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.

Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.

I didn’t check the time on Friday.  I slept in until 2 pm.  I’m pretty sure my daily Adventures involved trying to open a can of beans without a working can opener (this turned into a 15 minute, 3-person job) and rocking an hour-long game of Wizard.

If this is the “relaxing” thing all you kids have been talking about…I could get used to it.

We spent the day at a big cottage in the-middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania (est. never, really). These cottages, set up as retreats in the middle of state parks, cost about $80-100 a night and give you (in our case, at least) a monster of a house overlooking the lake. There was a full kitchen, beautiful wooden furniture, board games from the 80s, and (most importantly) this awesome lamp.

So, this is my selling feature. There's a reason I'm not a real estate agent. BUT ISN'T IT COOL?
So, this is my selling feature. I may not have future in real estate, BUT ISN’T IT COOL?

Frozen lakes are kind of boring to look at, but they’re definitely pretty.  I was really feeling the “peaceful” thing. I probably could have stayed there forever.

^nothing like that.

I think my parents were tempted to stay there, too, for fear of leaving if nothing else.  The drive in is currently being referred to as “Hell.”  “Hell” took us up and down steep mountains in a brutal snow fog.  For a good 30 minutes, my ears were popping (altitude problems) and my father was breathing out G-rated cuss words: FRIG.  FRICK. DANG. (Repeat).

Don’t worry, I evened the language score by referring to the cottage’s location as “a**-f**k nowhere”–which was totally allowed, because even though that phrase makes zero literal sense, it was (f**king) accurate.  Isolated was an understatement.  But I suppose that’s what gave the place so much charm once we arrived. (And yeah, yeah, I did just bleep out my own swear words on my own blog. Feeling dainty today.)

But Shauna! I thought you were going to DC to be a big strong, independent young professional! What’s with the stopover in a**-f**k nowhere? And why in the world are your parents in this story, risking their lives (slash being adorable)?

Well friends, it seems that where I come from, “Shauna’s moving to DC!” sounds a whole lot like “ROAD TRIP!!!”

I value my parents’ love of the family vacation much more now than I did back in the day.  This is mostly because “back in the day,” family road trips meant being strapped in the backseat with 3 dudes for an 8-hour showdown over whose turn it was with the Nintendo DS (“I don’t even want screens being used on this trip. This is ridiculous.” — Mom, every single time).  These days, the road trips are a “whoever wants to go, wherever we want to go” thing, and have more to do with taking a break from routine than corralling four kids. On Thursday, four of us (my parents, one of the middle brothers and I) packed into the car, crossed the border, shopped, chilled at a cottage, and generally burned time/midnight oil/gasoline until my moving day came.  January 5th.  The move in was quick and painless, which is something I have never been able to say before.  I was sad to see them go so soon, but it was amazing to have the company en route.

…and to have a day to relax, which I totally did, contrary to my usual curse of not being able to. I even wrote half of this blog post by hand in a notebook on the cottage couch, because it just felt like the right way to do it in a place like that.

Barefoot and everything. Kickin’ it old school.

Once I reached DC (yesterday), I wasted no time releasing my awkward self around town.  This is my first full day in the city, and I have already gotten horribly lost (Twice. I want you to look at a map of the lovely, grid-like DC and tell me if YOU could get lost twice.).  I have also already had a 3 hour political conversation with a Republican from Mississippi (we disagreed on most things, but we listened to each other and we both liked Football, so I think it worked out okay).  I also wore a t-shirt outside while everyone else had jackets on because it was 10 degrees and sunny and I’m Canadian, dammit.

With that, I think it’s fair to say: Welcome to America, folks!