Waiting for a flight in the Minneapolis airport last July, Julie Kirkpatrick started talking to a group of men who, like her, were Cincinnati-bound. It wasn’t just idle chitchat; as vice president of sales and marketing for meetNKY, Kirkpatrick likes to know what brings people to Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She was delighted to learn they were coming for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. “I said, ‘So you’re staying in Cincinnati?’” she recounts. They weren’t, instead flying into Cincinnati, then renting a car and driving to Lexington.
That’s when Kirkpatrick knew she was on the right track.
Kirkpatrick and meetNKY were in the midst of creating The B Line (short for The Bourbon Line), a tourism initiative launching in February 2018. The B Line aims to boost bourbon tourism in Northern Kentucky, making it a destination in and of itself, and not just a stop along the way to the more famous “Amber Triangle” of Lexington, Bardstown, and Louisville.
“I would love to see 10 or 20 years from now that we’re referred to not as an amber triangle, but an amber commonwealth,” says John Stanton, director of external affairs for Kenton County, Ky., who helped spearhead The B Line. The name of the initiative refers to both a boundary—the Ohio River, which physically separates Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky—and the trail of distilleries, bars, and restaurants that tourists can follow throughout the area.
Bourbon tourism in Kentucky is booming; more than one million stops were made along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2017. But Northern Kentucky sees just a fraction of that traffic; New Riff Distilling near Newport had around 30,000 visitors last year.
“I think The B Line is going to be such a success mainly because Northern Kentucky, for lack of a better term, has been a forgotten corner of the Kentucky bourbon industry,” says Hannah Lowen, New Riff’s vice president of operations.
New Riff, along with the Boone County and Old Pogue distilleries, are already a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. Two other distilleries, Second Sight in Ludlow and Neeley Family in Sparta, also make whiskey in the area. But tourists who come to Kentucky for bourbon often overlook these places as destinations. That is now set to change. In November 2017, Northern Kentucky was designated an “Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail” by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA). The status is shared only by one other city—Louisville.
“If bourbon wants to be for Kentucky what Scotch is to Scotland, [then] you’ve got to include the whole state,” says Josh Quinn, cofounder of Boone County Distilling.
Perfect for Whiskey Lovers
Like Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, The B Line is meant to enhance a trip along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail by pointing visitors toward places they can go once the distilleries close for the day.
“Where do we go and where do we go eat? Those are the questions I answer every day,” says Adam Johnson, senior director of Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experiences at the KDA, which has been working with meetNKY and area bourbon businesses to establish The B Line. “It’s a way for people to learn a little bit more about the state as a whole and its distilling culture.”
The B Line highlights bars and restaurants that cater to whiskey lovers. Partner restaurants must have at least 50 bourbons on their menus, while bars are required to list a minimum of 100 and offer bourbon cocktails. Many venues are planning special menu items, collaborations, and events. In addition, the B Line aims eventually to have a passport program, similar to the one for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Northern Kentucky’s Bourbon Charm
Cincinnati’s proximity to Kentucky’s northern distilleries makes it an ideal gateway. Many of The B Line’s restaurants and bars, as well as New Riff Distilling, are located right across the river from the city and can be easily accessed by the Southbank Shuttle Trolley, which runs around Cincinnati, Covington, Ky., and Newport, Ky. Meanwhile, Boone County Distilling is a short trip down I-75, as is Tousey House Tavern.
Whiskey history buffs will find a lot to enjoy in this part of the state. Maysville is a small town that may have been the birthplace of bourbon. The Kentucky Gateway Museum Center chronicles that claim and whiskey’s importance to the area. Museum director C.J. Hunter says that at the peak of local production, there were more than 25 different brands being made at a number of distilleries in the area, which was then known as Limestone Landing. Bourbon was shipped across the state and down the Ohio River to New Orleans. In addition to the museum, visitors to Maysville can tour the Old Pogue distillery, revived by the Pogue family on the site of the original distillery that was shuttered during Prohibition.
The B Line will continue to expand as tourism grows. Visitors can find more information at FindYourSippingPoint.com. In addition to creating a passport program, meetNKY eventually hopes to add a liquor store in CVG airport past the security checkpoint so visitors can more easily bring bourbon back with them. “That’s the best promotion we can do,” Johnson says. “Letting people take a little taste of Kentucky with them to share with their friends.”
Distilleries on The B Line
New Riff Distilling—24 Distillery Way, Newport
Best known for its OKI whiskey, New Riff will debut a bourbon later this year. Visitors can join New Riff’s Ranger program through June 2018 to earn benefits, including a personalized bottle four years from their visit.
Boone County Distilling Co.—10601 Toebben Dr., Independence
Inspired by the area’s historic Petersburg Distillery, co-founders Josh Quinn and Jack Wells opened their distillery to bring bourbon production back to Boone County. The bourbon and rye carry the tagline “Made by Ghosts.”
Old Pogue Distillery—715 Germantown Rd., Maysville
Old Pogue is located on the same site as the original Pogue distillery, overlooking the Ohio River. The Pogue family uses the original recipes to create their bourbon and rye.
In addition, two other craft distilleries—Second Sight Distillery in Ludlow and Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta—are located in Northern Kentucky, though they aren’t officially part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or the B Line. (Neeley Family will join the Bourbon Trail in summer 2018.)
Restaurants on The B Line
Bouquet—519 Main St., Covington
This farm-to-table bistro has a list of 140 bourbons which it updates each week with recent and limited releases. Bouquet holds bourbon tastings with master distillers, incorporates bourbon into menu items, and offers cocktail specials and whiskey flights.
The Purple Poulet—603 6th Ave., Dayton
Bourbon has always been a focus for owner and chef Richard Zumwalde, who has a growing collection of more than 160 bourbons to go along with his Southern cuisine. The restaurant hosts bourbon dinners with local distilleries like New Riff.
Tousey House Tavern—5963 N Jefferson St., Burlington
Located in a historic house built in 1822, the restaurant is conveniently located near the airport and interstate. It boasts more than 125 bourbons, offers classic cocktails, and hosts tasting events.
Chandler’s on Market—212 Market St., Maysville
Located in historic downtown Maysville, visitors can grab a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar. The restaurant is a short drive from Old Pogue Distillery and a short walk from the Gateway Museum.
Bars on The B Line
Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar—629 Main St., Covington
The bar, known as OKBB to locals, is in MainStrasse, a historic German neighborhood in Covington. Owner Molly Wellmann’s “little slice of heaven” has a selection of more than 600 American whiskeys, and bartenders have been rigorously educated on bourbon.
Wiseguy Lounge—603 Main St., Covington
Upstairs from Goodfellas Pizzeria, Wiseguy Lounge was inspired by Prohibition speakeasies. The space boasts hundreds of bourbons and has a whiskey-tasting program, the Bourbon Connoisseurs Club, that hosts events with distillers.
Bourbon Haus 1841—522 Main St., Covington
Also in MainStrasse, Bourbon Haus opened in 2017 and lists nearly 200 bourbons. The bar doesn’t serve food, but does allow delivery from area restaurants and even has a special takeout menu for Bouquet.
The Globe—12 E 5th St., Covington
Located in a former strip club, The Globe transformed the dark space into a bright, modern bar with a seasonal cocktail list and bourbon flights. Mixology classes are also in the works.
The Prohibition Bourbon Bar at Newberry Bros. Coffee—530 Washington Ave., Newport
Originally opened as a coffee shop, the bourbon bar is tucked in behind, speakeasy-style. With the goal of offering the most bourbon selections in the world, the owners have amassed more than 1,500 whiskeys, any of which can be ordered for regular sipping or to “kick up” a coffee.