A much anticipated vacation for years for us was to visit some stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. After gathering a group of friends to experience this with us, we booked our hotels, tour guide, decided which distilleries to visit and then anxiously awaited January 31, 2018 to depart.
With three couples and all their stuff for a four day trip, we piled into our Toyota 4Runner, thankful for the third row seating. Louisville was only about a 4 hour drive from our home outside of Columbus, and we were all sorts of excited. Most of us in the car liked bourbon, would drink bourbon, but really didn’t understand anything else about it. I was looking forward to learning the history of these distilleries and gaining a better understanding of what sets bourbon apart from whiskey (because we all know I love whiskey).
After a (mostly) uneventful drive down, we arrived in Louisville. Since we had arrived early enough and Bulleit was just outside of downtown, we drove there to try to catch their 3 pm tour. It was a gorgeous day – we really couldn’t have hoped for better weather in January. We were greeted at the entrance by an enthusiastic and welcoming older gentleman who assured us we were going to have a great time. With that kind of southern hospitality, how could we disagree?
The tour consisted of the six of us, a dad and daughter combo and one other individual. Our tour guide (I don’t have his name and honestly don’t think he ever told us) had a background in the bourbon industry as he had previously been a cooper (builder of the barrels.) It turns out that Bulleit isn’t actively producing their bourbon at this location (in the process of moving everything over). They do have an innovation lab where they’re testing and experimenting, but that’s only producing 1 barrel a week. It was previously the Stitzel-Weller distillery and they decided to keep the name on part of the entrance to honor it’s unique history. The moment we stepped into the rick house and the smell enveloped us…well, it was like stepping into a piece of heaven. We got to step inside and see the cooperage as well, before our final stop, Tom Bulleit’s office. Which was the office of Pappy Van Winkle for over 20 years. That was really, really cool. Though this tour was a more comprehensive overview of bourbon and the industry, I think it was a really good place for us to start! The tour finished with a tasting in the their tasting room – we sampled four different bourbons. We learned the different ways to experience the bourbon before tasting (breathing through our nose, breathing through our mouth, swirling it around in our mouth, etc) and I learned that I really enjoyed rye whiskey. As Rye is typically associated with spice, I tend to stray away from that but in a whiskey, it’s really damn good. Their gift shop has a lot to offer with the different bourbons, trinkets, apparel and more. They had these cute little bourbon tasting journals which I wish I had purchased so I could better remember all the details but, hindsight’s 20/20 (that won’t be the last time you hear me say that, either). They were also featuring a 4 bourbon set that consisted of some of the bourbon they found in barrels left over from previous owners. It was incredibly rare, $2,000, and as a group we heavily eyed it up and considered it. Thank goodness we didn’t (like I said, hindsight’s 20/20…remember that later on). Here’s my yelp review of Bulleit.
After we finished up there and made our purchases, we piled back into the 4Runner and went to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Louisville. Our group consisted of two individuals who travel heavily for a living, so they have experienced almost everything that you can when staying in hotels at this point. The customer service we received from the minute we stepped foot on their property was exceptional. The front desk associates were so kind, informative and appreciative of us choosing them to stay during our visit. I can’t say enough good things about our stay with the Louisville HGI. Our room was pretty standard but it had all the amenities we needed. They also had added security in the elevators – one had to scan their room key card before being allowed to access guest floors. In addition, they had a bar/restaurant on the top floor and the service and food was super great. Yelp review of the Louisville HGI.
When we were finished there, we walked over to Down One Bourbon Bar which was really neat inside. We ran into the dad-daughter combo who were on our Bulleit tour, so, small world! Everyone ordered a mix of drinks and everything was super, super good. The interior was really nice, too, and they were pretty busy for a Wednesday evening.
Thursday, February 1, 2018 was bourbon trail day! We booked The Kentucky Bourbon Boys for the day – for $160/person, KBB would pick us up from our hotel, drive us to the distilleries we picked, they had pre-set up our tours and established an agenda (which they followed through to the T) and provided a lot of history to our group. For more about the great experience we had with KBB, you can read my yelp review here. In short, I highly recommend them and we know we’ll book with them again when we decide to go back down for round 2!
