The Journal
A Roaming Journal of America’s Spirit

Bourbon is booming, but only decades ago, it was on a path toward failure. This was most evident in the 1980s, at the height of vodka and big hair, when distilleries in the Bluegrass State were shuttering their doors. They simply couldn’t give bottles away, the same bottles that just a generation before were lining executive conference rooms and hotel bars throughout America. It was by definition an all-American drink, and it was quickly fading. But then in the mid-2000s, distillers realized the atmosphere was changing. Bourbon started coming back. Fast.

This explosion, which continues to grow to this day, raises plenty of questions. What’s fueling the bourbon boom? Is it going to burst, like tech and housing? Are some bottles really worth $5,000, and more importantly, who’s buying them? What makes a bourbon good? The best way to get to the bottom of this was to head to the Bluegrass State, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made, equipped with a few cameras, some notebooks and clean livers for five days on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — a triangle of distillery tours throughout the state with endpoints at Louisville, Lexington and Bardstown — for many early mornings and late nights drinking and talking with some of the foremost professionals in booze. We came back with five days of fear and loathing on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.



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Day 1
Greetings from the Bluegrass State
We arrived at SDF in Louisville a little before noon in a small two-engine plane, one of those 28-passenger deals you board straight from the tarmac, already hurting from sleeping curled up under a broken air vent. After unloading, we collected our half-packed carry-ons (in order to pack with the legal limit of alcohol on the way back) and proceeded to the AirValet pickup center for our 2015 Mazda 6, which would prevent our driver from sampling top-quality bourbons the entire week. Here’s a play-by-play of day one of our investigation on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Read More »

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Hillbilly Tea’s Appalachian Soul
Eating at Kentucky’s Next Great Export
Hillbilly Tea sounds like an Urban Dictionary revelation — or the latest product from the minds of White and Pinkman. For all we know, both of those statements are true. It’s also one of Louisville’s hottest brunch spots, and a burgeoning international brand. And if founders Karter Louis and Chef Arpad “Arpi” Lengyel realize their ultimate vision, that’s just the beginning. Read More »

120 1st Street, Louisville, KY 40202 | 502.587.7350 | hillbillytea.com

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Bourbon Terms As Explained by the Pros
Whiskey Wisdom
A full command of bourbon terminology is a necessity when it comes to distinguishing between distilleries and knowing what’s in your glass. We asked employees in the bourbon industry to arm us with a basic vocabulary. Read More »

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It was an alcoholic U.N. meeting; we could only make out faint traces of pink or tan or plywood walls in between the shelves of beer glasses, beer signs, coasters and multicolored taps from all over the world.

Overheard at Sergio’s World Beers in A Late Night in Louisville

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Making Brandy in Bourbon Country
Inside Louisville’s Copper & Kings Distillery
A stack of freshly painted neon orange and black shipping containers stand in stark contrast to the red brick warehouse aesthetic of East Washington Street in the Butchertown area of Louisville, like a shiny new Google campus in the middle of a housing project. The large steel rectangles are the first of many signs that the Copper & Kings distillery is anything but traditional. Read More »

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A Late Night in Louisville
Pro Tip — Never Order the Scotch
An aimless night in Louisville turns into a booze-fueled expedition, filled with new friends, a bar with 1,600 beers, and a cat that’s not to be fucked with. Read More »


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Day 2
Flying down the Bourbon Trail
In day two of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, we get lost in the backwoods, explore the Willet Distillery, taste a few bourbon cocktails made by a pro, and more. Read More »

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Bourbon Cocktails Made By A Pro
High Proof Mixes In The Bourbon Capital
Sometimes out of the bottle with a beer is the best way to have a bourbon”, admits Chef Newman Miller, owner of Harrison Smith House in Bardstown, Kentucky. But not always. The three bourbon cocktails he showed us are truly made to meet the expectations of the local Kentuckians. Read More »

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Willett’s Long Path Back To Bourbon
Relighting The Stills At A Storied Distillery
Willett Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen doesn’t have time for bullshit. It’s not something he has to tell anyone. The message shoots from his eyes like a railgun. Even at a relatively young age, it’s clear he’s heard it all before. He talks like someone who’s lost years listening to others dribble on, and worked hard to eradicate the behavior in himself; his speech is terse, verging on curt. You can’t blame him for him ignoring the noise. A lot rides on his shoulders. He and his family worked for years to rebuild the family distillery, which reopened in 2012, and now he’s determined to prove a point. Read More »

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“…we are people of our word and you know, that’s where we stand. Because you really don’t have anything else other than your word. Nothing else really matters.”

Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen on Willett’s return to distilling

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Recipe: Drunken Kentucky Catfish
Over Beer Cheese Grits
The Harrison-Smith House in Bardstown, Kentucky is a centuries old family mansion converted into a premiere restaurant, serving local cuisine amplified by knowledgable Head Chef Newman Miller. The atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming and the bourbon is some of the best you’ll find anywhere. Here’s a recipe from their November menu. Read More »

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A Night at the Beaumont Inn
Stopping Over at Kentucky’s Oldest Family-operated B&B
Close your eyes. Form a picture in your head of what a historic B&B in the heart of Bluegrass country should look like. What remains though in the mind’s eye should look quite close to Harrodsburg’s Beaumont Inn owned by the Dedman family. Read More »



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Day 3
Wilderness Trail, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and more.
In day three of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, we check out small (Wilderness Trail) and big (Four Roses, Wild Turkey) distilleries on the way to Lexington — and get to taste something particularly special. Read More »

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Stay: The Gratz Park Inn
The Best (and Only) Hotel In Lexington’s Historic District
The Gratz Park Inn isn’t just the best place to stay at in Lexington’s Historic District — it’s the only boutique hotel in Lexington’s Historic District. You’re just a short walk from enough comfort food, bourbon and good Kentucky weather. What else could you want? Read More »

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The question of who makes the juice inside current bottles of Pappy Van Winkle is a huge source of debate and interest for die-hard whiskey fans.

