Kentucky Drive Tour:
On a new Wine and Spirits Tour, travelers view bourbon whiskey barrels and learn how spirits are made. The tour also includes history and creature comforts.*
Motoring along the Wine and Spirits Trail
By Betsa Marsh
You can nearly follow your nose to the new Kentucky Wine and Spirits Tour. A swirl of fermentation on the breeze is just the Bluegrass invitation to come visit, ya’ll, and sip a spell.
This is full-sensory touring: sniffing the jolt of “angels’ share” that evaporates from each barrel, dipping your finger into the bubbling mash and sipping the final product.
The tour makes a 42-mile loop from Frankfort to Midway to Versailles and Lawrenceburg—add 17 miles if you’re returning to Frankfort. Plan two or three days, depending upon how long you like to savor your wine and bourbon. And remember, always have a designated non-drinking driver if you plan to imbibe along the way.
Barrels like these are a common site along Kentucky's Wine and Spirits Tour trail.*
Liberty Hall Historic Site
An ambitious Virginian, John Brown arrived in Kentucky in 1782. Upon statehood a decade later, he became one of the state’s first two U.S. senators.
Circa 1796, Brown built one of Frankfort’s grandest mansions, Liberty Hall (888-516-5101 or www.libertyhall.org), 218 Wilkinson St. Brown and his wife Margaretta entertained the Marquis de Lafayette, James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, Aaron Burr and Andrew Jackson. They were involved in Kentucky’s earliest wine and bourbon industry.
This year Liberty Hall will sparkle as party central for the 250th anniversary of Brown’s birth. Re-enactors portraying members of the family and their slaves will lead special “Hunger for History” tour events starting May 4. Normal hall admission is $5; Hungry for History events are $8.
From Liberty Hall, take Wilkinson Street north and turn right on Broadway to reach the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History (877-444-7867 or www.history.ky.gov), 100 W. Broadway. It’s easy to get sidetracked here, marveling at such artifacts as Abraham Lincoln’s pocketwatch—a new acquisition.
But since you’re on the spirits trail, track down the whiskey “prescribed” by doctors during Prohibition, with medicinal forms still pasted on the bottles. Check out the “Old Yellow” still, famous for making peach brandy in Estill County, captured in a 1950 revenuers’ raid. Admission is $4.
After you leave the history center, head left onto Ann Street, and take another left onto Main Street. Turn right on Capital Avenue and cross Capital Bridge. Turn left on Second Street.
The next destination is Rebecca Ruth Candy (800-444-3766 or www.rebeccaruth.com), 112 E. Second St. Every Kentuckian loves the legend of two substitute teachers, young women in 1919, making candy on the marble counter of a bar closed for Prohibition.
One of the women, Ruth Hanley Booe, bought out the other and worked two years to perfect her bourbon balls, which were laced with Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon and dipped in bittersweet chocolate.
Charles Booe often greets guests at the candy company.*
Take the $1 tour and you may spot Booe’s grandson, Charles Booe, overseeing the works. Leave the candy company on Second Street heading east, and turn right onto Capital Avenue. Turn left onto Main Street and right onto Wilkinson Street to reach Buffalo Trace Distillery (800-654-8471 or www.buffalotrace.com), 1001 Wilkinson Blvd.
The Route’s Biggest Distillery
Although Buffalo Trace Distillery is the route’s biggest such facility, with 110 acres, 110 buildings and 14 signature brands, it also has the world’s tiniest bonded aging warehouse. How tiny? It holds just one barrel.
The custom began in 1952, when the distillery became the first after Prohibition to produce two million barrels. To celebrate, it built the tiny brick warehouse and showcases each landmark barrel since. Tours of the distillery are free.
For lodging, try the Meeting House Bed and Breakfast (502-226-3226 or www.themeetinghousebandb.com), 519 Ann St. Innkeepers Rose and Gary Burke keep up a comedy act while whipping up elaborate breakfasts. Doubles from $115.
At the Holiday Inn Capital Plaza Hotel (502-227-5100 or www.capitalplazaky.com), 405 Wilkinson Blvd., doubles start at $89.
Dining choices include Serafini (502-875-5599), 243 W. Broadway, and The Terrace (502-227-5100 or www.capitalplazaky.com), 405 Wilkinson Blvd.
For more information on Frankfort, contact the Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist & Convention Commission (800-960-7200 or www.visitfrankfort.com).
Equus Run Vineyards
Leave Frankfort on I-64 East to Exit 65, and make a right off the exit. Turn left onto U.S. 421, and left onto Moores Mill Road.
Equus Run Vineyards (877-905-2675 or www.equusrunvineyards.com), 1280 Moores Mill Rd., Midway, is a boutique winery along South Elkhorn Creek. Owner Cynthia Bohn calls it “my little Biltmore,” referring to the Vanderbilt estate and winery in Asheville, N.C.
