It’s no secret that drinkers around the world have recently developed a real thirst for American whiskey, and as a result, the number of people exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has shot up. However, the region knows not only how to make liquor but also how to enjoy it. Louisville now boasts a thriving bar scene and many talented bartenders.
If you’re attending next month’s Kentucky Bourbon Festival (or visiting some other time), we got local authority Bernie Lubbers, who is Heaven Hill’s whiskey ambassador, author of Bourbon Whiskey: Our Native Spirit and host of Whiskeyprof.com, to share his favorite watering holes. Safe travels!
The Back Door, 1250 Bardstown Road, 502 451 0659:
“I’ve been coming here for 27 years, and it’s my favorite li’l neighborhood bar,” Lubbers says. “Generous pours, great bar food, six pool tables and a staff where the ‘new guy’ has been there for 10 years!”
What to Drink: J.W. Dant Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Blu Italian Grille, 280 West Jefferson Street, 502 671 4285:
Only in Louisville could an Italian restaurant in a Marriott Hotel have a ridiculously impressive selection of bourbon.(It even offers a flight of Pappy Van Winkle 15-, 20- and 23-year-old for $69.) And every Thursday at 9 PM, you can catch Hickory Vaught and Friends’ entertaining Bourbon & Bluegrass show. “There’s no better pairing in my book than bourbon and bluegrass music,” Lubbers says.
What to Drink: Pappy Van Winkle’s Bourbon Flight
Bourbons Bistro, 2255 Frankfort Avenue, 502 894 8838:
With the name Bourbons Bistro, you better know your liquor, and this spot certainly does. “The staff is knowledgeable,” Lubbers says. “The owners, Jason Brauner and John Morrison, are very passionate and always have some old whiskey or interesting expressions that they are willing to share with you.” That’s not to mention the more than 130 bourbons that they regularly stock.
What to Drink: Old Charter 10-Year-Old Bourbon from the 1970s
The Haymarket Whiskey Bar, naturally, offers more than 50 whiskies from around the world as well as more than 50 different bottled beers (plus seven on tap). Lubbers and his buddies Hickory Vaught and Chris Douglas also perform a spirited show there called The History of Bourbon Whiskey as Told Through Bluegrass Music. Catch it next time you’re in town.
What to Drink: Pint of beer and a shot of whiskey
You’re guaranteed a good drink at Sidebar, since Lubbers trained the staff himself. “So test them on their bourbon knowledge,” he says. In addition to the fine whiskies, cocktails and brews, the establishment serves “one of the best, if not the best, burger in town.” The patty is made from a proprietary house blend of Certified Angus Beef cuts.
What to Drink: Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned (Old Forester Signature Bourbon, Demerara syrup, Angostura Bitters, The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters)
The Silver Dollar, 1761 Frankfort Avenue, 502 259 9540:
If you’re looking for a delicious tipple, head to The Silver Dollar, which is co-owned by all-star bartender Larry Rice. Lubbers is quick to point out it also has “the largest selection of bottled-in-bond whiskey in the area.” Even better, “most every night, they feature a different bottled-in-bond whiskey for $3!”
What to Drink: The Gold Rush (Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, honey syrup, lemon juice)
Volare, 2300 Frankfort Avenue, 502 894 4446:
After a day touring distilleries, relax and have a meal at Volare. “Great bourbon selection and awesome Italian cuisine,” Lubbers says. And bar manager and mixologist Isaac Fox (pictured above) “makes the best Larceny cocktail I’ve had!”
What to Drink: Il Piazzano (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Contratto Vermouth Bianco, Campari)