churchill Downs Race Track. Creators of the world’s best Bourbon, and last but not least Kentucky Fried Chicken. We spent about 3 days in the bluegrass state and mainly stayed in the Louisville area (pronounced LUH-VULLE? LOOA-VILLE?). Who knows. As far as I can tell, Louisville is covered in strip malls, a haze of cigarette smoke, overcast weather, and rusty rundown old buildings. But hey, it’s all good. No shade here. Traveling gives you perspective. There are many fun and interesting things to do in this southeast corner of the country. Although almost everyone we ran into asked us why we were in Louisville (are y’all allowed to leave?) the Bourbon Trail was our primary reason for visiting. Let’s get into it.
Kickin it at the Mansion
Upon landing, we were picked up by a near toothless Uber Driver who for some reason had it out for college kids and their penchant for experiencing different cultures and cuisines. I’ll say though, that every single Uber or Lyft driver that picked us up was beyond friendly and hospitable (even tho they all smelled of cigarette smoke). People down here really are about the good old positive southern hospitality even if their Uber is covered in NRA stickers.
Toothless Uber Driver: “What neighborhood are y’all staying in during your visit to Louisville?”
F. Dougie: “We actually don’t know, but here’s the address?”
Toothless Uber Driver: “Oh, that’s Old Louisville.”
F. Dougie: “Hopefully not too old, amirite?
Toothless Uber Driver: “………..”
Don’t think he liked that one, but I didn’t think it would be right if I didn’t kick off the trip with an off-color slavery reference. We soon arrived at our lodgings, The “Big Shot Bourbon Mansion.” The place was gigantic! 3 floors and about 20 rooms with multiple kitchens and washer/dryers. It looked like it had been built near WWI and was furnished with your grandmother’s favorite patterns. If you’ve ever seen Clue or Knives Out, it would definitely remind you of one of those old murder mystery mansions. I’m fairly certain that the place was haunted but we didn’t fuck with the ghosts so they didn’t fuck with us. Don’t start none, won’t be none.
Since everyone was arriving, we mainly kicked it at the spot the first night. We were told not to cross 7th street to the West End due to multiple unsolved crimes, as well as various stabbings and shootings… We didn’t want that smoke, so naturally, we ordered in and made the delivery dude risk life and limb to get us some hot wings.
A night of Beer Pong and Kings capped off the first night before we got ready for our first big day in Louisville.
Bar Hopping in the Highlands
We started the day with breakfast and coffee delivered to the house before our tour guide picked us up around 9:00 am. If you’re interested in doing a tour of some of the legendary bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, I’d highly recommend a guided bus tour. Many of the distilleries are vastly spread out over hundreds of acres, so getting to and from each can be tough if you don’t have your own transportation. Our plan was to hit 3 different types of distilleries and drink in all of that golden bourbon glory. Our first stop was Stitzer – Weller.
The Stitzer – Weller distillery is owned by major alcohol distillery Diageo and is home to major brands Bulleit, I.W. Harper, and Blade & Bow. All three are brewed on the property and each has its own unique taste and brand recognition. I won’t get into all the details because the best part of the tours are learning how the product is made along with how much care and hard work go into producing the product, but to be considered bourbon whiskey needs to have 3 basic attributes:
American – Whiskey can only be considered Bourbon if it is Made in America. After all, all Bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
Birch Wood Barrels – Whiskey can only be casked in White Birch Barrels.
Corn – Bourbon is made with Corn only. No other flavors or colors can be added.
One common misconception is that Whiskey can only be considered Bourbon if its made in Kentucky. That’s not true. As long is it follows those 3 simple rules, its Bourbon.
At the end of the tour, we got a chance to sample a tasting of 4 different styles of Whiskey. Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit Rye, I.W. Harper, and Blade & Bow. All had their own individual profiles, tastes as well as various strengths and weaknesses. After all, everyone’s palate is different. The bourbons can have sweet or spicy undertones. They can be flowery or fruity. They can even be leathery or dry. What you like is up to you.
After stopping for lunch we ventured about an hour downstate to a much smaller distillery called 3 Boys. They made 2 different types of bourbons (a 124 proof and a 134 proof) and also specialized in several flavors of moonshine including pecan and apple pie. This tour was a little quicker and didn’t really dive into the history and manufacturing processes of bourbon so much as the nice lady who ran the place gave us many many many shots of bourbon and moonshine. Think Darlene Snell from Ozark but without the homicidal tendencies and the shotgun. Thank ya, ma’am. Much obliged.
Last on our tour was Buffalo Trace, the oldest continually operating distillery in America. What do I mean by continually operating? Well, during Prohibition, only a few select distilleries were allowed to continue operating. Whiskey and Bourbon were distributed to pharmacies for “medicinal use only”. Every man, woman, and child was allowed a prescription for 1 pint of 100 proof whiskey every 10 days “for ailments only”. As you can gather, many people starting coming down with all kinds of interesting sicknesses to get their fix.
Our tour guide was fairly knowledgeable but a little newer to the operation so I gave her a bit of a hard time. She took us on the grand tour of the facilities and process.
