Another look at the “Bourbon Capital of the World”
By Hope S. Philbrick
In my line of work, I most often visit someplace that I’ve never been before. But there are exceptions that warrant revisiting and keep luring me back. Bardstown, Kentucky is one destination that I frequent—and I heartily recommend that you do, too.
As the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” and an official trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Bardstown has adult-focused attractions built right in. As “The Most Beautiful Small Town in America,” a distinction bestowed upon Bardstown by Rand McNally and USA Today, it’s a rewarding sight that, even once familiar, makes your heart leap with joy. And for a small town, it offers much to see and do—so much, in fact, that even after multiple visits over several years, my most recent visit revealed things to see and do that hadn’t fit into my earlier itineraries.
Here are some recent discoveries to include in your next Bardstown visit; and search “Bardstown” on here on Getaways for Grownups to avoid missing out on previous discoveries.
Fun To Do…
Though you may have stopped by Heaven Hill Distilleries’ Bourbon Heritage Center before, as I had, it’s worth another look. First of all, odds are you can’t remember every detail about bourbon that’s revealed on the traditional tour and in the gallery, so repeat visits continue to enhance any evolving bourbon education. Even more appealing though is the new half-hour “Whiskey Connoisseur Tour” that briefly touches on the history of bourbon (and, most specifically, Heaven Hill), but includes a private tasting of premium or limited release bourbons. Throughout the tasting an entertaining host pours sips and talks bourbon while the small group of participants stands around barrels comparing tasting notes. Priced at $20 per person, you can take home the complimentary tasting glass. 21 Plus Salute! The tastings are exclusively for adults age 21 and older.
An evening aboard My Old Kentucky Dinner Train is a memory-making tasty trip through Bourbon Country. The historic train’s three dining calls date from the 1940s (post WWII) and boast distinctive retro-elegance. The 2.5-hour journey rumbles through picturesque points of interest, from several different distilleries and rickhouses (including Four Roses and Jim Beam), to Bernheim Forest (a 14,000-acre natural haven), Limestone Springs Junction (an old English-style depot that served as a filming location for the 1981 movie “Stripes”), and the Jackson Hollow Trestle (a 310-foot long bridge built in 1860, the only all-wooden trestle to survive the Civil War). While en route, a delicious three-course dinner is served with gracious hospitality. The full bar menu offers a range of bourbons in various price points as well as cocktails, beer and wine. Odds of Encountering Children: Low, but not impossible. Some trips are specifically 21+, but children ages 5-12 are permitted to ride lunch, dinner and murder mystery excursions and some dates offer children excursions.
The Spirits of Wickland tour takes an uncommon peek into the history of the home of three governors. Considered one of the best Georgian-style houses in Kentucky, Wickland was built circa 1825-1828. Like many historic homes throughout the southeast, it’s considered haunted—but here there’s persuasive proof: Twin girls Michael and Katie Wilhite are (sometimes reluctant) mediums who “see dead people” and can talk to ghosts and spirits. When visiting the home they had experiences and relayed the information to the non-believer on-site historian, Dixie Hibbs, who later verified the previously unknown facts. “I am a historian and until 2008 had no interest in spirits,” she says. “But these girls can see and hear things I can’t from 150 years ago. The girls say things they couldn’t have known or make up.” Hibbs became a believer and befriended Waleta, a faithful spirit and former cook who lingers in the kitchen. One trip through the home communing with spirits may make you a believer, too. Or at least thoroughly entertained, with perhaps a few more questions to ponder than you had before your visit.
Every summer My Old Kentucky Home State Park sets the stage for “The Stephen Foster Story” (alternating nights with another show, such as “All Shook Up” in 2015). Stephen Foster is considered “the father of American music,” as composer of Oh! Susanna, Beautiful Dreamer, My Old Kentucky Home and many other enduring tunes. His classic songs are strung together to share a story of his life and times from the 1850s in this entertaining show that is “Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Musical,” which celebrated its 57th year in 2015! Shows typically run June through August, so plan a trip for the summer of 2016 to be sure you don’t miss this classic evening of foot-tapping good times under the stars.
Odds of Encountering Children: Guaranteed. This performance is an evening of good clean fun, but the big amphitheater and loud singers make it so you won’t even know the little darlings/monsters are there unless they’re seated near you; if they’re bothersome, get up and move.
Where To Eat…
At Harrison Smith House Chef Newman Miller and Chef Josh Smouse favor local, seasonal ingredients and responsibly-raised meats to produce what they billed as “fine Kentucky fare”—and each bite lives up to that promise with innovative creations as well as fresh spins on classic dishes. Their goal is to the most “of the place” restaurant possible, so when you eat at HSH you’re getting an accurate taste of Bardstown and the surrounding agricultural area. The restaurant is housed in a historic building (circa 1780), a great example of colonial era architecture. The farm-to-table menu offers a range of mouth-watering dishes that change seasonally. Attentive servers lend the dining experience a relaxed, grownup elegance. Don’t miss the chance to sip a creative cocktail from this drinks menu: sure, there’s no shortage of drinking establishments and options in Bardstown, but these bartenders have a special touch.
Where To Stay…
Bourbon Manor Bed & Breakfast Inn
714 N. 3rd St.
Bardstown, KY 40004
Hampton Inn Bardstown
985 Chambers Blvd.
Bardstown, KY 40004
– Credits: brochures courtesy Visit Bardstown; photos © HSP Media LLC;
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.