Courtesy Kentucky Distillers’ Association
Whetting your whistle with local libations is one way to soak up a city or state’s lore, and the Southeast’s liquor cabinet has plenty of colorful brews from which to choose.
In Kentucky, bourbon is king, and in Virginia, wines are winning national awards. In Arkansas, craft beers and distilled spirits top the menu; South Carolina shows its hospitality with iced tea and a newcomer, sweet tea vodka. The recent legalization of moonshine making has given Georgia, Tennessee and a number of other Southern states reason to fire up the stills.
In Kentucky, the Bourbon Capital of the World, seven distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail greet guests with tours, tastes and other experiences.
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown describes the spirit’s history and offers behind-the-scenes tours; Woodford Reserve, near Versailles, specializes in pairing bourbon with food; and at Four Roses, near Lawrenceburg, a corporate retreat can select its own private barrel of Kentucky’s finest to be shipped home.
In Lexington, Town Branch is the newest addition to the trail and the first distillery built in Kentucky in a century. The $6 million facility is a half dozen blocks from the Lexington Convention Center.
There are plenty of other options, particularly in the Bardstown/Clermont area, less than an hour south of Louisville.
“As part of a tour at Jim Beam Distillery’s new American Stillhouse in Clermont, groups go through the whole distilling process,” said Adam Johnson, director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. “You get to put a little mash in the cooker, bung a barrel, fill a bottle with the world’s No. 1 best-selling bourbon.”
While in that area, groups can hop on another trail, the new Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, which spotlights boutique distilling operations like Limestone Branch, a maker of small-batch whiskey, moonshine and bourbon in Lebanon, about 30 minutes from Bardstown.
In Louisville, the Urban Bourbon Trail (UBT), 19 restaurants and bars that feature bourbon as a beverage and/or in food, can be a progressive dinner, a pub crawl or a chance to earn a souvenir. Six stamps on a UBT passport equals a T-shirt.
At one UBT stop, Louisville Marriott Downtown’s BLU Bar, groups of 10 to 15 can taste bourbon flights while learning from experts about various brands.
“For one event, we brought in Bill Samuels, former president of Maker’s Mark,” said Paul Kiley, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “He talked about his family’s history with the distillery, and attendees got to dip their own bottles in that famous red wax.”
Also in Derby City, Distilled Spirits Epicenter is a craft distillery where meeting attendees can watch activity in the distillery through a picture window in the 48-person meeting space.
Team building is another option as groups discover there’s nothing like spirits to rally team spirit(s).
“We can custom design corporate team-building activities such as building your own beverage,” said Kevin Hall, operations manager.
The Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau can help plan a bourbon-themed dinner or a bar demonstration of how to make a mint julep. Or for spouses, the bureau can arrange the Shoes and Booze Tour, which includes a stop at Jim Beam, followed by shoe-shopping at a Zappo’s warehouse outlet.
With more than 230 wineries set in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, Thoroughbred country and other picturesque settings, it is easy to understand why Virginia is one of Wine Enthusiast’s “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2012.”
Among the state’s leading wineries is 300-acre Williamsburg Winery, which has produced wine for 25 years and has won Decanter Magazine’s World Wine Awards for the past six.
Its 28-room, European-style hostelry, Wedmore Place Hotel, offers tastings in its cellar and winemaker dinners hosted by founder Patrick Dueffeler and his family. Suits of armor give an appropriate medieval feel to a winery room for 180.
The property is rural and relaxing. “We have woods, 360 degrees of green space, and you can see the sky and stars at night,” Dueffeler said. “There’s no fear of hearing a tractor-trailer go by at 5 a.m.”
Team building typically is tied to wine. In one exercise, teams create a blend from three red wines, decide how to market the result and explain why it has superior taste.
Barboursville Vineyards, near Charlottesville, is the former home of Virginia Gov. James Barbour and a popular destination for executive board retreats.
Northern Italy is its inspiration, from a gourmet Italian restaurant, Palladio, with a 50-seat banquet room overlooking the vineyards to a tasting room with Italian twists. During tours, docents talk about Thomas Jefferson, the state’s first vintner. Former chief sommelier at Barboursville, author and journalist Jason Tesauro, gives wine presentations to groups and leads team building and training retreats that include “the art of blending” sessions.
Virginia’s climate and soil produce wines similar to European varieties.
“For the past 30 years, we’ve been growing our property into a vineyard estate comparable to those in Tuscany,” said Luca Paschina, general manager and winemaker. “It’s not a bare piece of land where someone has put in a few grapes and made a winery. And it’s secluded, away from the crowds.”
A combination of the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards and three cottages makes for a possible nine-room buyout. For larger groups, four nearby bed-and-breakfasts can be added.