Tour Guide: “If you see these steel pipes above the buildings, these are actually new and we move steam through them to help with several processes.”
F. Dougie: “How often would you say that you lay pipe?
Tour Guide: “…..”
Tour Guide: “These barrels actually get harder as they get older.”
F. Dougie: “Just like me.”
Tour Guide: “…..”
Sorry, it was right there. What do you want from me? She was a retired school teacher of 17 years and I wanted to remind her not to go back. To follow her dreams, dammit!
The coolest part of the tour for me was seeing the workers label, bag, and box the facility’s special aged bourbon. There was literally a team of 10 people at 10 different stations manually applying labels (perfectly every time), commemorative tops, hot wax coverings, bags, and then boxing the bourbon. They did it with smiles on their faces while conversing and without missing a beat. All in all, that small crew is able to complete 2,400 bottles per day. It was a wonder to see and it’s a reminder that some of the best-made things are done so with care and can’t always be don’t by machines. I’ll definitely remember their friendly faces the next time I buy a bottle.
That night, we went out to a Video Arcade and Bar called RecBar. If you’ve ever been to BarCade on the East or West Coast you know what I’m talking about. Nothing really special about this place but it was chill and we had a good time playing classic videogames like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Afterburner, and Time Crisis. Shout out to the Simpsons Arcade game for stealing my quarters. X-Men the Arcade, you’ve never failed me.
Highlands Neighborhood on Bardstown Road
This area was fun. After a day of drinking bourbon, we decided to switch it up to beer and go bar hopping in. As seems to be customary in any area with multiple establishments, most of the bars had a hipster vibe. We hopped back and forth to a few but landed at one with free karaoke. They didn’t have the Pokemon theme song for me, but the crew bought the house down with Backstreet Boys “I want it that way”. Keep your panties ladies. We’re taken. (We’re still calling ’em panties, right?)
Escape the Room
Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum
Jack Ruby Steak House
Match Cigar Bar
Escape the Room
The third day was a busy one as well. Like I said before, there’s plenty to do in Luh-vulle and we tried to get in as much as possible on our last day of the trip. My homegirl Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t in town but did hit me on the cell to give us a few recommendations. Naturally, after a full day and night of drinking, we thought it was necessary to test our brainpower and ability to work together as a group…. So we decided to hit up Escape the Room. Let me tell you…If you ever want to test your patience with people, lock yourselves in a room together and tell them that they have an hour to work through a problem before they pass or fail. Yeesh. In all seriousness though, for me, this was weirdly some of the most fun that I had during the trip. I love brain games, puzzles, and mazes. I love thrillers, and I love a challenge.
Our group of 9 was given a scenario and placed into a room and given a mission to create a secret antidote and save the world from an evil scientist bent on destruction. Mwaahahahahahaha!
The interactiveness of the game really threw me for a loop. There were secret walls that opened, codes to crack, computers to hack, scientific formulas to make, and a secret giant machine that ultimately helped us towards our final goal. It got hairy for a second but we banded together, worked as a team and completed the mission with 10 minutes to spare. Maybe next time Dr. Evil.
Put the boy in the box like David Blaine
Let the audience watch, it ain’t a thing– HOV
Lola’s was a dope Filipino spot near the escape room. You know I had to get the classic Tosilogg like I always do. Not much more to say here. Filipino is amazing.
Batting 3rd in the order was the Louisville Slugger Museum. The forest that they use for their tree is on the border of PA and NY and it is MASSIVE. On average, every baseball player orders around 100 bats each per year. You can do the math on that one.
I know what you’re thinking. How terrible for the environment. All those trees cut down for baseball bats? Well LS actually dedicates themselves to plant 2x more trees than they cut down every year.
Thanks to all the crazy technology bat making process are fairly quick spread around 10 or so steps from cutting and painting to buffing. It was really dope to see bats from such legends as Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Ken Griffey Jr. Even the newer youngbloods like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were representing.
The museum caters to families and children of all ages as well as every major league team. I highly recommend it even if you aren’t a baseball fan. Batter up.
Jeff Ruby Steak House
A Louisville staple, we made our way over to Jeff Ruby’s for our final dinner of the trip. Top rated and easily one of Louisville’s best steakhouses, be prepared to pay top dollar for their amazing cuts of beef. The service is impeccable and if you name it, they’ve got it. Even the tough to find Hatchet cut was available for consumption.
Match Cigar Bar
I’m not into cigars as much as I was my younger days, but again, the theme here is if you want it, this place has got it. Just a 10 minute Uber ride from the steak house, this smokehouse is actually across the river in Indiana! Crazy right? The patron was super knowledgeable about all of his smokes and was able to make many recommendations to the members of the group. All in all, a great end to a fun day.
So if you’re looking for a sunny and vibrant destination, Louisville is most likely not the place for you. But if you’re looking to find the best bourbons in the world, they plan your trip asap. No, the locale isn’t super exciting, but the people are genuine and friendly. There’s a ton to do if you think outside the box and if you’re ready to change things up, you just might like it.