On Doing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (When You Don’t Actually Like Bourbon)

Acquired tastes, I’ve learned, are the real deal.

My personal evolution includes deciding to clean my bedroom, learning how to handle hot sauce, and being able to sip sparkling water (though its existence continues to puzzle me). Still, when it comes to harsh liquors – scotch, bourbon, tequila, and so on – my ability to appreciate is stunted. Give me a pinot grigio any day of the week, but whiskey on the rocks will quickly cause my face to scrunch up in pain and confusion.

My boyfriend, as you can see below. does not feel the same way.

And so we began a week-long quest to try, try, try to add bourbon to my list of acquired tastes.

Jim Beam Distillery couple bourbon tour

I tried, you guys. I really did. We even had a couple friends join us for the mission, including a fellow non-bourbon drinker. It was quite a trip, one I recommend to anyone reading with a week off and an affinity for adventure.

Together, we visited 10 distilleries over the course of a week, 9 of which make up the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail. This distinction doesn’t mean much (one of my favourite stops, Buffalo Trace, was not technically a “bourbon trail” distillery), unless you are really into free t-shirts.

I am really into free t-shirts.

So, with no bourbon knowledge to guide me, I planned the tour almost exclusively around the Bourbon Trail in an effort to earn my t-shirt.

Kitschy? Yes. Silly and perhaps a bit pathetic? Double yes. Or it would be, were the bourbon trail not such an incredibly well-curated learning experience.

Seriously, how cool is this?

Enjoying a taste of the distillery experience (no, really, they let us taste the bourbon in those vats). I have never been so interested in science.

We had our bourbon trail “passports” stamped at all the participating spots, then proudly presented them to a bored-looking tourism representative in Louisville. She handed us unflattering grey shirts which proclaim we finished the trail in “2016.”

I wouldn’t even care if it was 3 sizes too big and said 1996I love my bourbon trail t-shirt.  

More specifically, I love having something to remind me of our journey across central Kentucky. Of how we arranged and rearranged our itinerary, how we navigated detours and winding roads. Of the unique Air BnBs we visited (including one with 4 dogs!) and our two night stay above a historic tavern in the Bourbon Capital of the World. We had an amazing time at the distilleries, made better by side trips (seeing the horses at Keeneland, touring the Louisville Slugger Factory), long naps, and some fabulous meals of local specialties and bourbon-based cocktails.

But the question stands: Did I acquire a taste for bourbon?

Perhaps a close look at our passports can answer that question.

Ian’s passport:

I asked him what “LOL proof” was. He said those are numbers. I am skeptical.

My passport:

So very sophisticated.

That said, I am currently sipping a Jim Beam and Coke (heavy on the coke, light on the Beam).

Perhaps I’m compensating for the fact that I handed off my samples to Ian at our last bourbon tour stop, then unable to stomach any more distilled fermented corn.

But maybe, just maybe, Kentucky rubbed off on me. Even if it’s just a little bit.

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