It’s been a minute, so I guess it’s time for me to finally recap our weekend in Kentucky for the Bourbon Country Burn. For those that may have forgotten, or who joined us during this past summer season, last year two members of our team got married in October; Megan and Jeff Boos. At around the same time, I learned from Derek Nelson (member of Team Good Beer and a good friend) about this ride in Kentucky that combines cycling with bourbon tasting, which I thought sounded awesome. Several of us on Team Bad Decisions discussed it and chipped in together to give Megan and Jeff their registration into the Bourbon Country Burn as a wedding gift. From the moment they said, “I do,” we knew this trip was on.
So who went? Well, obviously Megan and Jeff were there, but also Craig Miller and myself. We also met up with Derek and Cori Nelson while down there who road with Team Good Beer. Mark Scrivner and Dan Cunningham from the Velo Garage Thirsty Thursday Ride were also there (psst.. Mark had a pretty nasty fall on day 2. Ask him about it. Crazy ass hill that we all descended and he blew a tire).
Megan, Jeff, Craig and I got up SUPER early on a Thursday morning, and car pooled out the Lawrence KS to pick up the RV we rented for this trip. The way this ride worked was, there was a base camp setup at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground in Lexington Kentucky. Each day, you’d set out from there, and then return back to the main base campsite every night. An RV was perfect because they had dedicated RV spaces that we could plug into for electric and water. I’m now a convert. RV camping is awesome. Not that I’ll never primitive tent camp again, but man is RV camping easier. Anyway, we picked up our RV in Lawrence. That took a little longer than we’d expected, but it’s probably good that everyone got the tour of the RV and learned all of its functions. The one we got was pretty damn similar to the RV took to RAGBRAI.
We hit the road! Then drove that road… then drove it some more, then drove some more. If you’re unaware, it’s a pretty long trip to Lexington, plus there’s a timezone change. So despite the fact that we left our houses at 5:30 am, we didn’t get to Lexington until around 9:30 pm eastern time. Also, when we got there we guessed, that we may have hit a skunk somewhere along the way cause… Wooo…! Luckily the smell only lingered for a couple hours. We parked, setup camp, had a beer or 2, and then finally went to bed to get ready for the next day.
We awoke in our awesome RV. We got ready and discussed what we wanted to do. The organizers of this ride offered riders options every day. There always was a Short, Medium, and Long route, and on a couple days, they added a couple more routes in. On Friday and Saturday, there was a casual route that was only 22 miles long. Saturday, there was also an optional Century route. We’ll get to Saturday in due time though. Each route had slight differences in what distilleries you’d ride by. On Friday, the Long route offered 2 distilleries, whereas the medium and short route didn’t offer any. However! The casual route offered 2 in downtown Lexington. Since it was our first day, we didn’t feel like putting in 70+ mile and 4500+ feet of climb, and we were giving high value to seeing distilleries, we decided to start with the Casual route. This route was an out and back route on a dedicated bike path from the Horse Park into downtown Lexington. About 11 miles each way. The trail was in fantastic shape. At first as we were riding though, we were thinking we might be the only people that decided to take the casual route that day, because we didn’t see ANYBODY. Turns out though, we were just late starters. As we road on, we eventually started catching up to other Bourbon Burn riders who had made a similar choice. There we started the usual chat and banter that accompanies such events. This is where we first learned about a plan that we would put into action on Saturday! Eventually we stopped at our first Distillery. It was about 10:00am Kentucky time if your keeping score. Bluegrass Distillery. This is a local distillery that you’re not going to be able to find in many places outside of the Lexington area. They had 3 or 4 whiskey’s for us to try right away (free). The ones I remember are an apple cider based whiskey, their small batch barrel strength bourbon, and their Rye whiskey. As you progressed down their sampler, the proof of their liquor went up. Very nice <wink wink>. It was here that I bought my first bottle. If you bought a bottle of their small batch reserved bourbon, you got to fill and label the bottle yourself straight from the oak barrel. So of coarse I did that! The organizers of the ride were also smart in that they organized a Sherpa service. Any bottles you bought at the sponsored distilleries, could be left there, collected, and would be delivered to the base camp for you. No need to ride with several bottles of whiskey on your bike!
