As charming as Bardstown is, there is no better place to taste all these variations than Louisville's Urban Bourbon Trail.
Pick up your Bourbon Country Passport and collect as many stamps as you can. All the distilleries are in the passport, but the coveted spots on the Urban Bourbon Trail are Louisville restaurants and bars.
To be included in the Urban Bourbon Trail, a bar or restaurant must serve at least 50 bourbons — Jockey Silks Bar in the Galt House Hotel holds the record at 160 — must offer at least three bourbon-laced food items, must offer flights of bourbon tastings and at least one signature bourbon cocktail.
Our first stop was Baxter Station Bar and Grill, a casual bistro with an eclectic neighborhood feel. Lacie Monno, the general manager, served us a flight of Four Roses bourbons, including the yellow-label Bourbon 80 proof, Single Barrel 85, Single Barrel 90 and Limited Edition 110.2 proof.
"If it has a decimal point, it's barrel strength, meaning they didn't cut it with water," said Monno. "No decimal point on the proof means they cut it with water to get it to the proof they want."
At Baxter Station, we savored some delicious potato puffs, pretzel bread and beer cheese made with bourbon, naturally.
The Old Seelbach Bar in the Seelbach Hilton, a grand beaux-arts hotel built in 1905, is a must stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail. It's where F. Scott Fitzgerald set Daisy's and Tom Buchanan's wedding in "The Great Gatsby" and where Al Capone used to imbibe.
Here we sipped the Seelbach Cocktail, a 1917 recipe that Michael R. Anderson, beverage supervisor, told us was "a whiskey cocktail for people who don't like whiskey."
This delicious concoction features Old Forester Bourbon with splashes of triple sec, Cointreau, Angostura and Peychaud's Bitters, all topped with champagne.
We had to visit the famed Brown Hotel, where Chef Laurent Geroli made us miniature "hot browns," arguably the most famous Louisville dish created in this historic 1923 hotel — an open-faced sandwich of roasted turkey, bacon and tomatoes covered in a cheesy Mornay sauce.
But what we really came here for was the best mint julep we have ever tasted. Served in a frosty cold silver cup, the classic Brown Hotel's version was made with Maker's Mark and homemade mint syrup, the perfect foil for the rich hot brown.
Finally, with time for only one more stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail, we found Buck's, a romantic, white-flower-filled restaurant and bar in the old Mayflower Hotel, set among the stately Victorian mansions of old Louisville. The bottles of bourbon are lined up virtually within reach at Buck's, and all the great ones are here.
We sipped and savored the much-loved Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old and Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old, both from Buffalo Trace along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and would have happily ordered either one again, whether we paired it with that praline bourbon cheesecake or not.
One of these years we'll head to Bardstown for its annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, a four-day event held every September, this year from Sept. 11-16. Meanwhile we brought home some Louisville original recipes for the Seelbach, the mint julep and the old-fashioned, the latter created at Louisville's historic Pendennis Club in the 1880s, so we can continue our research.
But simpler can sometimes be better. As Chef Josh Moore of Louisville's Volare restaurant told us, "I like my bourbon with bourbon."
WHEN YOU GO
For more information and to plan your visit to Louisville, the Urban Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, go to www.bourboncountry.com. Here you can find where to get the Urban Bourbon Trail passport (at the Louisville Visitors Center, 301 S Fourth St.), where to stay, tour operators and drivers to hire for both the city and the country and all the other attractions in this Ohio River-front city.
The main Louisville visitors web site is www.gotolouisville.com.
For Bardstown information, go to www.sampleourspirit.com or www.visitbardstown.com, and find B&Bs, hotels, museums, restaurants, distilleries, attractions and events in this historic town.
Priscilla Lister is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
(c) COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM