Let’s face it, not everyone has the time to drive from one bourbon distillery to the next in and around Bardstown, the heart of the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail. And Ohioans know that Cincinnati has a few up-and-coming suburbs on the other side of the Ohio River in the Bluegrass State. Over the past few years, these Northern Kentucky communities have decided to cash in on Kentucky’s most famous cash crop: bourbon.
I’d been hearing good things about Northern Kentucky’s “B-Line Trail” that boasts trendy distilleries, craft breweries and restaurants across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. I was on my way to Nashville last winter and decided to stop in the area to sample some of this “northern” bourbon and surrounding destinations.
I chose The Summit, A Dolce Hotel as a base of operations. It’s a light-filled, modern business hotel off Interstate 71 about 12 miles northeast of downtown Cincinnati. After I settled into my room, I realized I was ravenous and headed for the Summit’s Overlook Kitchen + Bar. It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so I ordered the house cocktail, Imogene’s Sour, plus a decadent dessert: a brownie made with bourbon vanilla and Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream. Mixologist April Naylor invented this cocktail made with George Remus Bourbon, Luxardo (a Maraschino cherry liqueur), Amaro Nonino (think grappa with herbs), orange bitters and lemon juice.
This namesake elixir at the Overlook is an ideal blend of sweet and tart.
The B-Line Trail is a collection of four Northern Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail Tour distilleries: New Riff Distilling, Boone County Distilling Co., The Old Pogue Distillery and Neeley Family Distillery. It also boasts five bars: Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar, Prohibition Bourbon Bar at Newberry Bros. Coffee (which claims to feature “the largest collection of bourbon and rye whiskeys found anywhere in the world, bar none”), The Globe, Bourbon Haus 1841, and Wiseguy Lounge. To complement all those samples, the trail offers five restaurants: Bouquet Restaurant, Tousey House Tavern, Chandler’s on Market, Purple Poulet, and Coppin’s at Hotel Covington.
The B-Line’s passport program is structured like Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail. Visitors may pick up passports at any stop. When they’ve collected stamps from two distilleries, restaurants and bars, holders earn “swag,” including B-Line hats, t-shirts, marble coasters, whiskey stones and engraved glasses.
I had only 48 hours, so I needed to concentrate on venues right across the river from Cincy.
Here are some B-Line Trail highlights:
New Riff Distilling: This modern distillery and tasting room has been an anchor for revitalization along the Kentucky side of the River. It makes a smooth bourbon with cinnamon and caramel flavors. The bartenders can make any cocktail imaginable, plus they sell divine dark-chocolate bourbon balls. New Riff offers an informative “bonded tour” for a modest fee.
While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the Party Source just across the parking lot. Its tag line is “Everything but the guests,” and that’s an accurate description of the store’s vast selection. Started by New Riff owner Ken Lewis, Party Source has a gargantuan selection of craft beer, wine and spirits; plus it has an in-house location for Braxton Labs, a brewery and tasting room where Covington’s popular Braxton Brewery tries out its new recipes such as Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout.
Coppin’s at Hotel Covington: Located in a former department store, this hip eatery and bar’s menu is influenced by its Southern neighbors. Since B-Line restaurants must serve at least 50 bourbon selections and offer at least one bourbon-infused dish, ask the server for the rotating entrée selection. Then cross Madison Avenue and check out Braxton Brewing Company to sample its eclectic mix of year-round, seasonal and “garage series” options. Locals credit Braxton with Covington’s rebirth.
Purple Poulet, A Southern Bistro: Who knew there was a Dayton, Kentucky? It’s worth finding this colorful, cozy restaurant that makes cuisine inspired by Charleston and New Orleans. Chef Rich Zumwalde (a.k.a. Chef Z) had a long career in Cincy and Kentucky restaurants before opening Purple Poulet in 2016. There are a host of bourbon-infused dishes, and don’t miss the sweet-potato beignets with “bacon debris” or its Claim-to-Fame Fried Chicken Dinner, named Kentucky’s best fried chicken by Southern Living Magazine.
There are so many things to do in Cincy and Northern Kentucky, but if you want to explore the B-Line, I suggest making the Hotel Covington your base and exploring some distilleries farther afield, such as the Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta and Boone County Distilling Co. in Independence.
Guests who have visited Neeley Family Distillery say it’s a wonder there’s anyone left to make the spirits. Owner Royce Neeley is descended from a long line of moonshiners whose multi-generational feud with a rival family often erupted into gunplay. Fortunately, everyone has mellowed today and is capitalizing on Kentucky’s signature golden-brown spirit.
With the advent of the B-Line Trail, Ohio is now closer than ever to bourbon country. It may be time to head for Northern Kentucky and find your sipping point.
- See findyoursippingpoint.com for more information about the B-Line Trail; cincyusa.com and meetNKY.com for general trip planning.