Bourbon and horses and dinosaurs, oh my! Two couples, five days, 1725 miles to Kentucky and back...
So, why did we do this? The plan was hatched in late August over drinks with our friend Jonathan and his girlfriend. At the end of the summer, Jonathan got exciting news from Maker's Mark Distillery: his barrel of bourbon was ready! The marketing geniuses at the historic Kentucky distillery came up with an ambassador program and when you sign up, your name is put on a barrel of bourbon. The bourbon ages for seven(ish) years, and when it's ready you receive an invitation to come to Loretto, Kentucky to tour the distillery and buy two bottles of bourbon from "your" barrel, which you get to label and dip in wax yourself. Genius, right? And we were totally game.
Our itinerary also included two nights in Cave City so we could visit Mammoth Cave National Park, a drive north along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and two more nights in Louisville. Unfortunately, our trip was during the federal government shutdown, so the park was closed (lame!), but we found other activities to keep us occupied.
A summary of our trip, in bullets and photos:
+ We slept in wigwams! Ok, they weren't actually wigwams, they were teepees. Ok, they weren't actually teepees either, since they were made of concrete. But at $55 a night, and with an awesome neon sign out front, Wigwam Village #2 in Cave City was a piece of roadside Americana that was too good to pass up. Plus, I love unique hotels and sleeping in a teepee was on my Life List. This might have been a cheat, especially since the interior looked (and smelled) like dated 70's hotel room, but close enough. (Next up? Sleeping in a treehouse!)
+ We were frustrated to learn that the majority of Kentucky is dry. Dry as in YOU CAN'T BUY ALCOHOL THERE. What the wha? How can more than half the counties in the bourbon state be dry? (Or moist - which means the county is dry except for one city.) Let me just say that when you are staying in a $55 a night concrete wigwam-teepee, you need some freakin' beer. Solution: a 50 mile round trip drive to a liquor store in Bowling Green.
+ We went to Dinosaur World. Enormous, fake, garish, fiberglass dinosaurs - awesome! Also, I'm going to go ahead and cross "Visit Dinosaur Land" (in Virginia) off my list of local things to do, because I really only need to see one depressing theme park filled with enormous, fake, garish, fiberglass dinosaurs in this lifetime.
+ We toured a privately operated cave called Diamond Caverns since the national park was closed. I'm sure it was almost the same except...less mammoth...
+ We took a completely spontaneous trip to Nashville. (More on this later.)
+ The highlight of the trip: touring Maker's Mark Distillery and campus. We observed the many processes involved in manufacturing and aging bourbon from the fermented corn mash stage (it smells like bread baking!), to the rickhouses full of aging bourbon barrels, to the bottling plant where the bottles are labeled and dipped in their signature red wax. At the end of the tour we got to taste the bourbons and my teeth felt like they were on fire. Afterwards, Jonathan AKA "Mr. Ambassador" got to put the labels on his bottles (which were custom printed with his name on them) and got suited up in protective gear to dip them in hot wax. You can read Jonathan's account of the experience on his blog.
+ We stayed in the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville. We tasted their famed Hot Brown Sandwiches (overrated), and drank way too many Bourbon & Gingers (delicious) and Mint Juleps (surprisingly tasty) at the hotel bar. My teeth stopped burning and I actually started...liking...bourbon. (Uh oh.)
+ We visited the Kentucky Derby Museum and toured Churchill Downs. Larry and I found our namesake ponies - Street Shoes Larry and Rachel Alexandra. Morbid trivia from the tour: only the heads, hooves, and hearts of racehorses are buried.
+ We walked over the Clark Memorial Bridge and across the Ohio River into Indiana. We weren't so impressed with the town of Jeffersonville, but we sat outside and had a couple of drinks there while looking back across the river towards Louisville, so I'm totally counting it as visiting another new state.
+ We ate a lot of fast food on the road and dined at several fantastic restaurants in the cool NuLu neighborhood in Louisville: Delicious pizza at a cool gas-station-turned-restaurant called the Garage Bar and an amazing Sunday dinner at Rye, where the four of us managed to order and devour almost everything on the menu.