Bourbon and Beyond

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Most people associate Louisville, Kentucky with horseracing and a smooth brown liquor called bourbon. I tested both on a visit to the Derby City and more. Named in honor of King Louis XVI of France, Louisville is located on the banks of the Ohio River at the intersection of three major interstates.

We choose to stay at one of the “grand dames” of Louisville, The Brown Hotel. Built by wealthy Louisville businessman J. Graham Brown in 1923, the hotel with his name opened in downtown Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Broadway. The Brown became the anchor of “The Magic Corner.”  An extensive renovation resulted in a rebirth for the hotel with updated décor, high-class shops, enlarged guest rooms and new restaurants.

Don’t miss a famous menu item featured at the hotel’s English Grill restaurant—The Hot Brown. In the 1920s, the hotel’s chef sought to create a new late night “snack” for attendees of the hotel’s popular dinner dance. His unique creation was an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a delicate Mornay sauce. The Hot Brown was born and still pleases guests 100 years later.

First on our priority list was the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Bourbon is to Louisville what cherries are to Traverse City—you will find whisky-infused desserts, entrées, butters and sauces all over town as well as restaurants and distilleries available for tours and tastings. A Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport is a must for the multiple stops on the “trail,” where you can taste the different whiskeys and get your passport stamped. The Kentucky Distillers Association reports that 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is produced in the state (and one local official opined that the other 5% is counterfeit). A 1964 Congressional Resolution declared Bourbon an indigenous product of the United States, meaning it must be made in this country. In other words, no other country can make a product and call it “Bourbon,” now “America’s Official Native Spirit.”

Another unique local experience, was a visit to Louisville Stoneware, one of the oldest stoneware companies in the U.S.. Founded in 1815, Louisville Stoneware creates fanciful stoneware, decorating its pottery with Kentucky Derby and Christmas themes. They can also create personalized items, and besides pottery, they offer decorative birdbaths and bird feeders. I brought home a charming bird feeder, almost too cute to put outside.

My husband is a baseball fan, so a trip to the Louisville Slugger Museum for a factory tour was required. In the shadow of a giant baseball bat, visitors can purchase a full-size custom-engraved bat, and in the museum’s batting cage, he swang a replica of Babe Ruth’s bat—the one that made the Babe “the Sultan of Swat.”

While we missed the Derby itself, the Kentucky Derby Museum on Central Avenue right next to Churchill Downs is de rigueur for horseracing fanatics. You can snag an Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, “The Official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby” for nearly 20 years. Each year, almost 120,000 Early Times Mint Juleps are served over the Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack.

Never one to miss a meal, Louisville has been listed as one of the “best foodie getaways around the world” by Zagat, where such restaurants as Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant, Corbett’s, Seviche, Winston’s at Sullivan University, Porcini’s, and the English Grill at the Brown Hotel are all great spots to dine.

Enjoy a finger or two of smooth bourbon and plan your visit to Louisville.