KENTUCKY HAS MANY CLAIMS TO FAME: horse farms dotting the landscape, mint juleps and festive hats at the Kentucky Derby, regional fare like the beloved hot brown, and even fried chicken for fast food fans. But just as synonymous with the state is the bourbon industry and the rich history and exciting future it brings to the region. From sprawling world-famous distilleries and smaller craft brands to tasting rooms, tours, and bourbon-based cocktails on almost every menu, America’s native spirit thrives here and makes the area well worth a visit.
The Hotel Covington
While Louisville and Lexington are popular spots to visit, some of the state’s smaller destinations are not to be missed. Starting in Northern Kentucky, right across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, you’ll find the charming and vibrant city of Covington, Kentucky. Hotel Covington is the perfect place to stay while you’re in town. From stylish rooms and a welcoming lobby to coffee, bar, and restaurant offerings, the hotel will serve as a fitting introduction to the great eats and drinks in store for you all over town.
A Reunion with Revival
Bourbon and spirits fans will be thrilled with the wide variety of ways to imbibe in Covington. Venture over to Revival Vintage Spirits and Bottle Shop, where both the most devout collectors and newbies are welcome to discover vintage spirits in an approachable setting. Cofounders Brad Bonds and Shannon Smith’s expertise and passion have brought this unmatched experience to life, and guests can peruse, purchase, and try a pour from rare bottles of bourbon, brandy, tequila, and more. Brad believes “the best bourbon has already been made,” and you might agree as experts at the shop walk you through tasting these treasured finds. While many women work in the bourbon industry, they often aren’t brought to the forefront for their contributions. Not only is Shannon one of these leading women in bourbon, but she supports them through her work as a member of the Distillate Committee for the Cincinnati/NKY Chapter of Bourbon Women.
Head just west of Covington to Second Sight Spirits distillery and lounge for a unique encounter in Ludlow, Kentucky. A stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, this bourbon and rum distillery began when two friends, who left Kentucky to work in set design for Cirque du Soleil, came back and opened a one-of-a-kind artisan distillery. Their hand-built, swami-shaped still and stories from the circus and their fortune-telling goldfish will make for a memorable tour that ends with tasting their Oak Eye Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, rums, and hazelnut liqueur. To the east of Covington in Newport, and also a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, New Riff Distilling is independently owned by one family, and their care for the craft and quality is evident in the tours and tastings of their bourbon, rye, and gin.
Brews and Brunch
As popular as it is, bourbon isn’t the only draw to Northern Kentucky. There are plenty of delicious eats to try in Covington. Located in the quaint Mainstrasse Village, Cedar is a brunch hot spot with hearty and wholesome fare, like the Cedar Toast, topped with avocado, walnut spread, and cranberry walnut crumble, that will have you ready to face the day. If you’re craving a sweet or snack, look no further than North South Baking Company. Owner Kate Nycz is a self-taught baker who started selling her pastries and goodies at farmers’ markets and now also shares a kitchen and retail space with a beer and pizza shop, Bircus Brewing Co., in Covington. Make sure you try the fan-favorite cruffins for a treat you won’t forget.
If you’re more of a wine connoisseur than a bourbon enthusiast, you’ll fall in love with this sleek and sophisticated wine bar that’s approachable enough for novices and newbies. Located in the Madison District of downtown Covington, Kentucky, the welcoming Ripple Wine Bar is a welcoming stop is the perfect place to enjoy a glass or two of wine options from around the world paired with delicious fare as light or as hearty as you’d like—from delectable flatbreads and charcuterie boards to a lovely Filet Mignon.
Alternatively, if you’ve had your fill of whiskey in the Bourbon Capital of the World or you’re just a loyal craft beer fan, you’ll want to make your way to Scout & Scholar Brewing Co. in Bardstown, Kentucky. The founders recognized that the art of craft brewing was missing from this distillery-filled destination, so they opened the first craft brewery in Bardstown. Now, locals and visitors alike can enjoy the brewery’s hearty, delicious cuisine alongside its wide variety of beers.
