We live in an amazing place called the Midwest. It's full of great places to drink. This is the first in a series of guides for exploring cities through their drinking culture, craft breweries, and craft distilleries.
Last month, we took the whole Cardinal Spirits crew down to Louisville for the day in search of a little R&R — research and relaxation, that is. Turns out, our #birdtrip itinerary was a solid one and we're excited to share it:
The first stop on our way from Bloomington to Louisville: Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyard, where got the full treatment from Ted Huber and his staff.
They are doing things there that most craft distillers can only dream of — growing fruit just a few feet from where they are fermenting and distilling it. They’ve been doing it for a long time too — seven generations of Hubers have farmed that land. It was the perfect kickoff to a day of exploring the craft beverage industry of the Louisville area.
After Huber’s, we drove down through Bardstown to Willett, a larger whiskey distillery with roots that run just as deep as Huber. We took a fairly brief tour of the distillery, where they ferment and distill in the same building.
Willett uses open-top fermenters, which is always a surprise to see, and the facility was spotlessly clean, but didn’t feel sterile.
Afterward, we walked upstairs to the tasting room and sampled several of their whiskeys. I really enjoyed their rye. One thing that confused us was a bottle of 25-year old bourbon they were selling for $300. Their distillery only opened seven years ago, and when I asked where the whiskey was from, the tour guide mumbled something about possibly being from Indiana. For all of the things they do right there, it felt a little strange to see them trying to pull the wool down with that one product. Nevertheless, the whiskeys were absolutely delicious, and they are one of the best medium-sized distilleries in the country. Definitely worth a trip.
Next, we headed into Louisville proper for a tour of the new Copper & Kings brandy distillery. This place is jaw dropping.
Its home is an old industrial building that has been gut renovated and modernized, without losing the character of the original brick and mortar. The place has a monstrous courtyard with a moat (a MOAT) and the gift shop and restrooms are made from shipping containers painted the bright orange of the brand.
The distillery is the first thing you see as you walk inside, with three pot stills from Vendome, a locally produced but internationally known distillery manufacturer.
Copper & Kings produces brandy from grape varietals, and absinthe from its unaged brandy. Many varieties of each. It’s a beast of an operation, and must have cost several million dollars to get started. It's been operational for around a year, but it has lots of older brandy which it obviously didn't distill, and didn't mention where those came from. The only negative to that tour.
Our next stop was the NuLu area, where we had cocktails in the downstairs bar at Decca.
This was definitely a highlight of the trip, as many of our staff are seasoned bartenders, and the menu at Decca is a cocktailer’s dream. Expensive and delicious, with a lot of weird decor. Fun place.
We walked a few doors down to Garage for dinner, where we were greeted with a special tasting menu made just for us.
That’s incredible service, and a memorable surprise for all of us. The food there is fantastic, and I visit almost every time I’m in Louisville. We ate and then stepped into the courtyard to play some ping pong.
At this point in the day, we had been tasting spirits for several hours, so decided we needed to go to another bar. The driver took us over to the Seelbach hotel where we ordered sixteen drinks of the same name.
The Seelbach is a sweetish concoction that was made famous by someone, and Logan, our bar manager, told me all about it but I don't remember anything he said. It’s a decent drink, but a most enjoyable experience. The Seelbach's architecture is fantastic.
We boarded the bus and headed back to Bloomington, full of the best food and drink Louisville has to offer. It’s amazing what you can fit into a single day with a little bit of planning, and someone to drive you around.