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While known across the globe for its Bourbon distilleries, mint juleps and its vineyards, Kentucky is also a place with a burgeoning foodie scene. Here, gourmands can sample eclectic dishes and signature drinks, no matter where you are in the state.
Barbecue and Southern Style Cuisine
Not surprisingly, mouthwatering barbecue is one of the most celebrated culinary choices in the Bluegrass State. If you are in town for the Kentucky Derby, or just touring Louisville, and you love barbecue, you are in luck. Check out the stylings of Hickory House, Pig Out Bar-B-Que and Big Ben’s B-Q on West Market Street. In Lawrenceville, you will find raves for Tony’s BBQ Barn, while Lexington offers terrific restaurants like Applecreek Farms, Red Hot & Blue and Mary’s Barbeque Pit Stop. And after a visit to the Wild Turkey Distillery, think about stopping in at some of Frankfort’s finest BBQ joints, like Kirk’s BBQ and Staxx BBQ.
Of course, the cuisine isn’t just limited to great barbecue. Authentic country cooking and Southern fare are on the menus across the state. Marshall’s Backstretch Diner in Lawrenceburg, Frankfort’s Kentucky Coffee Tree Café (also known for its music), Finn’s Southern Kitchen in Louisville and MiMi’s Southern Style Cooking in Lexington are just a couple of suggestions to whet your appetite. And if you are looking to go to the source of great food, and your schedule doesn’t match with the fantastic Farmers’ Markets around the State, try the delightful and family-friendly Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Georgetown, particularly in the fall.
Wineries and Breweries
Are you on the lookout for fine wine and craft beer? You can find them here. Kentucky is home to the first commercial vineyard in the United States and a growing craft beer scene that has people talking.
The Northern Kentucky region is replete with wineries nestled between Louisville and Lexington, but finding a vintage you enjoy is possible throughout the State. From the Grimes Mill Winery (particularly the Malbecs) to the Muscats and Rieslings of Smith-Berry Vineyard & Winery to the Cabernet Francs of Talon Winery & Vineyards, and beyond, wine lovers can enjoy tastings, tours and the chance to discover something new. If you are visiting in May, be sure to get tickets to the annual Kentucky Wine & Vine Fest, hosted in Nicholasville, home of that very first commercial vineyard.
Likewise, you can take tours and sample new creations at brewing companies around town, often combined with delicious food. Sample IPAs at West Sixth Brewing Company or try one of the 30 small-batch beers available at Apocalypse Brew Works’ taproom, “The Fallout Shelter” in Louisville. Fall City and the Bluegrass Brewing Company (Louisville’s oldest brewpub) also get raves.
And if you want the best of both worlds, visit Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. It’s one of only a few places that combine distilling operations with brewing anywhere in the world. It’s the oldest craft brewery in Lexington and it produces Kentucky Ales, as well as Town Branch whiskeys and spirits.
Naturally, you can’t truly talk about spirits in Kentucky without talking about Bourbon. Whether you want to sample everything along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, or just want to visit one or two distilleries, you’ll find something that fits your schedule and your taste.
Where should you start? You can start with the oldest and smallest of the Kentucky distilleries: The Woodford Reserve Distillery, a National Landmark, in Versailles. They are home to the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby and are known for their small batches.
From there, visit Clermont’s Jim Beam Distillery, home to one of the world’s best-selling Bourbons. If you are in the mood for something wild, try samples at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg. They made a name for themselves in the early days representing Kentucky at the World’s Fair. Today, you have a choice of numerous labels, running from Wild Turkey 81 to Russell's Reserve 10-Year-Old. And while you are in Lawrenceburg, visit the beautiful Four Roses Distillery for a rich, mellow pour.
If your taste runs to red winter wheat instead of rye, Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto beckons. Buffalo Trace Distillery is located in Frankfort. Built in 1920, it’s a noted landmark in the town. While most of the distilleries have tours going through their history and offer delightful sampling options, Buffalo Trace might be the only one to offer a ghost tour.
Heaven Hill Distillery, particularly its flagship labels Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, along with their barrel-shaped tasting room, should not be missed. The Heaven Hill complex, still the largest private, family-owned Bourbon producer in the country, is also home to the Bourbon Heritage Center – a terrific place to learn more about the history of Bourbon and attend the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival every September.
Other distilleries that deserve being added to your itinerary include Barrel House Distilling, Barton 1792 Distillery, Limestone Branch Distillery, New Riff Distillery, Town Branch Bourbon and Willett Distilling Company.
Chocolate lovers in the lively city of Lexington know where to go to satisfy their sweet tooth. They visit Old Kentucky Chocolates, south of downtown Lexington, to sink their teeth into some of the best chocolate in the Bluegrass region of eastern Kentucky. Delicious chocolate choices include Bourbon Chocolates, Kentucky Derby Mints, Bourbon Cherries, Old Fashioned Pulled Creams, Chocolate Thoroughbreds, Toffee, Chocolate Covered Potato Chips and No-Sugar Added Chocolates.
Tour the candy kitchen for a behind-the-scenes look at how the chocolates are made and be sure to taste a free sample. Stroll through the gift shop to browse the wonderful selection of candy and take home your favorite. Gift baskets, Jim Beam Bourbon fruit cakes, Jim Beam pecan cakes and custom corporate gifts are also available. All of tasty fun of Old Kentucky Chocolates is a short drive away from Georgetown.