September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and the best way to celebrate America’s only Native Spirit is by experiencing it.
With its central Kentucky location, Danville sits in the midst of about two dozen distilleries on the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail® (KBT). It is home to Wilderness Trail Distillery, a founding distillery destination on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® and now a KBT distillery – the perfect place to begin an exploration of Kentucky bourbon.
The distillery is well-known for making sweet mash as opposed to sour mash.
“We start fresh with water, grains and yeast every time,” said Emily Toadvine, who manages brand marketing at Wilderness Trail. “Other notable differences are using Kentucky-grown grains, including an heirloom rye, low barrel proof entry and non-chill filtered.”
Wilderness Trail, just named a “Best in Kentucky” in the category of bourbon in Kentucky Living magazine’s annual Best in Kentucky Awards, is a real Kentucky bourbon success story. Co-owners Shane Baker and Pat Heist had operated Ferm Solutions, a yeast sales and lab analysis company, prior to opening the distillery and they brought all that fermentation expertise with them.
“After six years of telling everyone how to make a better bourbon, they had enough money to open their own distillery in 2012,” said Toadvine. “Now Wilderness Trail is the fourteenth largest bourbon distillery in the country.”
Yes. The entire country.
Book the distillery’s personalized hour-long tour, which highlights the science behind spirit-making through the use of local grains and Wilderness Trail’s signature sweet mash fermentation process. Tours are $15/person and include a tasting and a souvenir shot glass.
Speaking of . . . As soon as you arrive at Wilderness Trail, pick up what will become a souvenir of your Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure. The 150-page 2022 Bourbon Trail Passport & Field Guide ($14.95) is everything a bourbon trailblazer needs and wants in a keepsake, including cocktail recipes, tasting notes and fun facts about KBT distilleries, maps and suggested itineraries and more.
Located four miles from Wilderness Trail Distillery, Copper and Oak is that fun local place that knows how to plate a gourmet meal and craft a custom cocktail while putting everyone who enters at ease. The restaurant also collaborates closely with the distillery.
“If you show their receipt at our restaurant, you get 10 percent off and if you have our receipt at the distillery, you get 10 percent off of merchandise,” said manager Lahannah Bonagofski.
As curators of sumptuous bourbon cocktails (like its famous Blackberry Old Fashioned with blackberry puree and muddled blackberries) and with more than 100 bourbons in stock, Copper and Oak aspires to be in the KBT’s Bourbon Trail Passport & Field Guide. Perhaps someday, but this sassy watering hole is already a must-visit, serving up an outstanding bourbon experience with plenty of Kentucky hospitality on the side.
And it’s a great place to linger over a cooked-to-perfection farm-to-table rib-eye or New York strip steak, not to mention the restaurant’s popular hot honey chicken.
Kentucky bourbon meets Brazilian culture at The Still at Blue Rook Distillery, a restaurant and cocktail bar that bills itself as “distillery dining at its finest.” An OpenTable Diners’ Choice for 2022, it has a small but distinguished menu, featuring among its entrées black angus New York strip steak, shrimp and grits, chicken schnitzel and Strozzapreti, a hand-rolled pasta whose name translates from Italian as “priest strangler.”
The distillery is known for its Brazilian spirits, including Blue Rook Cachaça, double-distilled in custom copper pot stills; Espirito Dourado, aged for two years in barrels crafted from Balsamo wood to impart its golden color; and Espirito Cavaleiro, described as “the embodiment of a perfect union between the native spirits of America and Brazil.”
Additionally, The Still offers a choice of nearly 40 different bourbons, including several from Wilderness Trail, and a regular lineup of live music.
Boogie Knight’s Late Night Eats and Drinks grooves to a 1970s vibe. It’s funky. It’s kitschy. And it serves up craft cocktails in a neighborhood bar setting located right in the heart of downtown.
Like the peace, love and granola crowd of several decades ago, Boogie Knight’s emphasizes locally sourced ingredients, like Kentucky Darling Meats for the bar’s burger beef and Elmwood Tea for one of its specialty cocktails.
“Boogie Knight’s is all about butts, thighs, tots and fries,” said co-owner Lee Moore. “We do specialty sandwiches that revolve around house-smoked pork and grilled/fried chicken, and we have a ton of specials that run every day, such as our $5 Long Island iced tea on tap, or our beer shot combo for 6 bucks.”
The bar opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, jivin’ right into Happy Hour from 4- 6 p.m., with a $5 Old Fashioned among the offerings. On the regular drinks menu, local faves include the Blue Rook Vesper, featuring Blue Rook Vodka, and a Paper Plane poured with Wilderness Trail Rye.
Bourbon Distillery Celebrates Chili
Like a little chili with your bourbon? Wilderness Trail Distillery is hosting its fifth annual Charity Chili Cook Off on Saturday, Sept. 24. All levels of cooks are welcome to enter, and all foodies are invited to taste. Tickets information and cook-off details here.