Taking a mixology class in the heart of Kentucky bourbon country is a pretty good decision. If anyone knows how to mix a drink, it must be the folks in Bardstown, Ky., the capital of Kentucky bourbon country. Only this mixology class at Kentucky Bourbon House is focused purely on holiday cocktails. Yes, Bardstown leans heavily to the bourbon side of life, but Christmas in Bardstown brings out a whole different taste of one of America’s great small towns.
There is a little vodka and a splash of rum to go with the heavy dose of bourbon in this Bardstown Christmas cocktail.
Christmas in Bardstown is filled with shopping, historic buildings decked out for the season, music, food and those tasty cocktails.
Bardstown is less than an hour south of Louisville, but it’s a different pace on a whole other scale than the biggest city in the state. While there is a laid-back vibe, it’s as smooth as the bourbon that comes neat or on the rocks across this village of about 12,000 people.
Christmas in Bardstown brings out the beautiful side of the community, and it starts in Downtown. The town’s large Christmas tree sits in front of the old courthouse building, and lights and greenery are scattered about. A couple of blocks of shops, restaurants and vintage boutiques has Bardstown busy on an early December Saturday morning.
The fog has just begun to lift on this cold morning, making way for the sun to break through, just in time for Santa to greet children by the tree, a Saturday tradition during the season.
Carolers greet shoppers browsing paintings, pottery, jewelry and photography of several local artists at The Gallery on the Square artists’ co-op.
And across the street at Old Talbott Tavern, diners are walking in the doors for an early lunch at this historic restaurant, inn and bourbon bar that has been open since the late 1700s and has served the likes of President Abraham Lincoln.
Next to the tavern is the town’s old jail, which is open for tours and is now also part of a bed-and-breakfast inn.
There is a lot of history, food and bourbon in Bardstown, but there also seems to be a magic when it’s Christmas in Bardstown.
My Old Kentucky Home is a special place for Kentuckians throughout the year, but during the holidays, the home is decked out for the season. On certain nights throughout the holiday season, visitors can walk the halls of this two-story home and hear stories of its former residents while admiring the majestic Christmas trees in virtually every room of the home.
Federal Hill is a home built between 1795 and 1818. It was the home of Judge John Rowan and became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System in 1936. The house has come to symbolize Kentucky’s hospitality and according to legend inspired Stephen Collins Foster to write his song, “My Old Kentucky Home.”
A day isn’t really enough time for a visit to Bardstown, but it’s plenty for those visitors who are making their way along the Bourbon Trail. Some of the bourbon distilleries are located in and around Bardstown, where nearly 3.5 million barrels of bourbon are stored within an 18-mile radius of its downtown.
A number of restaurants and taverns offer a great selection of Kentucky bourbons; many boasting 100 or more selections.
Back at the Kentucky Bourbon House, visitors can take a variety of mixology classes, or just step in to the quaint bar to sample a variety of bourbons.
Next door at the Harrison-Smith House restaurant, diners can choose from a menu of regional food that changes weekly while sampling from the large selection of bourbons.
And at the Rickhouse Restaurant & Lounge, there are more than 100 bourbons, regional beer and even a wine aged in bourbon barrels to choose from while dining on a macaroni and cheese Kentucky Brown.
The Rickhouse is in the bottom level of Spalding Hall, what is now home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, where visitors can see a massive collection of bottles and history of the bourbon industry.
And next door is the Basilica of Saint Joseph Proto Cathedral, a Catholic parish church that was dedicated in 1819.
When it opened, it was the first diocese of the West, which since has moved to St. Louis. It was the first Catholic cathedral west of the Allegheny Mountains, covering the territory from Chicago south to New Orleans.
There are many things that make the Christmas season in the American South special. While I’m not a shopper, I’ve always appreciated the quaint small towns that still take pride in a downtown filled with storefronts that have Christmas displays in the windows.
Walking the streets of Downtown Bardstown isn’t a distraction from all the bourbon possibilities in the region; in fact, I’d argue it’s part of the magic of Christmas in Bardstown.
A quaint downtown filled with decorated storefronts, regional cuisine at restaurants that seem to take pride in the word local, lights, music, cocktails and plenty of bourbon all seem to work well together to make Christmas in Bardstown a special time.
If there is an opportunity to go to Wickland, find a way to check out this Georgian-style house. Built between 1825 and 1828, Wickland has been the home of three governors. Julia Wickliffe Beckham hosts a Victorian Tea at Wickland in mid-December. She is the only woman in the world to be the mother, sister and daughter of a governor.
Bardstown sits at the center of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and for visitors wanting to taste everything there is along the path, there is more than enough to enjoy. But an extra day or two is warranted in Bardstown, especially if it’s Christmas in Bardstown. The season is alive and well here, from great food and drink, to historic mansions in beautiful lights for the season.
Editor’s Note: I was part of a Kentucky holiday media tour of Louisville, Bardstown and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. As a professional journalist it’s important that you know all opinions stated here are my own and are not paid for by my gracious hosts.