First-hand account: Bourbon Trail not just about the alcohol

Jon Garcia

My 2009 Chevy Aveo rose and fell on top of the endless Kentucky landscape as if it were a silver boat being knocked around by ocean waves. Its windows were cracked ever so slightly to welcome the smell of pine trees and fresh cut grass, which eventually matured into the foul horse stench I’ve never learned to love.

Hay bales, farm equipment and the occasional house littered the rolling grass as it sprinted to greet the horizon and morph into the cloudless sapphire sky.

Finally, after what seemed like years, the uncomfortable one-lane road ended and the familiar, heavenly aroma of bourbon canceled out all other senses.

My roommates and I had been planning to trek the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for almost two years, and this past fall break we decided to stab and drown responsibility in order to make good on our ambition.

The plan was to visit six distilleries in two days, with a night in Lexington sandwiched between. Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark were first, then Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey and Four Roses the following day before heading back to Bowling Green.

But to forgo responsibility is a dangerous task – by the end of the first day we found the realm of reality obscured by the desire to just have a darn good time.

Downtown Lexington smeared its way through our memories in a night that culminated on a front porch screaming profanities into my cell phone to friends that obviously were not on the other end.

The days and nights continued like this, only being broken by a long Saturday recharge, where I can’t count getting off my friend’s couch more than seven times in ten hours.

Looking back to the fuzzy weekend, the highlights of the trip almost had nothing to do with the actual Bourbon Trail itself. I mean, yeah, it was cool to be awestruck by the 5,000 barrels of bourbon in the rick house at Jim Beam, or finally get to see Maker’s Mark employees dip the bottles into that gorgeous crimson wax. And, of course, tasting free high-end bourbon was also excellent.

But the real memories were made during the car rides to the distilleries or at the bars later that night, sharing life stories and being a complete goof with my friends. Our biggest concern was where we were going to eat dinner, and the only thing on our minds was the beer in our hand.

It turns out the allure of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail isn’t tangible. That stupid cliché about life being about the journey, not the destination, is a cliché for a reason. It’s true.

In the long run, I could have gone my whole life without seeing how bourbon was made, but I would be a much more miserable person if I didn’t put life on hold to get closer to the people in my life that really matter. I might just be spewing some overdramatic bull, but I feel they would say the same thing.

Not only did the trip reinforce my love for life, my friends and the state of Kentucky, (only someone born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area would make a statement like that) I discovered my new favorite smell: fermenting sour mash. It was a win-win weekend.