BLUEGRASS AND BOURBON
Get on track for the best of Kentucky
Think Kentucky is only about horse racing? With endless rolling pastures full of thoroughbreds and yearlings, it might seem so, but there’s much more to do and see in the bluegrass state.
While Louisville (pronounced Louuh-vull), Kentucky’s largest city and gateway to the South, is home to the Kentucky Derby, this city on the Ohio River has many other attractions. And so does nearby Lexington and surrounds. Here’s why you need to go.
VISIT MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER
He was the greatest, and not just for his sporting prowess in the boxing ring. Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016, was also an artist, a civil rights activist and celebrated humanitarian.
Set aside a few of hours to wander through Muhammad Ali Center, dedicated to the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. The interactive displays and welcome video contextualise his life, from when he got his start in boxing at age 12 after his new bicycle was stolen and the police officer he asked to help find his bike encouraged him to start boxing; to refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War.
Yes, there’s a speed bag to punch and you can shadow box with Ali, but what stands out is a truly inspirational man and mentor to many.
GO ON THE BOURBON TRAIL
Anyone from the bluegrass state will tell you that warm feeling when you take a sip of bourbon is called a “Kentucky hug”. There’s never been a better time to visit the distilleries of the state, as bourbon, after decades of being passé, is hip again; it’s the new gin. Due to the revival of craft cocktails, bourbon tastings are as big as they were in the days of Prohibition.
There’s an abundance of distilleries to visit beyond Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. In Lexington, head to the distillery district where you can take a tour, sample sour mash and then feast on pizza or ice cream. Drop into Barrel House where ginger pussycats roam the premises to keep rats at bay from the oak barrels as the bourbon ages.
Bourbon tour buses make a beeline for the rolling hills of Versailles, about a 20-minute drive from Lexington and an hour from Louisville, to visit the renowned Woodford Reserve distillery. Walk among barrels where the bourbon is aged for about 7.4 years. Russell Crowe loved it so much, he forked out $10,000 to have his own barrel here. This is the state’s only facility making bourbon with the original Scottish “pot still” method.
Most impressive though is the new Castle and Key distillery in Frankfort, 20 minutes away. Chemical engineer and distiller Marianne Barnes is ageing bourbon in this magnificent building, a huge castle built in 1887. The first batch is yet to be released but you can tour the incredible grounds.
LEXINGTONDISTILLERYDISTRICT.COM, CASTLEANDKEY.COM, WOODFORDRESERVE.COM
SEE THOROUGHBRED HISTORY
Even if you’re not there for the derby, it’s worth a trip to the hallowed turf at Churchill Downs to visit Kentucky Derby Museum. Learn about the “run for the roses”, the longest continuous sporting event in US history. View the derby wreaths, a horseshoe-shaped mantle of roses that is placed around the neck of the winning horse.
There’s a greenhouse where the roses bloom. You can also do the “backside” tour of Churchill Downs and meet some of the thoroughbreds.
Ask to go upstairs to the clubhouse level to see the 10,000-piece glass replica of Churchill Downs by artist Craig Colquhoun. His inspiration? He met Princess Diana as a child, who urged him to follow his dreams.
Then take a guided walking tour at the Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, an hour away, where ex-racehorses live out their lives in green pastures.
CHURCHILLDOWNS.COM; DERBYMUSEUM.ORG; OLDFRIENDSEQUINE.ORG
EAT A HOT BROWN
This concoction – Louisville’s most famous dish – is a staple at the historic Brown Hotel. The open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon is heavy on the cheese and cream mornay sauce. The dish was invented in the 1920s when, after hours of dancing in the ballroom and sipping on smooth bourbon, guests hankered for a late-night snack. Chef Fred Schmidt wanted to serve them something more glamorous than ham and eggs.
The wood-panelled grand Brown Hotel is worth a visit just to see the perfectly preserved Georgian-Revival architecture. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
GET ON BOARD THE ARK PARK
This giant Noah’s ark Christian evangelical theme park is certainly a spectacle. It’s worth seeing for the kitsch-factor alone. As tall as a sevenstorey building, and 155m long, the wooden ark houses an animatronic Noah and pairs of lifelike creatures including bears, giraffes and juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex.
This $US100 million dream of former Brisbane teacher Ken Ham opened in 2016. Ham is a “young Earth creationist” who believes humans once lived alongside dinosaurs, and the six-day creation accounts in the book of Genesis are true.
The theme park is in Williamstown, population 4000, 50-minutes’ drive from Lexington. Ken Ham is also behind the Creation Museum in Kentucky, a 45-minute drive away.
THAT WARM FEELING WHEN YOU TAKE A SIP OF BOURBON IS CALLED A ‘KENTUCKY HUG’
Visit the hallowed turf at Churchill Downs; set aside a few hours at the interactive Muhammad Ali Center; walk among the barrels at Woodford Reserve distillery.
MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER