Small Towns Along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

by JudithG

By Judith Glynn Sampling bourbon is the mainstay of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® adventure. The bonus is to experience a genteel Kentucky lifestyle, crafts and small-town living.

Visiting towns along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, located between Louisville and Lexington, isn't just about discovering brand name and craft distilleries. All along the 70-mile mostly scenic route are fine examples of Southern hospitality, great food, reasonable prices, exceptionally friendly people and accommodations for all budgets. Most visitors make the journey by car. The routes are easy to maneuver, signage is top-notch, plus the magnificent horse farms behind white-board fences accent the ride. However, there are companies that offer VIP and group bus tours.

Begin in Lexington

Start a Kentucky adventure with a walk in Lexington known as the Horse Capital of the World and for its historic downtown buildings. The free LexWalk Audio Tour app and brochure are offered by the city's official tourist bureau. At Keeneland Race Track, minutes from the airport, thoroughbred racing takes place in April and October. Horse Capital of the WorldSelf-guided tours are year-round and where it's possible to watch horses being worked out each morning from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. 

Town Branch Distillery is the first distillery built in a century in downtown Lexington. It's open for craft bourbon tastings. Spirit that is aged longer isn't ready yet. Do try Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale aged six weeks in freshly decanted bourbon barrels from some of Kentucky’s finest distilleries. 

Kentucky Artisan Center

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea
Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea
Judith Glynn


Crafts Galore in One Place

What began in 1855 as tuition-free Berea College for students of Appalachia, both black and white, is still tuition-free and morphed into a haven for craftspeople, most of whom are graduates of the college. Four downtown blocks comprise Old Town Artist Village housing 30 artists. Items sold are hand-made furniture, fabric, musical instruments, jewelry and more. 

At Weaver's Bottom Craft Studio, husband-and-wife team Mary Colmer and Neil Colmer has made woven products for 27 years. Supposedly, their dish towels last decades. At Gastineau Studio, its owner casts pewter in hand-made molds. A baby cup costs $52. Over at Old town Candy Kitchen, owner Mary is not only chatty but added hand-made quilts for sale. A full size costs $175.

The State of Kentucky created an Artisan Center at Berea, located along Interstate 75, about an hour's drive south of Lexington, that houses 650 vendors from 170 counties. All items here are superbly crafted and in the folk arts and crafts categories. Pricing can be a few dollars up to the thousands.

Beaumont Inn is on Kentucky Bourbon Trail Route
Beaumont Inn is on Kentucky Bourbon T...


A Tiny Winner

With only 12,000 inhabitants and 200 downtown buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Bardstown earned a gigantic award recently from USAToday and Rand McNally -- "Most Beautiful Small Town in America." It's Kentucky's second-oldest city and a good base to visit three distilleries: Jim Beam, Maker's Mark and Heaven Hill.

Maker's Mark Distillery

What to do here is endless. 'My Old Kentucky Dinner Train” is three fully restored 1940s cars. Diners enjoy a gourmet lunch or dinner on white tablecloths with red napkins served by waiters in tuxedos during its 17-mile, 2.5 hour excursion. Summer festivals and two Civil War museums are renowned. Bourbon-inspired dishes are at the Rickhouse Restaurant. A favorite is Maker's 46 Sauce and Apricot Glaze for Pork Chops. Bourbon bottles at the bar number 100-plus. 

A kitsch phenomena here are the Bathtub Mary statues seen along the road and on private property. They are made from an abandoned bathtub. One end is buried in the dirt. The top part displays the Virgin Mary, usually with the tub's interior painted blue. Some are enclosed in flower beds while others are decorated with their owner's fancy. The Bardstown area is heavily Catholic, which is unusual in Baptist Bible Belt country. 

This oasis of culture, history, ghost-tours and a Trappist Monk monastery that makes and sells bourbon ball candies was mentioned in the book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."  

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Drink, Rest and Shop

Home to Jim Beam Distillery, the Sheperdsville area is also a shopper's haven. Zappo Shoe Outlet is here as is the 350-stall Most Awesome Flea Market open Saturdays and Sundays.

Chill out at the Bernheim Forest in Clermont. Park-goers are greeted at the front gate by the weeping Japanese Pagoda trees, planted as a seedling in 1954.

Outside its Visitor's Center is a large sculpture woven from willow saplings branches, set to last two years before being dismantled, chipped up and returned to the earth. With 35 miles of trails on the park's 14,378 acres, plan a full day here.

If You Go

Start with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Web site to map out a route. Lexington has a easy airport to use with rental cars right outside the door. All towns in this article have excellent tourist offices with links noted.

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Updated: 08/19/2014, JudithG
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JudithG on 05/08/2013

Hi Abby, Yes, indeed, this is a great trip. Lots of stops along the way. I loved it.

AbbyFitz on 05/06/2013

This looks like it would be a great road trip. I love out of the way places

Guest on 05/06/2013

As a whisk(e)y fan I can see this on my radar at some point. Thanks for the heads up.

kimbesa on 05/06/2013

I love this kind of travel, though I haven't been on the Bourbon Trail yet. Thanks!

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