Danville, Kentucky: Making a Name in the Bourbon Business

What makes a great bourbon town?  Is it the rolling hills of a small Kentucky town?  Or could it be the location as it relates to the other distilleries on the Bourbon Trail?  Will any small town in Kentucky that has craft bourbon qualify?  We all know Bardstown, Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world and for good reason.  I believe it holds that honor because of much more than just the bourbon.  Sure, it has lots of great bourbon, but Bardstown is still a great town to visit even after you have seen all the bourbon it has to offer. It’s riddled with decades of history, lots of scenic views, many fantastic restaurants, old stories of western outlaws, and people passing through who helped shape this part of the country to what it is now.  Bardstown owns the Bourbon Capital of the World Trophy by a long shot and no other town in Kentucky really compares.  With that being said, where is the top destination for craft bourbon?  I think the honor could, potentially, belong to Danville, Kentucky.  You may think this is a bit of a stretch, but hear me out before you jump to conclusions.

Danville is located less than an hour south of Lexington.  It’s conveniently located near the Craft Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  You can be in a bustling small downtown city or out in the rolling hills of Kentucky in a matter of minutes.  Danville has been nominated quite a few times as one of the top 10 most beautiful cities in Kentucky.

Many great events find their home in Danville, Kentucky. Two are definitely worth mentioning. The Brass Band Festival brings nearly 40,000 people to the city to enjoy a weekend of food trucks, activities, hot air balloon races, great music, and much more.  This festival is a lot of fun for people of all ages.  The Kentucky State BBQ Festival falls in early autumn and each year it grows larger and larger.  A lot of the country’s best Pit Masters will make their way to Wilderness Trail Distillery, the host, and over 30,000 bourbon and barbecue fans flock to this distillery’s grounds each year for this outstanding event.  Wilderness Trail puts on tours and seminars and released a new product along with the BBQ festival this past year. This is one of my favorite events in Danville.  Walking around the distillery grounds, smelling the distinct smell of a BBQ pit, seeing the large rickhouses in the distance, and drinking some good bourbon from a variety of vendors, makes for a fantastic evening, one that I most certainly will be repeating each year for as long as they put it on.

Danville, Kentucky boasts quite a lot of history to go along with its small-town charm. “The Birthplace of the Bluegrass” is its nickname for a reason.  The first courthouse in Kentucky was founded in Danville, mainly because it was the first capital of Kentucky.  Furthermore, the first constitution for Kentucky was signed there.  Constitution Square Historic Site is the location of many of these meetings that ultimately led to Kentucky separating itself from Virginia.  Kentucky’s first post office is still standing on this site and many replicas of the original buildings are up for display in downtown Danville.

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What would a small town be without great food?  Danville possesses some unique restaurants and bakeries not found in other small towns.  One restaurant worth noting is the Bluegrass Pizza and Pub.  They serve authentic and very tasty brick oven style pizza and it also doesn’t hurt that they have a good craft beer menu.  Brick oven style pizza is my absolute favorite style of pizza and another plus is that all their products are locally sourced.  This place is a must visit, located conveniently on the downtown strip.  The Hub Coffee Shop is a staple for Centre College students and anyone wanting a good local coffee bistro.  Melton’s Deli is a family run deli and is beloved by the city of Danville and located downtown like a lot of these fantastic restaurants.  Finally, is Burke’s Bakery and Delicatessens.  This bakery is about as small town as you can get.  They only take cash as payment, but that’s half the charm.  They offer desserts, cakes, donuts, and other sweets all from a made from scratch kitchen.  It reminds me of food my grandmother would make.  Every birthday cake I had until I was about 20 years old came from there.  This place is exactly what small town America is about.

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If a brewery or bar is more your style, then Danville has you covered.  Beer Engine is Kentucky’s smallest brewery and beer bar.  However, they have plenty of unique beers to choose from, and some are even made on site.  This pub/brewery has been dubbed the “cheers” of Danville.  Where everybody knows your name.   I have been there on several occasions and enjoy my experience every time I visit.  Oh, and the beer is really good!  If a bourbon bar is more your style, then Jane Barleycorn’s Market & Bar is your place.  Their nationally ranked bourbon selection is the best in the area. There’s also an exceptional craft beer menu and they always provide a great atmosphere.  In addition, they are not just known for their liquor, their food is more than just pub fare.  It’s upscale pub food and never seems to disappoint.  All these locations showcase how a small town can give you some bigtime food and drink spots.

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At this point you’re probably wondering how all this could possibly make Danville, Kentucky the capitol of craft bourbon. Well, Danville, Kentucky really does hold some very fine bourbon.  Wilderness Trail Distillery started production of whiskey about 5 years ago and hasn’t looked back.  Their location is extremely unique for many reasons, mainly because it is located on an industrial park without the feel of one.  Given this unique location they have lots of room to expand and build even more rickhouses.  Even though they are relatively new, it has been said they are the 14th largest distillery in the United States by production.  You heard me right. They are only 5 years old and already growing so quickly.  Their bourbon is exactly what personifies craft bourbon.  They aren’t skipping steps. They are making a very good product.  Shane Baker, the Master Distiller, told me that he feels like they are craft bourbon because he is involved in every aspect of the whiskey production.  He finds the suppliers, talks with farmers, created the mash bill, monitors fermentation, and helps wherever he is needed in the distillery.  Again, you get a small town feel with a big product.  IJW Whiskey Company is building near Wilderness Trail where they will mostly house custom barrels for their customers.  It seems as if they will start whiskey production in the future, but that hasn’t begun yet.  Luca Mariano Distillery is new to town, but I expect big things from them.  They are restoring an old historic home, cabins will be onsite for overnight stays, and there will also be a restaurant, in case you become a little hungry with all the bourbon you consume.  This will be a unique addition, and I can’t wait until they are fully operational.  There is a bourbonless distillery called AMBRAbev in operation now and they make a Brazilian product called Cachaca.  This product will not be distilled in the facility, but will be imported from Brazil then bottled there.  Cachaca can only be made in Brazil, a lot like bourbon can only be made in the United States. However, they will distill other products on site as well as house barrels for aging their products.  Even though this is not bourbon, it shows you the confidence companies have on the city of Danville to be able to support their distillery.

When you look at these factors alone it gives a great argument why Danville, Kentucky should be a top craft bourbon destination for years to come.  Danville is growing every year in their presence in the distillation community, and I don’t see it slowing down. Danville has yet to reach their celling and from the looks of trends, they will be an even bigger destination spot for bourbon lovers in the future, perhaps a lot like how Bardstown is now. Seeing what has happened in the last ten years, I’m so excited to sit down in another 10 years and write about how big bourbon is in Danville. Next time you hear Danville mentioned with the likes of Bardstown and Louisville, remember you heard it here first.

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Jordan GrigsbyComment