From Bluegrass we hopped back onto our bikes and headed deeper into downtown and quickly got to a company that was both brewery and distillery: Lexington Brew Co and Town Branch Distillery. When we got there, we’d just missed our opportunity to join a group for the full tour, which would have included the brewery and the distillery, but were told that if we waited a few we could join for the distillery half. Otherwise we’d have to wait over an hour to take the full tour. So we sat back and had a beer as we waited. Then we joined the group for the distillery tour. Interesting that this place uses the same wart that they use for their beer to distill down for their whiskey as well. they had pipes running from the brewery to the distillery to transport the wart. Town Branch had a pretty nice setup and we learned several things about the distilling… and the tasting process. That warm burn you get down your throat and chest when you drink whiskey? They call that the “Kentucky Hug!” We like that. Our tasting guide also taught us about the “Kentucky Chew,” which is a way to taste/drink Ryes and other hot, high ABV whiskeys without having an overpowering/uncomfortable Kentucky Hug. Ask me and I’ll show you some time. It’s pretty cool. Town Branch had several whiskeys to try, along with a Rum, a Gin, and something of their own creation called the Sundown. It’s Bourbon mixed with coffee, brown sugar, and a few other things. When mixed with hot water and heavy cream, it makes a delicious desert drink. I may have gotten a bottle 🙂 actually, I bought three different bottles from that place.
After that, as we road our way back across Lexington, we came upon a restaurant called the Country Club smoke house. It was lunch time, so we figured we’d stop for a bite. They had smoked chicken wings that offered an option of sauced or dry rubbed. I figured I’d take it easy on myself, go the less spicy route and take the dry rubbed. I was wrong! I don’t know their exact dry rub recipe, but it sure as hell wasn’t the lesser option. Those suckers had some heat. Full on sinus opening, sweating, coughing heat. They were good though. I was just unprepared.
We got back to base camp eventually and got cleaned up and ready for the evening. At base camp that night, they had a full catered pasta meal. Not the greatest pasta, but pretty good for catering to about 1000 people. After that, the bourbon tastings and music began. They had several good bluegrass bands play which were fun just to have going in the back ground as we made our way to several bourbon companies tasting tents. We each got a punch card for each evening that entitled us to four, 1/2 oz. tastings and 1 beer. At first I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to taste everything, and that it wouldn’t be enough. I was wrong. 1. None of the tasting tents were only pouring 1/2 oz pours. They were all full 1 oz. shots. So you got a good portion. 2, thanks to us being to nice and friendly, talking to other riders, making friends along the way, several people kept giving us their unused punch cards. By the end of the evening, we’d all been able to try every liquor that was there to be tasted, had had a couple beers, and had extra beers that we were able to take back to the RV and put in our fridge. We had a good time :).
So, I mentioned that someone gave us a great idea about how to go about Saturdays routes. There were 3 options that offered the possibility of stopping by distilleries. The Medium and Long routes had 1 potential distillery stop; Woodford Rerserve. The Century had 2 with an optional un-sponsored 3rd; Woodford, Four Roses, and Wild Turkey was along the way, but there would be no SAG or Sherpa service there. The Medium Long, and Century all passed through the town of Versailles Kentucky on the way to the Distilleries and then came back through on the way back. What was recommended was to load up your car, drive to Versailles, ride the Century route from there to all the distilleries, and then call it a day when you got back to Versailles. This sounded like a fantastic way to approach the day. We had to do it with an RV and not a car, but we made it work. We disconnected from the shore, loaded up and drove out to Versailles first thing in the morning. There we parked in a Kroger parking lot and hit the road. The back country roads the route took us on where absolutely gorgeous. Amazing horse farms at first, and then we started getting into the Kentucky River Valley area where the rollers began to get a little steeper and more frequent, but the scenery was amazing. It was a cool morning, and our legs were fresh. It was a fantastic start to the day. We were also well ahead of the rest of the riders, but as you can expect, that didn’t last long. We were stopped on the side of the road to take pics of an amazing barn, when the first pace line of riders out doing the full century road past. I’m sure they were asking themselves, “how did these jokers get out here before us?” Then there was a woosh as they road past and were gone. We got back on our bikes and road on. At about mile 9-10 we reached Woodford Reserve. We stopped at the SAG Stop to replenish our water bottles and have some snacks, then we went up into the WR visitors center. There we signed up for one of their tastings, visit the gift shop, and generally looked around for a bit. It’s a really nice/classy place. Well done. At the tasting, we got to try their Straight Bourbon, their double oaked bourbon (bourbon that goes through a second aging in a heavier charred oak barrel), and their Rye. We got to teach several of other riders and guest about how to do the Kentucky chew. Megan was later stopped by some of the other ladies in the tasting and thanked. After the tasting, I purchased the a bottle of Woodford Reserve Rye with “Team Bad Decisions 2019!” etched into the glass bottle. Super cool. Looking forward to sharing it with you all.