We chose to do tours/tastings at Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace, and opted for just a tasting at Four Roses. We also had lunch at Wallace Station. Since I’ve already written my yelp reviews for each of these, I’ll do a brief overview here and then link you their page on yelp if you want to read more.
1) Woodford Reserve – Five stars. Gorgeous drive to get there (despite it being cloudy and 40*), stunning property and views. Their visitor’s center/gift shop feature exposed wood and stone and a fireplace. They have tons of areas to sit and everyone we encountered was very professional and knowledgable. Since it was the first tour of the day, we had our tour guide, Roy, all to ourselves. We really enjoyed our time with him. The tasting consisted of two bourbons and a bourbon ball, which helped us understand the flavors of the bourbon a little more in depth. We would absolutely visit again. Yelp review here.
2) Buffalo Trace – Five stars. Tim was awesome and set us up with a little more in-depth tour that BT offers – the E.H. Taylor Tour, Bourbon Pompeii. We had another couple join us, as well as Tim and his friend, Dave, who had ridden along with us for the day. Our tour guide was Fred, who as we came to understand from the other distilleries, was a third generation Buffalo Trace guy and could tell us everything we wanted to know about the place. Their property here was also gorgeous and I wished I’d brought my DSLR along for the trip, despite the dropping temperatures, cloudy skies and drizzling rain. The tour we took was a bit more in-depth about the history of the place and all the master distillers who had called it home. They also had Blanton’s when we visited, so we all grabbed a bottle (didn’t get to keep mine – keep reading…) because it was only 1 purchase per person. They had four types to choose from – you could pick two to try. One was a vodka. I don’t remember which two I had but I enjoyed them both. At the end, everyone also was able to sample their “Buffalo Cream” which is like Bailey’s, but better. We got to put a splash of root beer in it and it tasted like a heavenly adult float! Yelp review here.
3) Four Roses – Two stars. As the distillery is under construction at the moment, we opted to just do the tasting. I wasn’t overly impressed with any of it, but especially not our tasting guide. The history of Four Roses was pretty neat to learn about, but our group, with two others, were shoved into this tiny tasting room space and the guide made estimates whenever he poured the bourbon into the tasting glasses, so some people got more than others. I didn’t really notice any difference between the three we tasted, and quite honestly, they just tasted like the cheap stuff you buy when you’re in college. Which is unfortunate because I’ve heard people say great things about Four Roses bourbon before. Would not return. Yelp review here.
At the end of our day, Tim navigated us back to downtown Louisville safely while the skies opened and let big ole snow flurries fall over Kentucky. I usually have a hard time driving with other people in bad weather because the only person I really trust is myself (and Rick), but Tim did a great job. He also had bottled water and snacks on the van for us 🙂
That night, we got a little dressed up and ventured to Vincenzo’s in downtown Louisville. We had made reservations and were anxious to check this place out. I don’t understand how this place doesn’t have five stars on Yelp. All of the staff we encountered were amazing and the food was to die for delicious. Some of the highlights were: we ordered the Caesar salad to share and they hand-made the dressing next to the table, we were told the menu was just an offering of what they had and they could make basically anything we wanted, we couldn’t decide on which dessert(s) to get so they split them for us (seriously – where else will they give you that option to have half of one and half of another?!) In addition, the pricing was so reasonable for everything that we all said if this place was local to us, we’d eat there several times a week. I might have to make a special trip back to Louisville just to eat here again, just sayin’. Yelp review here.
Friday, February 2nd, 2018 was a rollercoaster of a day that started at the climb of the hill and rolled right into a very disappointing morning on Saturday. Let’s start with the good. Since we had the extra days, and were already in Kentucky, and most of us always loved visiting Lexington, we decided to make the drive over for the remainder of our trip.
