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Visiting the Bourbon Trail and Mammoth Caves in Kentucky

When we think of Kentucky, we don’t normally think of lush rolling hills and greenery everywhere, but that’s what we were greeted with when we arrived.  Unfortunately, Aaron got sick while we were here for a couple of days and we cut our trip short to get up to Indiana so we could get to the Chicago Vegan Fest and didn’t get to do a whole lot.  Having stayed there now, we are definitely going to be adding a return trip to our itinerary so that we can do the entire bourbon trail and eat more vegan food!

Where we stayed

We wanted to be pretty close to Mammoth Cave National Park so we elected to stay in Cave City at Singing Hills RV Park.  This put us about 10 minutes away from the National Park and made it convenient to get to the caves.  Check out our in-depth blog detailing the amenities and what we loved about it.

Where we ate

With only a couple of days, we didn’t get to explore many of the vegan options that were available to us. Plus most of them were up in Louisville which was a good hour to an hour and a half away.  We did, however, make it to Dragon King’s Daughter in Louisville which you can read more about what we ordered and what dishes were our favorites.

What we did

Jim Beam Distillery Tour

Aaron is not big on bourbon so we knew that Hayden was going to get much more out of the tasting portion of this, but we were pleasantly surprised by the options at the tasting.  Aaron found that he actually enjoyed the Devils Cut style of Jim Beam and will be looking to pick up a bottle of that at some point in the future.  They even gave us some complimentary engraved shot glasses to take home after the tasting.

The tour itself was very informative and we learned a lot about the history of the company, the process of turning the ingredients into bourbon, what all of the different regulations were as to what could be called bourbon vs whiskey and so much more.  We got to see Mila Kunis’ barrel in the warehouse, saw the whole bottling process, and even had some members of our tour group bottle their own Knob Creek for purchase.

Stitzel-Weller Distillery Tour

We rushed up to this tour and caught the very last one before they closed them down for the day.  Luckily, we were the only ones on the tour and thus had the tour guide all to ourselves!  We covered a lot of the same information that we had just learned about during the Jim Beam tour but also learned some new information.  

The tasting for this was much better than the Jim Beam tour and we learned more about how to properly taste bourbon, what to look for, how to prepare for the tasting, etc… We went through several of the different types including Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit Rye, which Aaron loved, Blade and Bow Bourbon, IW Harper, and were even fortunate enough to try IW Harper 15-year.  Overall, if we had to choose a tour to do again, we would pick this one in a heartbeat.

Because we had the tour guide to ourselves, it was a much more personal tour and we got to talking about what we do here at Vegan Voyagers.  He explained it to his co-workers and we found that the parents of one of his co-workers ran a farm and had some fresh garlic there.  They gave us some of the garlic for free and it was absolutely incredible!

Mammoth Caves Star Chamber Tour

This is what we were really excited to do and looking forward to the most, but unfortunately, it was kind of a bummer overall. It was really cool to see the caves and Aaron got to nearly live out a childhood dream of carrying a torch (lantern) through a cave. There was a lot of neat history, including the writings on the ceiling where people had walked through with torches and used the smoke to write out their names. They looked so fresh but were hundreds of years old. The rest of the tour was more of a history lesson on slavery than any really good information about the caves themselves.  The tour guide is a third or forth generation guide in the caves. It turns out, his great grandfather was a slave who conducted tours and he showed us where he had written his name on the wall of the cave. He didn’t really do a great job of keeping people close enough to hear what he was saying or showing throughout the tour, mostly because there were too many people to wrangle.  He lit up a whole section of the cave for photographs but because we were in the back of the crowd, we actually didn’t even get to see it lit up.  Finally, the entire cave has electricity running through it and has been mostly paved over with blocks creating walkways and while we get the safety issues there, we can’t help but wonder what it has done to the wildlife who used to call the caves home.  The bat populations have dwindled down to almost nothing, which is also a symptom of white nose syndrome which is decimating bat populations all over the world. In the past, there were so many bats in the caves, the walls used to look like they were moving, but now you’re lucky if you see even one or two bats. Very sad… Overall, it was a neat glimpse at the cave, but there must be a lot more to it that we just didn’t get on the tour. 

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