One of the things that amazed me while we were there, was the number of cyclist that didn’t stop! Or, only stopped for a quick SAG break and road right through. These are the century riders of coarse. Here we’ve got a route, specifically designed to take you to these awesome venues, and they ride right though. I’ve mentioned to several of you that I’ve learned to love the motto, “smiles over miles” when it comes to cycling. I must not forget that there are still those that feel “smiles come from miles.” Different philosophies I guess, but I definitely like mine better. Less misery in-between.
So we took off again from W.R. and got back at it. This is were the hills began to really show up. My new Garmin (thanks Derek) has a hill profile feature that will show you the hill, how many feet of ascent are left, and how many miles of road are left as you go about your climb. It also color codes the hill by gradiant so that you can see how difficult the climb is going to be. You know you’re in for it when that pops up, you see 450 ft of climb over the next 1.25 miles and most of the profile is either Red or Darker Red. Wow… Some of the harder climbs I’ve ever done, I did on this day. There were several of them. After a few descents into and climbs back out of the Kentucky River valley, we gather up as a group and took stock of what was ahead. If we attempted to stick to the Century Loop, there was going to be about 2000 ft of climbing that we’d have to do to get to Four Roses and Wild Turkey over about a 15 mile out and back strech. Did we think we’d survive that, or should we cut those distilleries out and stick to an altered route that was part of the century, but lacked those 15 miles? It probably was doable, but I’m pretty glad we didn’t. I think we’d have been miserable.
There was one problem with the altered route we took though. We failed to see that we were also cutting out a few SAG stops with our altered route. We ended up having to stop in a nice lady’s yard at the top of one of the many climbs and ask if we could refill our water bottles, as we were bone dry. Luckily…. she’d just purchased a new water faucet for her kitchen and was happy to show it off! We all thought it was a very nice faucet and thanked her kindly. She also gave us a few hints on other places coming up we could stop if needed. Eventually we made our way back to Versailles. There we found a restaurant, Ricardo’s Grill and Pub, that was offering a special to riders on the Bourbon Burn. We had some fried pickles, fried banana peppers, some amazing burgers, and a few cold beers to finish off our ride. We then trekked back to our RV, loaded up, and drove back to base camp.
That night at base camp, they had brought in several food truck vendors for our evening meal. For those that got their food early, it was fantastic. Those that waited until later in the evening ran into problems with the food trucks running out of food. We were in the middle. What we really wanted was gone, or had incredibly long lines for, but we were able to get some papa John’s pizza. Not the best, but hey.. we didn’t care. We needed carbs. Once again there were several great bourbons available for us to taste that night and more bluegrass music to listen too. One of Jeff’s old friends who now lives in the Cincinnati area was able to drive down to Lexington and join us for the evening at base camp. Once again people were handing us their unused punch cards, because we look like friendly people who like bourbon, and the pours were still full 1 oz. pours, so there was more than enough bourbon and beer to go around. After the tasting we all hung out, outside the RV on our lawn chairs, talking, listening to baseball, and having a fine end to our evening.
Sunday morning we got up, a little soar from the day before, and hit the road for the Medium route, which was a 48 mile route that took us to 1 distillery: Hartfield & Co in Paris Kentucky. This morning’s route took us through some beautiful rolling farmland along horse farms. We even came upon one where the horses had all come to the fence line to see what was going on, so of coarse we stopped for pictures. Paris was about 20 miles into the route and was our second SAG stop of the day. While at Hartfield and Co, we got to taste several of their liquors. They had rums, tequilas, bourbons, and interestingly an Oktoberfest whiskey that started from a Wart that a local brewery used for their Oktoberfest beer. They just distilled it down to a whiskey that was pretty interesting. I picked up a bottle of their bourbon though cause… well that’s what I was there for.