Wild Turkey Distillery was slightly on our way to Lexington, so we decided to veer off and visit them. Their property spanned across two sides of the road and we followed a winding road back to their gorgeous visitor’s center. We were welcomed by friendly faces and when we inquired about doing just a tasting and not a tour, instead of an immediate “no” (because it’s not something they typically offer), we were told “Let me ask my manager.” How about that for customer service? Can you tell yet that customer service is a really big deal to me? I’ve worked in a combination of hospitality and retail industries for most of my life, so I’ve got high expectations and I’m happy to report that MOST of this trip blew me away with people who seem to have the same. The manager agreed to allow us to do just a tasting. I opted out since we were headed a winery next and I knew I’d want to drink there. But I really wish I hadn’t!
WT’s tasting room is two stories, but they let us up to the 2nd floor to take in the view. Glass windows lined the entire space, allowing us to peer out over into the valley, river and bridges beyond the building. Coming up through the floor is a still – which one of the bourbons the group tasted had come from. That’s pretty neat. They had four types set out and everyone in the group seemed to enjoy each one. My husband let me take a sip of his rye (it was super good – I can’t wait to have some of that again) and the American Honey (also delicious). Then, as an extra treat, they allowed us to sample a fifth and everyone got to choose from a small assortment on which one they wanted to try. It was really a great experience. We already decided we’d like to do their tour whenever we visit again. Yelp review here.
Next, we made a stop at Talon Winery. We followed a winding road that took us past a barn and to an older, historical looking house. Inside the house was their tasting room and gift shop. We browsed the retail section for a bit, and then decided to do a tasting. Each taste was $1 which I felt was really reasonable. We sampled a variety of their wines, ranging from sweet, fruity and dry and I found something in each category that I enjoyed. We also got to try a red and a white that had been aged in bourbon barrels. The young man who waited on us was friendly and provided good conversation as we sampled our wines (girls only – the boys waited it out in the front room). I really liked the Equestrian Series VII, made from Merlot and featured flavors of chocolate and cherry fudge. Seriously. I bought that bottle and a bottle of the Forbidden (spiced apple) and couldn’t wait to enjoy them on a cold winter’s night, but now some low-life will get to instead (boo.) I drink a lot of wine and typically don’t spend $20 per bottle on it, but did this time, so that’s saying something. Yelp review here.
When we arrived in Lexington, we decided to make one more stop before our hotel. After months and months of drooling over their images on Instagram, I was finally able to visit Crank & Boom. They have speciality ice creams that make for delicious looking sundae’s and more. I chose to get the S’mores Sundae but swapped out the vanilla ice cream for their Honey & Bourbon. You should, too. You won’t regret it. Yelp review here.
After gorging ourselves on the deliciousness that C&B offered, we drove to our hotel. We’d chosen to stay at The Campbell House – Curio Collection by Hilton after a recommendation of a friend who stays frequently when in town for work, and because it was still a Hilton with the boutique hotel “charm”. Or so we thought. As we drove closer to the hotel, the group of us chatted about how this seemed like a weird area. While The Campbell House is technically in downtown Lexington, it’s on the outskirts. We pulled into their front lot, and parked in the second row from the entrance, on an end, under a light post. We didn’t think we had to be worried about safety of our vehicle, but these details come into play later on. The lot was hardly full. We stuffed our bottles of bourbon under the seats in the second row and other bottles were in the trunk space of our SUV.
We walked inside, and the lobby smelled of leather. There were two front desk associates working for check-in and this experience was much, much different than the one we had when checking in at the HGI in Louisville. They did the minimum and weren’t overly friendly or welcoming. Usually Hilton’s will offer a free room upgrade when Rick checks in because they see he’s a Diamond member with a lot of loyalty and room stays with their brand. Well, this time we had to ask for it and that kind of made me feel like they didn’t care about their people that choose to stay with them. The rooms are all really dark, even with all the lights on. The hallways are poorly lit as well. The thermostat was very inconsistent. The bathroom was really tiny and there was a lot of wasted space in the room that they could’ve converted to expand the bathroom. The walls are thin enough that the screaming baby from two doors down sounded like it was in the room with us. They have a lounge and a restaurant – both were very unimpressive. I’m starting to think the employees really hate working here. I could go on about how awful this place is forever, so if you want to read more, here’s my yelp review.
