Like millions of women who travel independently, I frequently travel alone to attend conferences, for business as well as for pleasure. And I always appreciate destinations where dining or cocktailing solo feels comfortable. That said, I also like to explore new flavors and finds, and now, I have one item to add to the top of my personal travel menu: bourbon. Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail (UBT) serves up bourbon inspired food and drinks from dawn until way beyond dusk. “40 percent of America’s bourbon drinkers are now women, up from just 15 percent 20 years ago,” says Susan Riegler, President of the Bourbon Women Association. And who wouldn’t feel welcomed in a city where the “Official Cocktail” is the Old Fashioned? Sounds like pure Southern hospitality to me.
My bourbon research revealed the Old Fashioned is anything but. In Louisville’s NuLu District, part of the UBT, bourbon bars and trendy eateries are transforming the 1880’s cocktail in refreshing ways. “The Old Fashioned just makes bourbon more approachable for people,” says Ivor Chodkowski, local farmer and owner of the farm-to-table restaurant, Harvest. “It’s a little sweet…not so much on fire in your mouth, and we make it even more interesting by using seasonal fruits like peaches, pears, and cherries.” The drink is so popular in fact, that Chodkowski predicts it might one day usurp another southern favorite. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day, the Old Fashioned began to eclipse the Mint Julep at the Derby.” Derby fans, please don’t throttle Ivor for his opinion.
True aficionados prefer their bourbon served neat – a simple shot in a glass, slowly savored. For the bourbon beginner, Louisville actually lays claim to three indigenous bourbon cocktails - the Old Fashioned, the Mint Julep and the lesser known Seelbach, a mix of bourbon, bitters and sparkling wine. So where might one find the most tasty versions of these drinks? Perhaps, at Louisville’s Annual Cocktail Competition, at which the city’s best bartenders are pitted against each other in a one night mix-off. Thor Morgan, General Manager of NuLu restaurant, Rye, and the ultra-cool Galaxie Bar is the organizer. “It’s really a funky and fun event with great food and live music.” When asked about women-specific bourbon events, he laughed. “There’s this notion that bourbon exploration is more of a guy’s kind of vacation, but I can tell you, plenty of women are drinking bourbon here, right alongside the men.”
June 14 is National Bourbon Day, but the whole month offers a wide array of opportunities to enjoy Kentucky’s native spirit, including Old Fashioned Fortnight that celebrates Louisville’s signature drink and pairs it with their red hot culinary scene. The Urban Bourbon Trail Restaurant Week, features food and drink specials highlighting the Old Fashioned at 34 of the city’s best bourbon bars and restaurants. “Bourbon and food are a beautiful coming together. And it’s only natural, because Kentucky agriculture is the impetus for both,” says Chodkowski.
The annual Louisville Bourbon Classic, coming back in March 2017, draws people from around the world to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts for a week of bourbon and culinary adventures. Named by Travel & Leisure Magazine as one of the “7 Best Cocktail Festivals Around the Country”, the event offers ample opportunities to experience bourbon on many levels. “It’s all about the bourbon lifestyle,” says Tony Butler, president of the Classic. “There are so many expressions of the product, that an enthusiast can spend a lot of time enjoying various Bourbons and experience something different with each one.” Now, I’ll raise a glass to that.
Susan Reigler has some suggestions for women (and men) looking to get into drinking bourbon.
- Don't go straight for barrel proof. Start with something more approachable, such as bourbon between 85 and 90 proof.
- Pour a splash in a glass and nose it. First you’ll smell alcohol, but blow out and then nose it again. That’s when you’ll detect the various scents, such as vanilla and caramel, before taking your first sip.
- Add water to the bourbon. The water will change its flavor, possibly bringing out the drink's fruitier side.
- Try it as a cocktail. If you can't handle straight bourbon, an Old-Fashioned or Seelbach may be the way to go.
If you’re headed there for a meeting or, now that I’ve convinced you, planning a girls’ bourbon getaway to Louisville, be sure to download the Urban Bourbon Trail App.
Find more information on the broad appeal of Louisville’s bourbon culture in 3 Facts About Millennial Attendee Beverage Preferences.
This article was brought to you by the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, the tourism authority for the official home of bourbon. In addition to bourbon, the city is known for its thriving culinary scene. It was recently named one of Travel + Leisure’s “Best Cities for Barbecue” and one of the “Nation’s Best Local Food Scenes” by USA TODAY. For more information on what makes the city such an ideal place for conferences, click here.