Although bourbon is presently distilled in just about every state in America, the one most strongly associated with the corn-based whiskey is Kentucky. The reasons for this are numerous, but chief among them are the facts that the Bluegrass State is the birthplace of the fabled elixir and that it is responsible for 95% of the world’s production of the stuff. Bourbon is indeed a big-time industry in Kentucky, and it’s getting even bigger thanks to a recent surge in bourbon’s popularity. Kentucky is also a bigtime producer of quail hunts, which are experiencing a similar increase in popularity. The hunts feature hard-flying birds, great dogwork and first-rate hospitality—and, not surprisingly, they pair exceedingly well with bourbon.
Bourbon and bobwhites are such a great combination, in fact, that they are the raison d’être for at least one Kentucky lodge. When Russell Edwards was creating Winghaven Lodge, in Crittenden County, he realized that the beautiful facilities he was building for his world-class quail hunts could double as a spectacular venue for enjoying an unforgettable bourbon experience. As Edwards explained: “It was 2007, and the bourbon craze was taking the nation by storm. Kentucky was experiencing an explosion in whiskey-related tourism for things like The Bourbon Trail. I decided to make Winghaven a part of that. After all, what better setting could you have to enjoy fine bourbon than after a quail hunt at a gorgeous hunting lodge?” So when Winghaven opened in 2008, in addition to its upscale amenities, the lodge sported a well-stocked bourbon bar. Edwards then made sure the bourbon aspect was clearly visible in Winghaven's marketing materials. The results were phenomenal. “We instantly developed a reputation for both our high-volume bird hunting and for having the best bourbon bar of any lodge in the world,” he said. Before long, demand began to surpass capacity, so in 2014 the lodge was expanded to include more bedrooms, a 1,000-square-foot great room and, of course, a bigger bar.
As one would expect, the bourbon experience at Winghaven is partaken of in the evening, after hunters return from the field. The handsome bar is situated within the great room, where a blaze crackles in the fireplace as appetizers are served and country music plays in the background—an ambiance that is memorable for “non-bourbon” guests as well. Pours are from bottles like Blanton’s, Rare Eagle and Wild Turkey, and samples of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle may be enjoyed as well. Those new to bourbon recognize this as a special experience, while aficionados often feel like they’re in “bourbonite” heaven.
The story of Kentucky whiskey and the industry built upon it is rife with nuance and mystique. From the range of tastes and flavors amongst the various brands to the entertaining set of contested claims about the origins and development of the legendary product, there’s enough there to keep a curious mind entertained for hours. Edwards is happy to oblige, and he does so by conducting tastings accompanied by plenty of fascinating narratives. “The world of bourbon is relatively new compared to that of wine, beer and Scotch,” Edwards said, “and people are still discovering it. The vast majority of our guests are smart, educated people. They have a natural curiosity and really seem to enjoy having a native Kentuckian guide them through the experience.”
The combination of bobwhites and bourbon has undoubtedly been a big hit in the wingshooting world. Proof of this is evident in Winghaven’s guest book, which includes visitors who have traveled from as far away as the Pacific Coast and Alaska. “They come a long way to enjoy a very specific experience,” Edwards said, “and we are honored to be able to provide it for them.”
Winghaven Lodge is a full-service Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To learn more or to make a reservation, call 270-836-7998 or email Russell Edwards at [email protected].
Photographs courtesy of Winghaven Lodge.