Mary Katherine Miller pours a sample at the Equus Run tasting room.*
Bohn is busy expanding her retail center in an old tobacco barn and welcoming 1,200 people to summer Concerts at the Vineyard. Tours are free.
After leaving the vineyard, turn left, then right onto U.S. 421/62. Turn left onto U.S. 62 South, right onto U.S. 60 and left onto Route 3360/Grassy Springs Road. Finally, turn right onto McCracken Pike.
The site for Woodford Reserve (859-879-1812 or www.woodfordreserve.com), 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, was chosen by founder Elijah Pepper in 1812. Now Woodford’s tiered campus of limestone buildings is a National Historic Landmark. The company clings to Pepper’s vision, using the only surviving stone warehouses in the country today.
Shawn Knight, production operator at Woodford Reserve, rolls a barrel along the tracks from building to building
The distillery and bottling areas, too, are 19th-century, and travelers step over the time-scooped thresholds to watch workers on the production line. Tours for guests 18 and older are $5.
Lodging choices include the Storybook Inn Bed & Breakfast (877-279-2563 or www.storybook-inn.com), 277 Rose Hill Ave., Versailles. Doubles start at $149.
The Scottwood Bed & Breakfast (859-846-5037, reservations 877-477-0778, or www.scottwoodbb.com), 4004 E. Leestown Rd., Midway, is a relocated 1795 farmstead. For extra privacy, choose the separate Carriage House. Doubles start at $100.
For dining, try Bistro La Belle (859-846-4233), 121 E. Main St., Midway, or Black Tulip (859-846-9923), 133 E. Main St., Midway. For more information on Midway/Versailles, call 859-873-5122 or visit www.woodfordchamber-ky.com.
The next stop is Lover’s Leap Winery and Vineyard (502-839-1299 or www.loversleapvineyardky.com), 1180 Lane’s Mill Rd.
To reach the winery, turn right onto McCracken Pike, and turn left onto Route 1659/Grassy Springs Road. Make another left onto U.S. 60 West, and take I-64 West toward Louisville, getting off the road at exit 53A, Lawrenceburg/U.S. 127.
Make a left onto McCormick Lane/Hamonds Lane to Ninevah Road. Head left on Ninevah, and left onto Lanes Mill Road.
Lover's Leap Winery outside Lawrenceburg has a decidedly Alpine feel to it.*
Lover’s Leap owners Ann and Jerry Holder planted their first vines in 1992, and now have 35 acres—the largest winery in the Commonwealth. Their top sellers are Riesling and blackberry. Tastings cost $2 per glass.
From Lover’s Leap’s gravel entry, turn left onto Lanes Mill Road and right onto Ninevah Road. Make another right onto Route 127 Business, left onto Route 127 Bypass South and right on Bonds Mill Road.
At the Four Roses Distillery (502-543-2264 or www.fourroses.us), 1224 Bonds Mill Rd., start with a good film in the visitor’s center, then move into the Spanish Mission-style plant that dates back to 1911.
Ask your guide about the new fermentation vats that are made from 300-year-old red cypress logs hewn in the 1840s and ’50s. The logs were dredged recently from the bottom of Florida’s Suwannee River. Tours are free.
Turn left on Route 513., and make a left onto U.S. 127. Turn right onto U.S. 127 Business, right onto Woodford Street and right onto Tyrone Road. Go one-half mile to 1525 Tyrone Rd., where you’ll find Wild Turkey (502-839-4544 or www.wildturkeybourbon.com).
On a lucky day, you might tour with Eddie Russell, assistant master taster. He’s fourth generation at the distillery and is in training with his father Jimmy, the master taster with 52 years’ experience.
“This industry runs through your blood,” Russell says as he dips his finger in the mash. Tours are free.
Lodging options include Kavanaugh House B&B (502-839-9880), 241 E. Woodford St., with doubles from $85; and the Best Western Lawrenceburg Inn (800-780-7234), 200 Plaza Dr., with doubles from $69. Culinary possibilities include Tony’s Barn (502-859-3030), 1435 Hwy. 127 Bypass N.; and Talk of the Town Tea Room & Gifts (502-859-1185), 408 Broadway.
For more information on the area, contact Lawrenceburg/Anderson County Tourism Commission (502-839-5564 or www.lawrenceburgky.org). Betsa Marsh has covered stories on every continent, compiling more than 50 escapades into her book, The Eccentric Traveler: A World of Curious Adventures. A member of ASJA and SATW, she contributes to magazines and newspapers across North America. She’s a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award winner from the Society of American Travel Writers.
All photos on this page are by Betsa Marsh with all photo rights assigned to SouthernTravelNews.com for use in this publication. Do not reproduce or copy in any way.