Ben Bowers in The Complete Guide to Pappy Van Winkle

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Finding the Rarest of the Rare
A Guide To Distillery-Exclusive Bottles
At some of the distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, there are bottles you can’t find anywhere else — rarities that can only be purchased on-site. These were the exclusive bottles we found in the dozen or so distilleries we visited. Read More »

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Off The Trail: Kentucky’s Best Attractions
Staying Sober in Bourbon County
We posed the same question to everyone we spoke to on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail: “If someone is only going to visit Kentucky once, what should they do?” Here are their responses. Read More »

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The Complete Guide to Pappy Van Winkle
Drinking Through The Hype
We’d say that Pappy Van Winkle is a brand that needs no introduction, except that it does. The truth is that most people don’t know anything about “Pappy”, other than that it’s supposed to be the best of its kind. So let’s set the record straight by getting a couple of basic facts out of the way. Read More »


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Day 4
Town Branch, Collector’s Bourbons and More
In Day Four of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, we visit Town Branch, learn from a true bourbon master, and Ben nerds out. (A lot.) Read More »

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How To: The Kentucky Sundowner
The Taste Of A Productive Day
The Irish have Irish coffee, the Scotch have Highland Coffee, the Germans have Rüdesheimer Kaffee, and college students have vodka and red bull. Kentuckians have the Kentucky Sundowner. Here’s how to make one. Read More »

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“A white oak tree is to bourbon what a grape vine is to wine, what peat is to scotch.”

Overheard from Freddy Johnson in Buffalo Trace’s Hunt For The Perfect Bourbon

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Rare Bourbons Not Named “Pappy”
A Budding Collector’s Guide
Call it the Pappy effect if you want, or just plain business savvy, but most distilleries saw an opportunity in limited, premium bourbons in the early 2000s. At one of Lexington’s best bourbon bars, the Blue Grass Tavern, we laid eyes on some of the absolute best. Read More »

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Buffalo Trace’s Hunt For The Perfect Bourbon
From the Single Oak Project to Warehouse X
“Buffalo Trace is already making the bourbons of the future”, said our guide Freddy Johnson. It sounded bold until we stopped to think about it. Whiskey has to age before it can qualify as bourbon, so technically, every distiller is making “the bourbons of the future” today. Still, after we spent an afternoon learning about the company’s quest to make the world’s perfect bourbon, his phrasing seemed prophetic. Read More »

Editor’s Note: We should mention that Buffalo Trace is technically not part of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail at this point in time. We’ve included them as part of our travels for relevancy’s sake, but they are in no way associated with the Kentucky Distiller’s Association.


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Day 5
Private Barrel Selection At Woodford Reserve and The Drive Back To Louisville
In day five of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, we soak in the last rays of Kentucky sun, watch a group pick their own single barrel of Woodford Reserve, and more. Read More »

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How Kentuckians Drink Their Bourbon
What’s The Right Way To Enjoy America’s Whiskey?
Is there a proper way to drink Bourbon? We asked experts in the industry to weigh in. Read More »

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“For liquor stores, whiskey bars, restaurants — having a private barrel label is basically their way of saying ‘This is how we like our whiskey.’”

Bourbon Expert Tom Fischer on the allure of Hand Selecting Barrels at Woodford Reserve

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Hand Selecting Barrels With Chris Morris Of Woodford Reserve
Single Barrel Bourbon Explained
“For liquor stores, whiskey bars, restaurants — having a private barrel label is basically their way of saying ‘This is how we like our whiskey.’” Tom Fischer, the founder of BourbonBlog and a frequent judge at many spirits and cocktail competitions, told me over the phone after we got back from Kentucky. “So it allows them to put that bottle on a shelf and say, you know, ‘This is something we went to Kentucky and we picked up. This is how we like our whiskey, but it may not always be how you like it.’”

We shadowed Seattle-based Duke’s Chowder House as they selected their own personal barrel of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. Read More »

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How Bourbon Is Made
A Video Tour of The Process From 12 Bourbon Distilleries
We toured 12 distilleries in a five-day blitz, asking everyone we met to walk us through the bourbon-making process. Here, you’ll find all of the steps that go into making America’s unique take on whiskey. Read More »



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Reflecting on the Boom
The search for answers around Bourbon’s resurrection.
We got a team of three together, flew to Kentucky, ate great food, drank at the local bars, sometimes too much, interviewed the new and the old of bourbon — politicians, brewers, drinkers — you name it, we tried do it. Our thinking was to speak with as many people as possible and see what came of it, to get a sense of the bourbon boom from the inside, whatever that meant. We had seen the end result of the bourbon boom — the ever-widening shelves of our liquor store’s bourbon section, the rows of brown behind the bar, the trend piece articles linking bourbon and the ubiquitous “Brooklyn hipster” — but we wanted to get a look at the source ourselves. Here’s what we learned. Read More »