>>>‘Kentucky on the rocks’

‘Kentucky on the rocks’

The state that is home to the Derby has been reinvented as a tourist destination, through the Bourbon boom and its distillery trails.
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Patrick works at a hospital in Louisville, but he has his afternoons free. This is why he is at Waterfront Park, on the banks of the Ohio River, to watch the famous steam-boat race, which takes place every year, in May. It is always on the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby, the best-known horse race in the United States. “Tell me something really typical of Kentucky”, I ask, after chatting for a few minutes. He thinks seriously for a moment. Then, he smiles, satisfied. “Drinking,” he replies.
Entrance to Churchill Downs racetrack.

The Legend of Ali

Louisville is not only the capital of the state and of bourbon, it is also the city where Muhammad Ali, the most renowned boxer in history, was born and grew up. In the centre, you can visit an entire museum, named after him, dedicated to the star and his legacy.

“Consider that we have two weeks of celebration for a two-minute race,” he explains.
He is referring to the length of the festivities in the run-up to the Derby. “But more than anything, it’s because we have bourbon,” he adds. That is the key. For more than 200 years, Kentucky has been the state that distils what is officially considered the only “native” liquor of the United States. This is where it was first manufactured, and where they have kept on making it, even when alcohol was prohibited during the 1920s. Nowadays, distillation is at a record high (1.2 million barrels a year), and the state has become a tourist attraction because of its distilleries.
: The Jim Beam tour lasts 90 minutes and costs $12 (free for under 21s).

Two Legendary Minutes

They say that the two minutes that comprise the Kentucky Derby are the most famous in the history of sport. Every year, nearly 200,000 people confirm this, when they attend Churchill Downs race track, in a festive atmosphere involving three days of racing, drinking and exotic hats.

Factories, like the one in Clermont belonging to Jim Beam, the best-known and best-selling bourbon, Makers Mark, Loretto, and Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, receive hundreds of visitors each day. One million in total last year, from 52 different countries. There, they are welcomed by a landscape of green meadows and carefully manicured gardens, with their lawns mowed short. The scene is one of traditional wooden houses, with uniform wooden slats, well-preserved paintwork, gable roofs and porches with rockers. There will always be a smoking chimney, whose aroma tells you they are cooking corn inside, normally the base ingredient for distilling bourbon. If all goes well, after an hour’s visit, the eagerly awaited moment will arrive: the tasting.
95% of global bourbon production takes place in Kentucky.
You sit before four or five glasses, containing the different varieties sold by each brand, and sample the “amber nectar”, as the locals call this variety of American whiskey, much sweeter than what they distil in other parts of the country.
Patrick was right. Drinking really is typical of Kentucky. Especially bourbon. And this has never been more true, with the distillery trail being in its heyday, as a different alternative to the wine route in California. Here, as Jennifer tells us, leading the tour through the Jim Beam facilities, some visitors even get down on their knees at the entrance. But this is not so necessary any more. There are more than 20 distilleries open to visitors, and Prohibition ended nearly a century ago. That must be why Patrick is smiling.

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