BOURBON! If you’re planning a trip to Kentucky’s largest city, you already know that you need to imbibe this local export in order to experience authentic Kentucky culture. But what is this stuff and where are the best places to try it and buy it? Should I go to a distillery? A bourbon bar? CVS? The answer could be all of the above! Here are some fun facts about bourbon whiskey and where you should go to experience the Kentucky spirit.
There are 6 standards a spirit must achieve in order to be legally called bourbon whiskey:
- Must be produced in the United States.
- It must be aged in brand new charred white oak barrels at no more than 125 proof. After a barrel has been used to age whiskey once, it can never be reused to age bourbon.
- Bourbon must be at least 51% corn – other grains used include malted barley, wheat, or rye.
- It must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof.
- Must be a minimum of 80 proof at bottling.
- To be labeled “straight bourbon whiskey,” it must have aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years.
In 2015, the Total Bourbon inventory totaled 6.7 million barrels, meaning there are 1.5 bourbon barrels for every living resident of Kentucky.
In 1964, Congress declared bourbon as America’s only native spirit, and it remains so today.
During Prohibition, whiskey was only available in pharmacies in the form of “medicinal whiskey,” used to treat the symptoms of a variety of ailments. As a holdover from this time, in Kentucky drug stores, like CVS and Walgreens, are allowed to sell liquor, while grocery stores and gas stations are not.
95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, where a climate with all four seasons and pure limestone water contribute to making the world’s greatest bourbon.
Where to taste:
Haymarket Whiskey Bar, Downtown
This local dive features, on average, around 250 whiskeys, 150 unique bourbons, rare and private barrel selections, and a half dozen rotating craft beer taps. If the bourbons aren’t enough entertainment, check out the vintage arcade with pinball machines, skeeball lanes and more.
Silver Dollar, Clifton
Named one of GQ’s Top 10 Best Whiskey Bars in the Nation, the Silver Dollar honors the style, rhythm and taste of the Okies that founded the “Bakersfield Sound” of country music in the 1930s. The combination of neon lights, rough country sound, and vast collection of local bourbons makes for a can’t-miss brunch or dinner if you can make it out of downtown for a drink and a bite.
The Old Seelbach Bar, Downtown
Having hosted such infamous Americans as Al Capone and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Seelbach Hotel is a step back into the turn of the century. Experience the heart and soul of Kentucky in this authentically restored, early 1900’s bar featuring an expansive bourbon collection – highlighting several impeccably smooth single barrel bourbons.
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant, Downtown
Located in the heart of Louisville’s Whiskey Row, Down One’s bourbon list is so large it is divided into eras: Pre-Prohibition, Post-Prohibition, and Modern. And their “Get Splashed” wall is the perfect photo opportunity for the bourbon lover.
Where to learn (and taste):
Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY
Still haven’t signed up for Archiving Outside the Norm: Buffalo Trace Distillery Archives and Factory Tour? There are still spots open for an in-depth tour of the archives at this facility highlighting how visual resources can be in niche areas such as this. There will be a tour of this facility, bourbon tasting (free), and the ability to ask questions about the industry as a whole. You will also get to enjoy a beautiful ride through the heart of Bourbon country and the Bluegrass. Perfect way to top off your conference experience in bourbon country.
Evan Williams Experience, Downtown
Located on downtown Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row,” the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience features an artisanal distillery, guided tours, educational Bourbon tastings, and more! Celebrating the legacy of Evan Williams, Kentucky’s first commercial distiller, this immersive experience brings to life the history and tradition of Kentucky’s native spirit.
Frazier History Museum, Spirits of Bluegrass, Prohibition and Kentucky, Downtown
Prohibition and Kentucky brings the 1920’s to life & shows how millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans chose to violate the national alcohol ban to quench the country’s thirst for illegal booze. With two full sized bars, an event-ready Speakeasy with a lighted stage, and flapper dresses around every corner, Prohibition and Kentucky stands ready for a party. In 1920, you needed a doctor’s prescription or a Speakeasy password to get your lips on some liquor. Today, both the great stories, and the spirits, are much easier to come by. Prohibition and Kentucky traces the rise of the temperance movement, organized crime, and the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, taking an in-depth look at America’s “Noble Experiment.” No tasting here, but lots of great info and exhibits!
Copper & Kings American Brandy Distillery, Butchertown
If you’re not a bourbon fan or you’ve already checked all of the above destinations off your bourbon bucket list, Copper & Kings provides a fun tour and tasting of American Brandy, Gin, Absinthe and other spirits that also celebrate Kentucky culture. Copper & Kings combines high design, unique aging styles, and quality ingredients to create products that hold their own in the local whiskey market.
— Stephanie Schmidt, VRA member and Archivist at Buffalo Trace Distillery