Derby week brings in a lot of out-of-state visitors. Here’s how to entertain and impress—even if you know nothing about horses, bourbon, or burgoo.
I’ve lived in the commonwealth for over the past half a century. Although not technically a native, I thought I knew enough about everything within our borders to qualify as an honorary Kentucky Colonel. Unfortunately, a first-time visit to the bluegrass state by my dear cousin, Linda, exposed me as a counterfeit fraud.
The truth is, I didn’t know nearly enough about the Kentucky I claim to love. When I tried to come up with a list of things that truly defined my home state, all I could muster was a weak and pathetic “we’re usually good at basketball.” I realized right then that to be a true Kentucky ambassador, I needed to repent and recommit.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s not too late for you to learn. Here are five easy steps to capturing visitor hearts.
Shower them with gifts immediately upon arrival
Making Linda feel welcome started me back on the road to redemption. Thank God for my sister-in-law Michelle. She came to the rescue and assembled a gift basket worthy of Daniel Boone.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Ale-8-One, and Ruth Hunt Candies got us all in the proper mood. Mix in a bag of Mingua Beef Jerky, throw in a couple of cellophane-wrapped Moon Pies, and you’ve got the makings of a distinctive bluegrass bounty.
Alan Cutler bonus tip: Anchor the basket with an autographed copy of Cut To The Chase!
Dive right in with an afternoon at Keeneland
What I really wanted to give Linda, however, was a true Kentucky experience. If it’s April or October, what better way to spread the love than by spending an afternoon at Keeneland? I’m not usually one for big crowds, loud drunks, or losing all my cash, but you have to admit that watching those regal animals run against such a stunning central Kentucky backdrop was like money in the bank. Linda, and her fiancée Chris, didn’t strike gold on the afternoon, but I’m sure they felt forever enriched by the totally novel encounter.
Tom Leach bonus tip: Bet on the burgoo. It’s a sure-fire winner every time.
A horse farm adventure gets you up close and personal
The horse escapades continued the very next morning with a tour of Mill Ridge Farm. Around eight hundred acres just a stone’s throw from Keeneland, Mill Ridge is a photographer’s paradise. I’ve never been on a horse farm tour. Have you? For California city folk used to urban blight and traffic jams, the gentle rolling hills, painted fences, and thoroughbreds galore provided for a fairytale oasis. More than once, Linda said to Chris, “Let’s get married here.”
Michael Bennett bonus tip: Need a jolt of testosterone? Be sure to meet Stud Stallion Oscar Performance just outside the breeding shed.
Finding the perfect distillery tour
What’s more Kentucky than bourbon, since 95% of the world’s bourbon is made right here in our own backyard? For a quick and convenient bourbon experience, we took Linda and Chris to the historic James E. Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street. How they resurrected the iconic brand is a story worth listening to. Of course if you’re there to drink bourbon, the free sample tastings will not disappoint.
Larry Vaught bonus tip: A ginormous slice of Goodfellows Pizza next door will quickly cleanse the white lightning burn from your soiled palate.
The open road beckons
I’ve traveled the world over, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen natural beauty like you see in central Kentucky. The natives take it for granted. The kaleidoscope of colors with the dogwoods, crabapples, and redbuds in bloom—set against the dense greenery of the sloping hills and sleepy hollers—can’t help but flood your senses with the beauty of God’s creation. Pack a picnic lunch and just go wherever your heart leads you. If you have to set your GPS, a quick detour to Midway, an afternoon at Shakertown, or a leisurely stroll through Berea might be just what the doctor ordered.
Sister-in-law Michelle (former Ms. Wolfe County) bonus tip: Red River Gorge is the most beautiful place on earth. Miguel’s Pizza offers a little slice of heaven.
It’s always about the food
Foodies like us live to eat, and the perfect Kentucky experience has to satisfy the stomach. Kentucky is much more than just KFC. Whether it’s a Kentucky hot brown at Ramsey’s, a prime center-cut Anthony Davis NY strip at Malones, or spoon bread at Berea’s Boone Tavern, a bluegrass culinary extravaganza must leave you nearly crippled and comatose. Forget the calorie count and crash diets. You only live once, right?
Michael Huang bonus tip: Why leave home at all when Huang’s hometown kitchen offers the best in boiled crawfish, tomahawk steaks, and Chinese hot pots.
When I asked Linda what she enjoyed most about her bluegrass visit, her answer was a bit surprising. “Just being with family,” she said.
That spoke volumes to me, and it’s part of my closing bonus tip: It doesn’t matter if you’re on the Champs-Elysees, sipping champagne and dining on escargot, if you don’t have someone meaningful to share it with, it probably won’t be memorable.
Our true and lasting memories begin and end with those we love. Everything else is just Facebook fluff. So, wherever you are on this particular Derby week, just give your loved ones a great big hug, throw some brats on the grill, and savor again the lasting memories of your Old Kentucky Home.
And one more thing…Kentucky is now very good at Volleyball!