12 JUN 2013: Spirits were high at the Hilton in downtown Toronto last week. It helped that bourbon was on the menu, but so was a Kentucky entourage ready to dish on why Kentucky matters to Canadians.

First – proximity. Only an eight-hour drive from Toronto, or a non-stop flight with Air Canada to CVG (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky) means Kentucky’s southern hospitality is right next door. Of course when you step onto the terra firma prepare for fertile soils so rich no wonder bourbon is king and the horses are happy.

Second – The mineral-rich Kentucky limestone water and lush land
combine to make America’s great Kentucky Bourbon Trail (http://kybourbontrail.com/). Lately bourbon’s been mixed with local cuisine which Mike Mangeot, the new commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism, says has added some high ratings on the restaurant scene.

“In Louisville, there are James Beard award winners and (Zagat rated ones). Louisville was named one the foodiest towns in the south by Southern Living Magazine.” Be sure to visit the Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville for a slice of culinary fixings.

Find out why the Makers Mark premium bourbon bottled for over 50 years with a hand dipped red wax seal got this way. Head to the Makers Mark Distillery (makersmark.com?) in Loretto, part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for tastings and tours.

Fun fact I distilled talking to Matt Jones, whisky ambassador for Beam Canada was that Makers Mark Distillery was the first distillery to open a visitor centre in Kentucky. Now there’s a bunch more with distillers upping their own experiences.

Third – the PGA tour (www.pga.com/pgachampionship/2014). Finally the grand master of the big daddy of the greatest game (next to hockey of course) is hitting the links in Kentucky next summer. Feast your eyes on 2014 as the PGA Championships take place in Louisville. The course is the Valhalla Golf Club, home to major championships. “We should have a Canadian delegation go down for that. It’s the PGA championships, the fourth and last championship they do in golf and it’s one of golf’s biggest,” said Frank Carrico principal commercial officer from the US Consulate General Office.

Other Menu items

Clients who want luxury can overnight at 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville. It’s been highly lauded as the top hotel in the US by Conde Nast Traveler readers and now the chi-chi boutique hotel is expanding its reach to nearby Lexington. Expect more 21c style ambiance at this repurposed property in downtown Lexington that once laid claim as Mary Quinn Ramer, vice president of tourism marketing for Lexington CVB explained, “the tallest skyscraper between New York and Atlanta.”

For budget and outdoor experience, I like staying at the various state parks with cabins in the woods and with names like Daniel Boone country. You get real Smokey the Bear vintage moments at these lodgings many of which are built from locally quarried stones accompanied by massive log beams. The rooms have the basics and the meals are typical Americana comfort foods.

Frank says one of his favourite summer vacations as a kid was hanging out at the Mammoth Caves. Talk about huge - he says it’s one of the biggest caves in the US. (www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm)

Characters and great American icons past and present come alive between the hollows too. Muhammad Ali aka “The Greatest” hails from Louisville (http://alicenter.org/). America’s world famous baseball factory home to the Slugger is now a museum. Then there are the great distillers themselves, those pioneers who crafted bourbon, propelling it into the thriving industry it has become today. Boy what stories they could tell.

To help get you in the mood for an upcoming Kentucky visit, head for Toronto's SpiritHouse (www.spirithousetoronto.com) or the Emmet Ray Bar (www.theemmetray.com/) for plenty of bourbon as each bar carries its favourite stash. You can’t go wrong.

The event was hosted by the US Consul General for Toronto Jim Dickmeyer and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Steven L. Beshear.

As they both chimed “Ya’all,” it made it easier to anticipate the Bluegrass state’s southern hospitality.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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