A food and bourbon guide to Lexington, Kentucky
Bourbon and biscuits... is there anything better? Here's our guide to southern cuisine in the town where bourbon was created.
National Bourbon Day was June 14, but we plan on celebrating for the rest of the month! Bourbon has an interesting history. When the first settlers of Kentucky arrived in the 1700s, they found it extremely difficult to get their crops to market through narrow trails and mountains. Once they found that converting corn and grain into whiskey made them easily to transport, a tradition was born.
Bourbon is America's only native spirit. In 1964, Congress officially recognized bourbon by declaring it a distinctive product of the United States. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, 95 percent of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky — and it's the largest export category of all U.S. spirits. In the heart of Kentucky's Bourbon County, the city of Lexington is a perfect place to discover the "good old whiskey of old Kentucky."
There are five bourbon distilleries in the Lexington area that regularly offer tours with no reservations required (unless you have a group larger than ten). The Woodford Reserve Distillery is a historic distillery where Elijah Pepper, one of the most famous early distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. Woodford Reserve Distillery gives guests a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s based on small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, long fermenting and distilling processes and hand bottling. For a relatively new look at bourbon production, try the Wild Turkey Distillery — a brand of bourbon that wasn't introduced until 1952. The Wild Turkey Distillery is located along the Kentucky River near Lawrenceburg, and combines traditional practices with modern mass production. 70-year-old cypress tanks stand next to stainless steel tanks in the fermentation room to create the perfect mix of aging for fine bourbon.
At Buffalo Trace Distillery, visitors learn about — and get to taste — the distillery's popular "single-barrel" bourbons, which are drawn from one carefully selected barrel instead of being mixed with whiskey from other barrels. Other popular tours include Four Roses Distillery near Lawrenceburg and Town Branch Distillery located in downtown Lexington. Town Branch Distillery is the first distillery to be built in Lexington in almost 100 years. The tour includes a look at the brewery that produces Kentucky Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.
To expand your quest for bourbon, try following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour. Created in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers Association, the mission of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is "to give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon, and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of our signature spirit."
Of course, bourbon isn't only meant for sipping. Chefs in the Lexington area have been using bourbon in recipes for decades, and the latest trend is bourbon-pairing dinners. Chef Jonathan Lundy of Jonathan at Gratz Park recently designed a four-course menu paired with Jim Beam bourbon selections. If you prefer your bourbon on the sweeter side, Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory prepares bourbon candy using the same secret recipe created by Kentucky schoolteacher Ruth Hanly Booe in 1936.
Where to stay
The charming Gratz Park Inn is located in the heart of the Gratz Park Historic District in downtown Lexington. The district consists of 16 historic buildings and this luxury, boutique hotel is one of them. Try The Lexingtonian vacation package, which includes a basket of Lexington specialty gifts, dinner for two at Jonathan at Gratz Park, a tour of the Lexington historic district, a historic home tour and a gourmet continental breakfast for two.