We make good bourbonWe make good bourbon

Bourbon is celebrated in a glass, on the trail and at the distillery

state's signature spirit enjoyed in a variety of ways

jpatton1@herald-leader.comSeptember 22, 2012 

One of the most popular Kentucky symbols, bourbon, can be experienced by taste, by smell, and by the seat of your pants.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail through seven distinguished distilleries (and counting) is a popular route with cyclists. Go to Kybourbontrail.com for more information. Every year, thousands of tourists from all over the world get a Bourbon Trail passport and have it stamped at every stop.

There is also an Urban Bourbon Trail that highlights bars in Louisville that have 50 to 150 different bourbons to taste. Go to Bourboncountry.com to explore.

But there are plenty of ways to get into bourbon that don't involve breaking a sweat.

Bardstown, home of Heaven Hill Distillery, annually holds a six-day Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September that celebrates everything from bourbon shots (photographs of bourbon) to a balloon glow (a hot air balloon lift). Tickets for events such as the cooking school and tastings sometimes sell out, so go online to Kybourbonfestival.com to make plans.

In March, the inaugural Bourbon Classic will take place in Louisville at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The event will feature a "mixology" competition of classic and contemporary bourbon-based cocktails, paired with bourbon-themed food. A master distillers' panel will let you ask the experts anything you want to know about America's only home-grown beverage. Go to Bourbonclassic.com for details.

If you need to earn your pleasure, there is the annual Bourbon Chase, a 200-mile relay. Details at Bourbonchase.com. The September race through the heart of Kentucky bourbon country routinely sells out all 250 spots well in advance. Teams of 12 runners from all over the country come to run a leg in the relay, and most take advantage of the trip to have a sip or two of bourbon along the way.

If being a spectator is more your speed, there's the Maker's Mark Mile (for Thoroughbreds) at Keeneland Race Course in the spring. Go to Keeneland.com for information.

Many distilleries offer tours of their facilities, including samples. Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg is building a $4 million visitors' center complete with tasting room, meeting space, lounge and kitchen. Go to Wildturkeybourbon.com for information.

Jim Beam, in Clermont, also is building a multimillion-dollar Beam heritage center to celebrate the history of the world's No. 1-selling bourbon. See Jimbeam.com.

At the other end of the spectrum are craft or "small batch" bourbon makers, which are growing in number. Some only offer online sales; others have limited distribution at the distillery.

Craft distilleries often have a distinct edge, something that sets them apart from major bourbons such as Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve. And that something isn't always a bourbon: Barrel House Distilling Co., in Lexington's historic distillery district near downtown, features Pure Blue Vodka, Devil John Moonshine and Oak Rum, which is aged in used bourbon barrels for flavor. Go to Barrelhousedistillery.com for details.

You can map out a route through the state guaranteed to give you the flavor of all things bourbon at Kentuckytourism.com; Or go to the Kentucky Distillers' Association, Kybourbon.com, for more ideas on how to sample Kentucky's signature drink.

If alcohol isn't your thing but you like the flavor of bourbon, try Rebecca Ruth Candy (Rebeccaruth.com), inventor of Bourbon Ball Chocolate Candies, a sweet and creamy chocolate-covered treat that comes with a pecan on top. And, yes, you can take a tour of that factory in Frankfort, too.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl

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