Travel

An autumn trip to Kentucky

Canopy Tree Walk

Margaret and I squeezed in one more weekend getaway before the busy season begins where she works. We returned to Bardstown, Kentucky, a place we very much enjoyed when we visited it last year.

We both enjoy good bourbon and planned to visit the distilleries we missed last time. We got to visit just one: the Stitzel-Weller distillery in a Louisville suburb. It’s now mostly a tourist site revolving around the Bullitt, Blade and Bow, and I. W. Harper bourbons.

They distill and age small quantities of spirits on the premises, and we got to see those operations. Most of their product is distilled and aged elsewhere, however.

If you know anything about bourbon lore, this was the distillery of the famous Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. It’s changed hands since then — even went dormant for a while starting in the 1970s, when whiskey’s popularity fell.

Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Stitzel-Weller Distillery

During these days of COVID-19, Stitzel-Weller limits tours to half the usual number of guests. A tasting always wraps a distillery tour. We knew there would be some risk there: would guests stay masked in the tasting room? Nope. Margaret and I were the only ones who stayed masked. It wasn’t hard to move the mask out of the way for our sips, and we wished others had followed our lead. It made us wary of the distillery tours we wanted to take the rest of the trip.

When we reached Bardstown and called the distilleries, we learned that their tours were booked all weekend. At least we wouldn’t have to be concerned about COVID risk at tastings! We did visit the Willett distillery, as they make my favorite bourbon of all time, Willett Pot Still Reserve. They’ve opened a restaurant on their property, so we enjoyed an early dinner there of creative and delicious dishes — I recommend it. We were able to dine on their deck in the open air. We also bought several bottles of our favorite bourbons in their shop.

We rented an Airbnb apartment in the heart of Bardstown’s downtown. It was a lovely place to stay with plenty of room for us to stretch. It also had a full kitchen in case inclement weather or insufficient outside seating at restaurants forced us inside to make our own meals.

Fortunately, many Bardstown restaurants offered outdoor seating. It was sometimes challenging to get a table at peak meal times, so we ate at odd times like 10:30 am and 4 pm when tables were available. Bardstown was far from crowded, but there are only so many restaurants in a small town.

We drove out to Bernheim Forest, which we visited on our last trip too. Margaret wanted to see one of the wooden giants there again, this one, named Little Nis.

Little Nis

Margaret also wanted to experience the Canopy Tree Walk, a large pier out into a forested valley. At 75 feet in the air, it gives you a treetop view.

Canopy Tree Walk
Canopy Tree Walk
Canopy Tree Walk
Canopy Tree Walk

The Jim Beam distillery is just down the road from Bernheim Forest. We’d have visited, but out of COVID caution they’ve closed their visitor experience until next spring. The Jim Beam barn is near the road, so we stopped to photograph it. It’s very well photographed; search for “Jim Beam barn” and you’ll see. Most of those photographs don’t show a giant rickhouse behind the barn — that rickhouse must have been built only recently. It makes the scene far less picturesque. I found one angle on the barn that minimizes the rickhouse and shows the rolling Kentucky hills.

The Jim Beam barn
The Jim Beam barn

It rained in Bardstown on our last day, so we left earlier than planned. We decided to drive home through lush Brown County in Indiana and stop in Nashville for lunch. What a mistake that was. It was a sunny day in that part of Indiana and the roads were packed with cars and motorcycles out to see the fall foliage. Nashville itself was wall to wall people. We parked and walked a little bit, but soon realized that the town was a COVID risk nightmare. We got back in our car and drove on to nearby Bloomington for a meal before heading home.

Canon PowerShot S95

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15 thoughts on “An autumn trip to Kentucky

  1. Scotch-fan me is jealous of the many nearby opportunities to do distillery tours and tastings that you bourbon-people enjoy. I sometimes wonder how differently my whiskey tastes might have developed if not for one Friday night as a college freshman made simply awful by an overly enthusiastic introduction to Mr. Jim Beam.

  2. This sounds like so much fun! I’ve been meaning to get down to Bernheim Forest and just haven’t done it yet so I’m glad you did.

    I don’t drink but still enjoyed the Jim Bean tour. Perhaps you can try again another time.

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

  3. I don’t know if I can add anything that I haven’t seen before but living in Ohio I could have went down to Bourbon country so easily and never did! I’d love to get back there at some point. Then again I have 4-5 distilleries (as well as 9 breweries) within an hour of me and I just never get there.

  4. A bourbon tour sounds great. I’m a Booker’s guy. I’ve tried many others and always come back. The only problem is they doubled the price.

  5. Darts and Letters says:

    Thanks for the explanation about rickhouses over on Flickr. I don’t really know anything about the workings of distilleries so that’s (and your account here) pretty interesting. A bunch of the small craft distilleries here converted parts of their operations to the making of hand sanitizers, for awhile. I bought some early on and that stuff smells like whiskey. I’ve got a few good bourbons in a cupboard up high but I haven’t touched them for 7-8 months. I wonder how long you can keep opened stuff assuming it’s stored tight and dry?

    • I wondered what the distillery-made hand sanitizers smelled like! I know that it’s super easy for distilleries to make hand sanitizer, it’s almost a byproduct of their whiskey-making anyway.

      Your whiskeys will last for years (and years, probably) stored sealed at room temperature.

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