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  • Thoroughbreds catapult toward the finish line at a Keeneland horse race
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    Lexington: Kentucky’s Culinary Roots

  • Vintage railroad cars play host to gourmet meal and bourbon tasting at the Kentucky Bourbon House
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    Bardstown: Bourbon Country

  • Tangy barbecue ribs, a popular entrée at Moonlite BBQ in Owensboro
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    Owensboro: Western Kentucky Barbecue

  • Chargrilled-bread accompanies a bone marrow appetizer
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    Louisville: Top-Ranked Cuisine

Deep amber bottles of small batch bourbon produced in Bardstown
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Tastes of Kentucky: Smoked Meats, Smooth-Sipping Bourbon and More

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    457.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    3 days

In Kentucky, bourbon and barbecue reign supreme.

Known as “America’s Native Spirit,” bourbon whiskey is the only alcohol that is a distinctive product of the United States. Kentuckians take pride in their bourbon distilleries, which produce an astounding 95 percent of the world’s bourbon. And when it comes to barbecue, Kentucky makes its name with slow-roasted mutton and a vinegar-based dip. This road trip through the Bluegrass State highlights the art of tangy Kentucky barbecue and the craft of smooth Kentucky bourbon.

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Thoroughbreds catapult toward the finish line at a Keeneland horse race
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Lexington: Kentucky’s Culinary Roots

Rent a car at Louisville International Airport for the 1.5-hour drive to Lexington. Blending a cosmopolitan vibe with traditional Southern hospitality, Lexington showcases some of the best Kentucky has to offer – including fine Kentucky bourbon. Check out Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., makers of Town Branch Bourbon and part of the nine distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. This distillery is unique in that it produces both bourbon and craft beer. (Pick up a guide to Lexington’s Brewgrass Trail to discover other local breweries.) Enjoy a hearty barbecue lunch with your choice of classic sauces at no-frills Red State BBQ. Tour the thoroughbred racing and breeding grounds at Keeneland, a National Historic Landmark; the April and October races include some of the nation’s richest purses. In nearby Frankfort, don’t miss a visit to the historic Buffalo Trace Distillery. It was one of only a handful of distilleries that operated during Prohibition with permission to produce “medicinal” whiskey.

97 km
1 hour by car
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Vintage railroad cars play host to gourmet meal and bourbon tasting at the Kentucky Bourbon House
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Bardstown: Bourbon Country

Following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail out of Lexington, you can check out the Four Roses Bourbon or Wild Turkey distilleries, both in Lawrenceburg. Next is Bardstown, located an hour west of Lexington. You may not have heard of it, but this small town has been recognized as among the most beautiful in the nation by the likes of USA Today, Fodors, Travel + Leisure and Rand McNally. With six notable distilleries, this idyllic hamlet also happens to be known as the Bourbon Capital of the World. One must-tour establishment: the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. With a 200-plus-year history, Jim Beam is the number-one selling bourbon in the world. Take a tour (reservations required) and shop for specialty items at the gift shop. The Kentucky Bourbon House, located at the circa-1787 Chapeze Mansion, is a classic Southern venue to try a flight of whiskey, take a bourbon mixology class or sip a carefully crafted mint julep – the mint is picked fresh from the garden. Reservations are required. To finish your visit, take a ride on My Old Kentucky Dinner Train; the Bourbon Excursion tour features a gourmet meal and bourbon tasting.

188 km
1.75 hours by car
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Tangy barbecue ribs, a popular entrée at Moonlite BBQ in Owensboro
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Owensboro: Western Kentucky Barbecue

It’s a scenic drive across Kentucky’s farmlands on your way to Owensboro, known for bluegrass music, popular festivals and – burgoo? This regional stew is made from multiple types of meats – typically mutton, pork, chicken and/or beef – along with vegetables and (usually) bourbon, with each restaurant and family boasting their own “best” variations. Expert tip: A good burgoo should be so thick that your spoon can stand up in it. May through September, look for barbecue picnics galore held at churches around the city. Time your visit for the second weekend in May for the International Bar-B-Q Festival. No matter what time of year you’re in town, you can always get mouth-watering barbecue at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, a stop on the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail. Opened in 1963, Moonlite Bar-B-Q’s legendary buffet is a belly-filling cornucopia of barbecued meats, Southern sides and homemade desserts. Don’t worry about overeating; you’ll need the energy for your visit to lively Louisville, less than two hours away.

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172 km
1.75 hours by car
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Chargrilled-bread accompanies a bone marrow appetizer
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Louisville: Top-Ranked Cuisine

Home to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Muhammad Ali, Louisville is an all-around awesome tourist destination. But a growing part of the city’s fame is the outstanding food and drink scene. Louisville was named one of the 10 Best New Food Cities by Jetsetter Magazine and ranked second on USA Today’s list of cities with the Best Local Food Scene. Try the “regional rustic” menu at farmer-owned Harvest Restaurant, or sample the locally sourced cuisine and unique cocktails at Decca. Of course, you can’t leave this trendy Southern city without sampling some bourbon. A full one-third of Kentucky’s bourbon is made right here in Louisville. Follow the Urban Bourbon Trail, featuring dozens of favorite bars and even some restaurants that feature Bourbon-centric cocktails and dishes. Some stops have more than 100 bourbons to choose from. Be sure to take home a bottle from your favorite distillery before flying out of Louisville International Airport.

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Official Kentucky Travel Site

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