COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our lives, and the Bourbon Capital of the World has not gone unscathed.
Bardstown, the teeming tourism metropolis and home to Lux Row Distillers, became a ghost town for three months until June, when Kentucky officials gave the okay for distilleries to reopen to the public.
Most, though not all, have returned; Lux Row Distillers reopened on June 16, with precautions that include rigorous daily and weekly cleanings.
Per state order, distillery tour groups are now limited to 10 people or less. Hand sanitizer stations are obligatory. And masks are a must, for staff and visitors alike.
But the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is slowly springing back to life: According to figures from Louisville Tourism, about 85 percent of local tourist attractions have reopened. Hotels have remained open, and visitors say they’re ready to return.
Mike Mangeot, Commissioner at the Kentucky Department of Tourism, says with cautious optimism that the Bluegrass State is well-poised for recovery.
“The pandemic has been devastating, but Kentucky has the opportunity to rebound more quickly,” he says.
Safety is a big concern, and Kentucky wisely put in a mask mandate early.
“In our traveler sentiment research, the majority of people who plan to travel say they will only go to places with mask mandates,” Mangeot says.
Another bonus for Kentucky: Travel by car is increasing. (Road trips are so hot right now.)
“Most travelers are switching from air to driving, and that’s good for us,” Mangeot says. “In Kentucky, 88 percent of our visits come via automotive travel.”
Distilleries are better equipped than some other businesses to navigate the post-pandemic world. The virus hasn’t stopped people from wanting to enjoy bourbon, and interest in tours has revived.
Adam Johnson, Director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, says there’s an “interesting dynamic” that has arisen with on-site tours.
“Demand has been good, but with lower capacity, you have fewer openings,” Johnson says. “Reservations are definitely required. We’re telling people to please book ahead, because you cannot walk into distilleries like you used to.”
Lux Row’s distillery tour starts with a 45-minute walking tour of the site and concludes with a 15-minute educational bourbon tasting seminar. For safety’s sake, they’ve substituted disposable plastic cups for the traditional Glencairn glass.
Sacrifices must be made — but the bourbon tastes amazing, no matter what kind of glass you use.
Nothing may ever be the same, at least for a while, but the bourbon is flowing again.