Kentucky Bourbon and Barbecue
Famous for rolling hills and horse farms, Kentucky is also a great destination for culinary adventures.
Kentucky has a long tradition of producing both bourbon and barbecue — delicious traditions built on respect for local ingredients and keen attention to detail. In this way, the traditions have become art forms and the people who practice them are some of Kentucky’s original artisans. To meet the artisans — and taste what they’re up to — follow these tips.
Bourbon, More Than a Drink
Golden corn. Limestone-filtered water. Charred oak barrels. These are the tools of Kentucky bourbon distillers. Discover distillery tours and tastings along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a Craft Tour of micro-distilleries and the Urban Bourbon Trail, which runs through downtown Louisville. Wondering what to expect? Visiting a distillery is a sensory experience marked by the aroma of aging bourbon and the amber hue of the spirit splashing into your tasting glass. Complimentary tours are easy to find, and enthusiasts can inquire into specialty tours guided by master distillers.
While Kentucky bourbon is enjoyed worldwide, only in Kentucky will you find such imaginative creations made with the spirit. Bartenders mix mint leaves and sugar, then add bourbon, crushed ice and a fresh mint garnish to create Kentucky’s iconic cocktail, the Mint Julep. Confectioners infuse buttercream drops with bourbon, then dip them in chocolate to create bourbon balls. At Art Eatables in Louisville, visitors can sample truffles made with Belgian chocolate and a variety of Kentucky bourbons. Nearby, the proprietor of Bourbon Barrel Foods produces small batches of seasonings and sauces using the spirit.
On a distillery tour, you’ll see the charred oak barrels that Kentucky bourbon distillers use as part of their craft.
Barbecue, Slow-roasted and Smoky
In certain areas of western Kentucky, travelers encounter a distinctive style of barbecue. Chicken, pork or mutton is commonly slow-roasted over a coal pit or pile of hickory wood. The result is smoky, tender, flavorful meat that might be chopped, pulled or thin-sliced and layered on sandwiches. Ask for “dip,” as the locals call it, and your choices are likely to be a thin sauce of vinegar and cayenne pepper or Worcestershire sauce spiked with extra spices. For a delicious road trip, follow the Western Kentucky Barbecue Trail. Or head to Fancy Farm and Owensboro, where the locals prepare and serve thousands of pounds of barbecued food at annual events. Get to the Fancy Farm Picnic in August to join a community tradition that dates back to 1880. In Owensboro, experience the International Bar-B-Q Festival in May and sample barbecued mutton with cornbread muffins at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn.
Follow the Western Kentucky Barbecue Trail to restaurants and festivals, including Henderson, Kentucky’s annual W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival in June.