Eats Along the Way
The Standard Covington is a converted mechanic’s garage turned hip eatery, and it makes for a fun lunch stop for a burger or fried chicken sandwich in a colorful and quirky setting. Covington’s Bouquet is a fabulous option for dinner if you’re looking for elevated, seasonal cuisine driven by ingredients from local farms. Start with one of their beautiful charcuterie boards before savoring a lovely entrée. Southern bourbon bistro Purple Poulet in Newport is another must-try for dinner. If you’re super hungry, order the over-the-top tasty Sweet Potato Beignets and the Fried Chicken and Waffle, which includes a towering stack of fried chicken, a sweet potato-bacon-cornbread waffle, pecan butter, and maple-bourbon syrup that you must taste to believe. To finish up a delicious trip to Covington, stop by Rich’s Proper Food and Drink for an after-dinner drink like a classic old-fashioned that won’t disappoint.
A little over an hour’s drive will take you to Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, where there’s even more bourbon country to explore. Naturally, a visit here wouldn’t be complete without touring and tasting at the acclaimed Buffalo Trace Distillery, which is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. They’ve been making whiskey for more than 200 years and continue to innovate and create something new and exciting for their fans worldwide.
After meandering among the historical structures and rickhouses at Buffalo Trace, head to the walkable downtown filled with shops, bakeries, restaurants, and, of course, the stunning grounds of the Kentucky State Capitol. Just a couple blocks from the capitol, you’ll find Andy’s Artisan Bread, where an array of artfully crafted croissants, sourdough, savory bakes, sweet treats, coffee, and more will satisfy all your carb and caffeine cravings in the morning.
Once you’ve experienced the village bakery atmosphere at Andy’s, you’ll also want to embrace even more of Frankfort’s tight-knit community at Locals Food Hub & Pizza Pub. This homegrown market and pizza shop claims three main goals: increasing customers’ access to nutritious local produce and goods, giving area farmers access to dependable markets, and being a place where folks can come together for delicious local cooking. And that’s what you’ll find as you shop the produce, dairy, eggs, honeys, breads, and so much more from Kentucky farmers. And if you’re not in the market for groceries, you can still support local by digging into their yummy wood-fired pizza.
B’s Bakery brings plenty of sweetness and fun to downtown Frankfort and will remind you of your favorite neighborhood bakery, where locals and guests are treated like friends. You can’t go wrong with the cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts, and pastries, and you’ll go crazy for the popular cream horns. But if candies are more your thing, head to Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museum, known for creating a Kentucky staple, bourbon balls. Ruth Booe invented these boozy chocolate-coated and pecan-topped bites in 1938, and they’ve been beloved ever since.
Final Sights and Bites
The best way to end a day in Frankfort is at downtown’s Serafini. Go all out with Kentucky classics like a Beer Cheese appetizer and The Governor’s Hot Brown entrée, featuring toasted ciabatta bread topped with smoked turkey, prosciutto, bacon, tomato, Swiss cheese, and cheese sauce.
An hour’s drive southwest of Frankfort will bring you to a stop on the bourbon trail you don’t want to miss. Deemed the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown boasts 11 bourbon distillery experiences within 16 miles of downtown. Though technically located in Gethsemane, Kentucky, a drive out to Log Still Distillery at Dant Crossing is well worth a visit. This peaceful, rural setting is brought to life by all that Dant Crossing has to offer, from five bed-and-breakfast options so you can stay awhile to The Amp, a 2,000-seat outdoor concert and event space. Thanks to tours of the distillery and their brands like Monk’s Road bourbons and gins, Dant Crossing is a one-stop bourbon destination in the heart of the serene Kentucky countryside.
Bardstown Bourbon Company is another great option for all things bourbon. While touring the expansive and sophisticated distillery or shopping their impressive products are reason enough to visit, you would be remiss not to savor a meal at the restaurant on-site. Modern Southern fare, perfectly crafted cocktails, or a pour from the extensive whiskey library will prove that Bardstown, as well as all that the thriving bourbon country entails, is truly the place to be.