For dinner, we chose to dine at Carson’s in downtown Lexington. Which turned out was another area that didn’t look so good to us, either. There were at least 4 police cars which went screaming by while we were eating dinner. I really didn’t think Lexington was that bad of a city until we stayed there. However, the food was really, really good and the service was also excellent. The interior really boosted the “old Kentucky home” feel. Almost everyone ordered the steak and it was cooked perfectly. I had the Filet Medallions and every. bite. was mouth watering. Yelp review here.
Saturday, February 3rd, 2018. I rustled awake after a miserable night of being unable to get a good night of sleep due to the changing temperatures in our room. Freezing cold to unbearably hot made for a restless night. Rick had just left to go meet our friends for breakfast but not even a couple minutes later, stormed back in the room yelling to get dressed, something had happened to the car over night. The shuttle driver from the night before had found Rick on his way to breakfast to let him know that our car was broken into. Lovely. I ran out with the keys and we found our beloved 4Runner with a back window smashed, glass everywhere, and all of the contents that were stuffed under the seats gone. Someone had purposefully been looking into our car because the windows were a super dark black tint. There is no way anyone would’ve guessed what was inside by just walking by (unless they worked for the hotel and knew we were from Ohio and had heard us talking about the bourbon trail….trust me, it’s in the back of my mind). As far as we know, only our car was targeted that night. The lazy person who decided to do this also scratched up the entire door while climbing inside, and then grabbing multiple bottles of bourbon and wine (about $300 value). We filed a police report and the police officer was, uh, kind enough to let us know that this has been happening a lot in this area/at this hotel and the shuttle driver agreed. This was the same shuttle driver as last night so I really wish that he would’ve told us this when we told him we had done the bourbon trail. I know – take your valuables with you, but the ones that were stolen were hidden in the car. The ones that weren’t stolen were in the plain view in the back. We also had cash in the front of the car and that was left untouched, as well as the various shoes on the backseat floor where the bourbon had also been.
Since we had a four hour drive back, the boys had to patch up the window with some cardboard and tape. Upon checking out, the front desk staff got defensive as soon as we asked to speak to a manager. They never apologized, just admitted that it’s been happening and they’re “in the process” of getting security cameras. From my understanding in life, it shouldn’t take that long to secure and install security cameras for the safety of your guests and their valuables. It was like pulling teeth to get the staff to give us their names and contact information for the managers. When we told them that we’d be filing a complaint with the Hilton Diamond Desk, they brushed it off. Everyone acted like it wasn’t a big deal (probably because it didn’t happen to them). We had lost all of our keepsakes from our vacation, as well as now having a vandalized vehicle that would need repaired ($500+). All because they couldn’t do us the due diligence of informing us when we checked in that this was a potential issue.
To say I’m disgusted is an understatement, especially after dealing with all the aftermath and the complete lack of support from both The Campbell House and Hilton. They state that they did what they thought was right…which was refunding us the points from our stay. Gee, thanks, refunding us something we already get for free. When we finally did get a call from the manager, Melanie Allen, she acted sorry and that she would replace our bourbon for us. She even had us email her a list of what was taken, which we did, only to finally hear back from her four days later saying they would not be doing any of that.
Also, fun fact: After doing some browsing online, I stumbled across a Trip Advisor review of this place from JULY 2017 saying that their car had also been parked in the front lot and broken into. Weird that here we are, in February 2018, and they still don’t have security cameras.
I’m thankful that we didn’t end up all going in on the $2,000 rare bourbon from Bulleit and that I didn’t bring my DSLR, because I’m not sure I would’ve carried it into the hotel for the night. I’m also thankful for social media, review websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, blogging and SEO and every other avenue that I will spend the time to find to let everyone know how AWFUL The Campbell House is and how little they and guest services at Hilton are. They clearly don’t care about their people or following through on their values/mission.
Okay, rant over. With the exception of our last day, this was an AMAZING vacation and one that I look forward to (mostly) repeat again. The KY bourbon trail is something that anyone who enjoys bourbon should do. This was a great event to do with friends and we will certainly be back.