Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Whiskey Tourism and the Driver's Dilemma

Several friends have asked me this recently. "We want to go to Kentucky and visit distilleries. Is there a bus or something we can take so we don't drink and drive?" Okay, nobody exactly asked that, but most of my friends are responsible and several have asked about transportation alternatives.

This matters because the distilleries are rather far apart. The distance between Buffalo Trace and Maker's Mark, two very popular tours, is about 65 miles and a lot of that is winding country roads.

Kentucky's whiskey tourism infrastructure is still developing. So is Tennessee's, which has some catching up to do. In Kentucky, the premier tour company for whiskey fans is Mint Julep Tours, which operates out of Louisville. They offer everything from private, customized tours to regularly scheduled trips anyone can join for the price of a ticket.

Mint Julep recently expanded its options for full-day public bourbon tours on Fridays and Saturdays. A three-day adventure to nine different distilleries is also available. Each daytrip includes stops at three distilleries, lunch at a locally-owned restaurant, all admissions and planning, and comfortable transportation with an enthusiastic tour leader.

Mint Julep has an official relationship with the Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA) and its official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but that doesn't mean they won't take you to Buffalo Trace and other non-KDA distilleries. The KDA also has official relationships with R&R Limousine, as well as Uber and Lyft.

I'm not a big ride sharing guy, but if sitting in the backseat of a stranger's Prius for a couple of hours sounds cool to you, go for it. Me, I prefer the comfy buses.

Because the places you want to go are so spread out, and because there is alcohol involved, a successful tour of America's whiskey heartland requires planning. Although it is much more developed now than it was ten or twenty years ago, it is still a bit of the Wild West compared to a distillery tour of Scotland or a winery tour of the Napa Valley. But if you use all of the available tools, that can be part of the fun.


Keith W said...

I don't know what the legal situation would be, but in Ireland (not the best for whiskey tourism), Kilbeggan upon learning that I was the driver for the day, gave me minis to go of everything I would have had in the tasting room. Since then, I've never understood why this isn't standard practice everywhere.

Billy said...

I would like to add to your list of fun the Oscar Getz Museum in Bardstown. This Museum is chock full of historical artifacts, bottles, and memorabilia from mostly American Whiskey History that satisfies both the newbie and the Bourbon geek. It is just a true gem and a place not many go to, but should.

Shvitz said...

+1 to Billy's comment re: the Oscar Getz Museum; it was a fantastic, informative visit, and the restaurant downstairs was top-notch.

ad said...

I did a bourbon trip this past April with 15 guys. We rented a party bus on the major day and hit three distilleries---Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace.

It worked well and obviously kept us all safe. That said, if I did it again, I think I'd go with Mint Julep as an established company. Our driver (we left out of Lexington) was nice, but he got lost a couple times, and it resulted in us having to rush at the last two distilleries. The only reason the entire trip didn't turn into a complete disaster is the people at Buffalo Trace are amazingly cool, and essentially did a tour for us as our own group since we had missed the last formal tour of the day due to delay in getting there.

Long story short, I think the actual "bourbon tour" companies are the way to go rather than just renting your own limo, as it's tight to make three distilleries in a day, and they know what they're doing to make it happen.