American Whiskey: Touring Kentucky's Bourbon Country
ebruary 1998
While Drivin' To A Park One Day...

We really weren't looking to discover any bourbon distilleries, dont'cha know. This all started out as a simple trip to

Mammoth Cave National Park
Cave City, Kentucky


The first installment of what we now expect to be several tours of the Kentucky bourbon country began as a last-minute side trip. We had originally planned a weekend getaway to visit Mammoth Cave National Park. The cave is only about a 3½ hour drive from our home in West Chester, Ohio, and we thought it would make a nice long-weekend trip despite the fact that we've already seen just about as much cave scenery as we ever want to (see Lost River Caverns in Pennsylvania and Luray Caverns in Virginia for examples). For a look at some of the wonders of Mammoth Cave, check out Vadim Aristov's fine collection of photos. Entrance to Mammoth Cave

So, as we were planning this trip (such as it was; not really a whole lot of planning involved) I thought that including a tour of a bourbon distillery might be nice as a sort of sidelight on the way home. Even though she is not a bourbon drinker, Linda was reading some of the brochures we picked up at the Kentucky Tourist Info Center and she also thought it would be a lot of fun.

Note: If you've been in the habit of ignoring the Tourist Information Center ("Ooh, yech! How commercial!), usually located at the first rest stop encountered on an Interstate highway as you enter a new state, break that habit now!! You have been cheating yourself out of lots of great ideas that might never have entered your mind (not to mention discount coupons to just about everything). In our travels, some of our favorite discoveries have been places, lying only a short distance outside our route, that we would never have thought to visit until we noticed their brochure at the Tourist Info Center. Plus, we nearly always save more on the available lodging coupons than our other various discount plans provide (and find better locations, too). That's how we discovered one of the only two motels in the area that offered rooms equipped with a Jacuzzi. Now, most people think of such rooms only as romantic honeymoon or special-occasion suites, but let me tell you, a Jacuzzi is just about the greatest feature you can imagine when you come back from a hike through a cave!The Sahara Steakhouse - Cave City, KY

We arrived at Mammoth Cave only to find that the tours were sold out for the remainder of the day. We bought tickets for the earliest tour tomorrow morning and spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around outside the cave and even a little way inside through the old "historic" entrance (no longer used due to environmental concerns). We went back to the motel, stopping for dinner at a local steakhouse, and enjoyed the Jacuzzi. Oh yes, and they can also be very romantic, as well.

We awoke the next morning much earlier than the time for the cave tour, and began to question whether we really wanted to go. The pamphlet from the Maker's Mark distillery especially attracted Linda's interest. We talked about seeing that one and also the larger Jim Beam distillery. The motel offers a nice continental breakfast in the lobby, and as we were enjoying it, we overheard another guest talking to the manager about cave tour reservations. I offered to sell him our tickets and he accepted, and our trip suddenly became a bourbon country tour with a cave as the sidelight! Serendipity strikes again.

Lincoln's boyhood home at Knob Creek FarmSo we headed back north taking, not the faster I-65 freeway, but the more rural and leisurely US-31W route that winds its way up through central Kentucky towards the historic site of Abraham Lincoln's birthplace near Hodgenville and the farm at Knob Creek, where he spent his early childhood (from two until he was seven). There we looked at a small cabin, reconstructed in the 1930s by the son of Austin Gollaher, where Lincoln later said he recalled his earliest childhood memories. Gollaher, who was 90 years old when he died in 1898, had been Abraham Lincoln's closest childhood friend and is credited with having saved seven-year-old Abe's life during a flood. Although the Lincoln family moved from Knob Creek shortly after, and Lincoln changed both his residence and his career path several times, he and Gollaher maintained their friendship into adulthood and Austin's son had known Lincoln (as a friend of his father's). He was quite familiar with the original cabin, which had been used for years as a corn crib before being torn down. When he rebuilt the cabin, with logs that had been part of his own family's home, he had the logs cut to the exact dimensions of the original Lincoln cabin. There is also a reconstructed cabin at Lincoln's actual birthsite, about ten miles south of here, but it is only a simulation of what the cabin probably appeared like, as there are no records of the original cabin. We didn't visit that site.

As we were leaving, Linda remarked how fitting it was for us to be visiting here today, as this just happens to be Presidents' Day.

And the Kentucky sun shone bright as we headed up the back roads toward

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Story and original photography copyright ©1998 by John F. Lipman. All rights reserved.