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At Prohibition’s centennial, celebrate bourbon on Northern Kentucky’s B-Line
By Tom Adkinson


NEWPORT, Kentucky – January 17, 1920, was a dark day for Americans who enjoyed bending an elbow – whether sipping a fancy cocktail or guzzling a beer – because that’s when America’s failed Prohibition experiment began.

One place that never really embraced the concept of Prohibition was Northern Kentucky across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The region became notorious for bootlegging and other illicit activities and soldiered on (or perhaps partied on) until Prohibition ended in 1933.

kentucky b-line prohibition
America’s Best Bartender/Owner 2019 Molly Wellman feels the heat of a New Riff fermentation tank; Image by Tom Adkinson.

Today’s Northern Kentucky revels in Kentucky’s heritage of making and consuming bourbon and celebrates its place in the modern spirits industry with the B-Line. Of course, “B” stands for bourbon, and the B-Line is a well-constructed scheme to get visitors to explore the region by getting educated at distilleries, checking out certain restaurants that have a bourbon connection and marveling at a selection of bourbon bars.

There are six bourbon bars on the B-Line, and to qualify, each must stock at least 100 brands of bourbon, including all varieties of the amber liquid made at the B-Line’s five official distilleries. They also must serve bourbon flights.

boone county distilling company
A full table of guests samples the products of the Boone County Distilling Company; Image by Tom Adkinson.

When you add five sanctioned restaurants to the B-Line’s mix of businesses, you have the recipe for a tasty tour that stretches from Newport and Covington (both right across from Cincinnati), to Maysville (about 60 miles upriver), to Burlington (which seems rural but is just 8 driving miles to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport).

All of the B-Line businesses are on the downloadable Line Guide (think of it as a bourbon passport), making it easy to plot your own tour. B-Line organizers don’t expect you to visit all of the B-Line businesses in one big adventure, and that’s perhaps why it’s so easy to become a B-Line winner.

new riff distillery copper still
The copper still that marks the front of the New Riff Distillery rises 60 feet into the air; Image by Tom Adkinson.

Conspicuous blue markers verify you’ve reached one of the many distilleries, restaurants and bourbon bars on the B-Line; Image by Tom Adkinson.

Each of the businesses has a stamp for your Line Guide, and if you collect stamps from two distilleries, two restaurants and two bourbon bars, you can submit your passport via email and claim your choice of B-Line souvenirs. Swag choices include hats, rocks glasses, Glencairn whisky glasses (tulip-shaped glasses developed by Glencairn Crystal in Scotland), stone coasters and T-shirts.

If you make these three stops, you’re halfway to your reward:


1. Many B-Line travelers start at the New Riff Distillery, in part because it’s so convenient to Cincinnati and in part because it’s adjacent to the Party Source, a massive purveyor of spirits, wine, beer and party supplies. A 60-foot-tall copper still built in 2013 by the Vendome Copper and Brass Works in Louisville accents the New Riff Distillery’s modern building.

old kentucky bourbon bar
The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar is one of six bourbon bars on the B-Line. Each must stock at least 100 brands; Image by Tom Adkinson.

One of New Riff’s novelties is its water source. After scouring the region for just what its master distiller wanted, the consulting hydrologist pointed to a spot practically at the front door. A hundred feet down was an aquifer delivering 500 gallons of 38-degree water every minute.

2. A short drive to Burlington is a long trip into Kentucky history and a stark contrast to New Riff’s sleek newness. The destination is the Tousey House Tavern that occupies a Federal-style house built in 1822. The menu is extensive (consider the Tousey Hot Brown for its variation on that Kentucky favorite), but don’t overlook the bar. A special cocktail is the Erastus Tousey, named for the pioneer owner. Its ingredients are New Riff bourbon, sweet vermouth and a Luxardo cherry.

tousey house tavern
The Tousey House Tavern in Burlington features plenty of bourbon and this Kentucky favorite, a Hot Brown sandwich Image by Tom Adkinson.

3. The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar (just say OKBB if you want to sound like a local) in Covington often is the first B-Line bourbon bar that savvy visitors hit, in part to be dazzled by more than 600 bourbons and other whiskeys. Its former owner, Molly Wellmann, named America’s best bartender/owner in 2019 by Nightclub and Bar Media, is an advocate for the B-Line, and offers this simple advice to bourbon explorers: “Slow down, taste and enjoy.”


Trip-planning resources: FindYourSippingPoint.com, meetNKY.com and CincyUSA.com

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at CornersOfTheCountry.com.)

Published January 10, 2020









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