After that stop, we started heading south into a bit of a head wind. It added a decent amount of difficulty and I pulled away from the rest of the group, which was good because they weren’t around to see me pull into the final SAG stop. It was in the parking lot of a little country store/restaurant at the corner of two county highways called the Windy Corner Market. They’d just put down a new layer of gravel on the parking lot, and I wasn’t paying attention as I pulled in and turned a bit too hard. My front wheel dug into the gravel, slid out, and down I went. Came out relatively unscathed though. I was pretty dusty, and sprained my wrist a little bit, but I’ll take it cause it could have gone a lot worse. It was then that I discovered that the crash detection feature on my Garmin does indeed work! It was trying to text Megan and Jeff to let them know I’d fallen. Now the blue tooth connection with my iphone had somehow gotten disconnected, so it couldn’t send the text, but it was cool to know that it was trying and that it did accurately detect the crash. So I hung out and waited a good while for Megan, Jeff, and Craig to show up, which was good cause I needed to get cleaned up some. When the group finally caught up, we went into the Market and all had some fantastic Po-boy sandwiches, which was their specialty.
For the rest of the ride, I made a good push to finish out as strong as i could, which with the wind, and my slightly sprained wrist was harder than expected. Still, I feel I finished strong. We got back, had a couple celebratory beers, and then got cleaned up.
That evening, we decided to Uber to downtown Lexington and see what they had to offer. Our first choice for a restaurant was pretty booked, so we had to wonder around some, but found another place that was more of a latin american place and advertised, “The best Margaritas in Lexington.” Well.. Let’s find out. Yep! Pretty good. Honestly it was nice to get a bit of a break from all the bourbon. The margaritas and other various beach style drinks were a nice change of pace. Craig had one made with beat juice, which I think he’s insane for getting, but oh well. We had some terrific tacos, tamales, guac, chirizo enhanced queso dip, and some empanadas. The food was amazing and we were all in good spirits. On the Uber back to the camp site, we had a bit of an adventure trying to get our driver to stop so that we could pick up a bag of ice for our coolers and for cocktails back at the campsite, but a phone call to one of Craig’s friends who speaks fluent Spanish was able to ensure that we got what we needed.
That night, we prepped our campsite and RV for an early departure, then we toasted to our weekend with some tasty old fashioneds, chit chatted for a bit, and then hit the hay for an EARLY (5:00 am) departure the next day to drive back to KC.
Now some of you from the RAGBRAI trip may be thinking, those jerks got through the trip without any problem with their RV! Don’t speak too soon. for the most part, it was uneventful. We popped the breaker to the AC at one point and had to figure out why the AC wasn’t working, and we discovered a couple points of per-existing damage to the RV while we were on the road, but for the most part, yeah… It went really well. UNTIL……
We made it all the way back to the KC area and decided that instead of taking the RV out to Lawrence, unloading it, reloading our vehicles that we left there, and driving back to KC to unload again, that we would just unload and clean in KC before returning the RV. As we pulled up to Jeff and Megan’s house in Waldo, we clipped a tree along the side of the road. The damage was minor. The awning caught the trunk of the tree and tore a little. We were able to push and lean the RV away from the tree so that we could drive the RV away without any more damage, but about an 8″ tear remained in the awning fabric. Ugh… So we’re waiting to hear what that’s going to cost us. We just can’t win when we rent RVs, but that’s part of the game I guess. I’m pretty sure the security deposit will cover this one too. Man…
Anyway! It was a fantastic trip. That ride is super well organized. Which is really amazing considering that this is only it’s third year. Everything about it; the registration, the camp setup, food, tastings, route, SAG Stops, Swag, Sherpa service, and information; was well run. You can tell that the organizers have participated in quite a few rides and knew what they wanted when the started. They say that they don’t intent to grow the Kentucky Bourbon Country Burn any more. They’ve reached the size they want and don’t want it any bigger. Which is cool. It’s a fun vibe and I could see that if it got much bigger, there would be a whole new mess of problems to address and it couldn’t be run quite as tight as it is now. For now, it’s a premium event for people who love cycling, love Bourbon, and don’t mind it’s premium nature. They did, however, say that they were considering creating a different ride to do something similar, but this time in Tennessee. Get your Tennessee Whiskey face on! Their level of organization does inspire me and make me think that we could pull something similarly well organized. Maybe not something quite so big, but I think it’d be cool if TBD setup it’s own regularly scheduled biking event. Some may have heard me mention another ride that we learned about that’s got a fun twist: The Tour de Donut in Troy Ohio. We may try to organize something similar. Stay Tuned!