Louisville, Kentucky


From Cincinnati, Ohio, Alex and I planned an offshoot road trip just across the river and into Kentucky. It was, after all, the “bourbon” offshoot of our Baseball, Beer and Bourbon tour. We spent one night in Louisville and one night in Lexington, and we visited a couple little towns and distilleries between too.

First stop, a bit of a random one! But I’ve been using Redtree Albums for my clients’ wedding albums for a decade now, ever since they started their business. So I arranged to have a private tour of their factory in Louisville! No photos allowed inside, except of this sample album I got to look at in the showroom. But it was so wonderful to take a peek into where all these beautiful books come to life. 

Then we stopped by a random Best Buy so we could see the new iPhone displays that were just updated that day, haha.

Lunch was this fun taco spot, Tacos Luchador.

Then we headed to downtown Louisville to visit the 21C Museum Hotel. I love their concept, combining free public art galleries with their hotel and restaurant concepts. Louisville is the original location that kicked off the chain. Also very clever: their co-branded bourbons in the gift shop.

Cincinnati’s 21C had a yellow penguin, but Louisville’s is red!

This was a very interesting gallery wall of mirrors at the end of the hallway, leading to the women’s bathroom… and when you go inside the bathroom you realize they’re two way mirrors so from inside I could spy on Alex in the hallway. Wild.

Just down the street, continuing the baseball theme, the Louisville Slugger Museum! Giant baseball bat out front. And inside, their bat vault, which has the models for all of the different custom bats they made, before that information became digitized. It’s all just inside a computer now.

Very cool, they have some notable game-used bats that you’re allowed to try and hold! Wearing my Cincinnati Reds cap, I decided to go for Ken Griffey Jr.’s bat. Never having been an athlete, I clearly don’t know how to actually hold a baseball bat… and they were heavier than I thought they would be! But we also learned that every player has a different weight preference, so the bats vary widely.

Alex, representing our SF Giants, tried legendary Willy Mays’ bat. And current Giant Kris Bryant’s. They also had Evan Longoria’s bat. But it seems like most of our other players use other brands of bats.

Next, we got to go on the factory floor for the official tour. These wooden cylinders are called billets before they become bats. Here was a shelf full of different players’ billets. The most common types of wood are ash, maple, and birch. It depends on personal preference, but ash is the most common. Maple is harder but also prone to shattering. And birch has both the flex of ash and the hardness of maple but takes a break-in period and also seems to become harder over time. Birch is the least common.

The traditional way of making a bat was to turn it on a lathe by hand, so the wood spins on a spit, and you carve away the bat, measuring each part compared to a model. Now this machine can automatically carve you a bat in a matter of seconds.

An example of a mould and the resulting bat (he’s holding them backwards from each other though)

Louisville Slugger makes a bunch of custom bats for professional MLB players, but they also make a ton of standard retail bats. Here are a bunch, as they come out of the machine, with these little wooden nubs attached. We got two nubs as free souvenirs afterwards, haha. I don’t know what we’re going to do with them.

There are various Louisville Slugger logo stamps. This is the retail version. And then, a woman dipping a bunch of mini bats in varnish. We each got a mini bat at the end of the tour as a souvenir too.

After the factory tour, we are brought back to the exhibit hall, where more demos happen regularly. Here’s how they stamp the bats with the logos.

A lego rendition of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, which we had just visited the previous week.

All in all, such a great tour! I love seeing the behind-the-scenes of how things are made. Afterwards, we headed to the river for a little walk before checking into our hotel.

We stayed at the AC Hotel in the NuLu neighborhood.

We got really lucky to swoop in on a last-minute cancellation for Ed Lee’s restaurant, 610 Magnolia. They actually called while we were walking around 21C, and we had not formulated a backup dinner plan otherwise. Southern food meets slight Korean influences. A very special dining experience.

Day two in Louisville, starting off the day with hers and his drinks.

Our first bourbon distillery tour of the trip! Rabbit Hole, which is right in the NuLu neighborhood in Louisville. It’s a new distillery, which might be missing some of the historic charm but has the added benefit of being designed and built around the tour experience. I liked this lenticular signage that said Rabbit Hole on one side and hat the picture of the rabbit on the other!

The tour starts off with a cocktail. Great already.

We get to see the process backwards, since you see the man putting together the barrels to get ready for aging. All bourbon must be aged in new oak barrels that are charred. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that must be made from at least 51% corn, and while bourbon is most famously from Kentucky, it can also be from elsewhere in America.

On to the giant tanks in the brewing room! First the mash is added to a giant vat and circulated. Then it’s aged for a set amount of days. The liquid doesn’t move between the different tanks, but the different tanks are all at different stages, so they represent different parts of the process.

A newer tank vs. an older one!

After all of the fermentation is complete, they shoot up the moonshine to the floor above in order to distill it. We got to taste some, and it was basically like very fancy rubbing alcohol. The liquor is clear until it goes into those new charred oak barrels, where it gets its color and flavor from the aging process.

Finally, a tasting of all the different whiskeys made at Rabbit Hole! Beautiful rooftop tasting lounge overlooking Louisville.

I really enjoyed our tour here and would recommend it to anyone coming through Louisville!

Next, we went in search of lunch. Here was a spot Alex recognized from NYC, Emmy’s square pie pizza. We tried a brunch special. Canadian bacon and everything. We enjoyed it!

In the same plaza with Emmy’s, a bar + craft workshop! I would totally host gatherings here if I lived in Louisville.

Lots of cute shops in the neighborhood too.

And then we were on to the next distillery and the rest of our trip in Lexington! See the links below for the rest of our baseball, beer, & bourbon tour.

Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco. She compulsively documents and blogs all of her daily adventures. Follow her on instagram and view more of her professional work at annawu.com.