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Kentucky’s Year of Food: Old-Fashioned Spirits

North-central Kentucky’s Bourbon, Horses and History region is home to the state’s most celebrated annual event, the Kentucky Derby — one of three national horse races that make up the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Often called the most exciting two minutes in sports, this prestigious race takes place at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city. In addition to its unique sports history, the Derby City encompasses a wonderful range of world-class museums, beautiful parks and waterfront attractions on the Ohio River.

Signature Flavors: Before “cocktail” became an umbrella term for any mixed drink, it referred to a drink prepared the “old-fashioned way” with spirits, bitters and sugar. During the 1800s, a gentleman’s club in Louisville began featuring the Old Fashioned as a bourbon whiskey concoction garnished with a citrus rind, making it history’s first official cocktail.

Bread pudding, or bourbon biscuit pudding, started as a way for early settlers to use up leftover biscuits; they mixed the biscuits with eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter and bourbon to create a sweet side dish.

Nothing says Southern comfort food quite like a heaping Hot Brown sandwich. First served in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, the Hot Brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with a generous portion of Mornay sauce, tomato and bacon.

Great Group Restaurants: The Brown Hotel continues to serve its signature Hot Brown sandwich in the J Graham’s Café and the elegant English Grill. Consistently rated one of Kentucky’s finest restaurants, Jack Fry’s features upscale Southern fare such as shrimp and grits, veal tenderloin, pan-seared snapper and spicy fried oysters. A few other eateries worth checking out are Proof on Main, Harvest Restaurant and Lilly’s Bistro.   

Must-See Attractions: In addition to visiting the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, groups can stop by several impressive museums in the area, such as the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Frazier History Museum and the 21c Museum Hotel. Louisville also marks the beginning of Kentucky’s renowned Bourbon Trail, where groups can tour the facilities of prominent bourbon brands like Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark. Just an hour from Louisville in Hodgenville, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park commemorates the life of one of the nation’s most influential leaders with a beautiful memorial building and a replica log cabin.